How value added engineering supports sustainable, cost-effective commercial construction

min read time
2023-07-27 08:17:08

It’s always been the case that making a profit in commercial construction involves a balancing act of maximising function and minimising cost.

Today, as costs rise significantly and squeeze profit margins tighter and tighter, this balance is more important than ever. Making the most of every possible opportunity to boost efficiency is the smartest route for developers to protect both the quality of their builds and their returns in this tough economic environment.

Mitigating risk is a huge part of this process, because tackling risks can often lead to efficiency improvements, particularly early on in the process, where they can have maximum impact. Increasingly, leading developers of commercial projects are turning to value added engineering to achieve this.

At Wavin, as the number one plumbing and drainage supplier to Europe’s commercial sector, we have a strong track record of offering value added engineering to our customers. Our ethos is to go beyond supplying the high-quality, reliable products that deliver results; we’re also committed to working in partnership with customers to achieve their wider goals.

In this article, we spoke to John Clarke and Amanda Gibbon, commercial technical sales managers and Adam Salt, BIM co-ordinator at Wavin about the benefits of value added engineering on commercial projects and how Wavin can help mitigate risk and improve efficiencies.

What is value added engineering?

The concept began during World War II, when the General Electric Co. (now known as GE) ran into shortages of skilled labour and raw materials. To continue operations, it had to find substitutes that wouldn’t compromise the integrity of the final product.

To GE’s surprise, the process of examining every element of production, discussing the main functions of each system or product, and considering alternative approaches often led to product improvements, lower costs – or both.

Critically, they also found that the process opened up access to other value benefits that weren’t directly cost-based. Besides lowering operating, maintenance, staff or raw material costs, benefits included enhancing quality management and efficiency of resources, simplifying procedures, increasing competitiveness, and improving social and environmental footprints.

This is why our preferred term is ‘value ADDED engineering’, rather than the phrase ‘value engineering’, which you may hear used as well. It’s a way to shift thinking from a pure focus on reducing cost, to a wider view on growing all types of value.

Through this lens, the concept is about improving functionality and maintaining quality for the same or less cost. Rather than just a penny-pinching exercise, we see it as an opportunity to help the project add value across the board, creating buildings that are good for businesses, good for people and good for the environment – without increasing budgets. If the process can bring the cost down, then that’s an extra positive.

Our experience shows that even tiny improvements in design, installation and intended use can have a big impact when scaled up across a multi-floor, multi-occupancy buildings.

Start boosting value early

Value added engineering makes the biggest impact when it’s embedded in the project from the very beginning. Think of it as a preventative measure, heading off factors, actions and decisions that could adversely affect the commercial venture. And see it as an enabler, too - identifying the best route to bring the project vision to life.

“With my customers, I have often found that the earlier we are involved in the project, the more savings we can make. They know the value in even small changes and work with us to spot the potential they have missed” Amanda Gibbon, Commercial Technical Sales Manager, Wavin

Start with a focus on what value means to the commercial developer for this project: social improvements, improved image, diversity, flexibility, environmental improvements, asset longevity, reduced whole of life impact costs? There are so many possibilities.

With priorities clear, those involved in the value added engineering process can then look for ways to adapt the design to achieve them, often without additional cost.

Alongside obtaining the optimal economic benefits, social benefits and sustainability benefits, the design phase of the project should be the key stage for determining and controlling the total cost of the project”. For commercial developments, the principle holds true: the design stage is where change has the biggest impact.

Early input can also avoid costs that would be incurred if changes are identified and made further down the line. The later the adaptations are made, the higher the costs for additional engineering / consultant services are likely to be, and the bigger the bill for schedule delays.

Bring in a fresh set of eyes

Ideally, a commercial developer will bring in external expertise to look at the plans from a fresh perspective and carry out the value added engineering exercise. Contractors, construction professionals, and experienced product / system managers are perfectly positioned to fulfil this role.

With no ties to the existing plans and no preconceptions, this external expert is free to question everything to identify the maximum potential value the project can achieve. This external eye, combined with early access to the plans is the most effective way to identify and deliver value.

“Carrying out a value added engineering engagement is often about thinking laterally – how can you do this better? What other benefits could a different approach bring? Recently, we recommended swapping a gravity system for a siphonic system. A normal gravity system runs at half capacity, because the pipe is half full of air, but a siphonic one doesn’t waste that capacity, so could use a smaller bore pipe – unlocking cost and space savings. Adam Salt, BIM Coordinator, Wavin


Use value added engineering to balance value and risk

This external viewpoint also plays an important role in managing risk within commercial construction. Our long heritage of working with commercial developers means we understand how important it is that projects are protected from risk, both during construction and throughout their lifetime. However, over-protecting from risk can hold back a project’s ability to deliver value.

One route to resolving this is to see value added engineering as a balancing force that mitigates the effects of risk management protections that hedge round every stage of construction. Without compromising safety, added value engineering can help avoid over-engineering or risk prevention measures from hampering value and innovation.

Our role in this process is to bear this mind, while carefully considering how appropriate substitutions can achieve the same end result, but in a more sustainable, safe or cost-effective way.

For example,. We find that engineers can over-specify, choosing a more expensive approach because they think it gives greater protection against risk. However, value added engineering can often find ways to offset this.

“We offer HDPE as an alternative to cast iron with the benefits of being cost effective, lighter, more durable with less risk of damage and easier to install with labour savings” John Clarke, Commercial Technical Sales Manager, Wavin

Whilst value added engineering can be achieved in a ''traditional' 2D way of working, BIM unlocks a multitude of additional benefits. An accurate 3D model contains comprehensive information about the asset and its entire lifecycle, including data and detailed descriptions about every aspect or component, delivering a reliable basis for real-world decision making. Effectively, the BIM model brings everything together in one place, helping to facilitate and streamline the design, construction and operation processes.


This accurate 3D model contains comprehensive information about the asset and its entire lifecycle, including data and detailed descriptions about every aspect or component, delivering a reliable basis for real-world decision making. Effectively, the BIM model brings everything together in one place, helping to facilitate and streamline the design, construction and operation processes. BIM adds significantly to the value-added engineering process, particularly if clients use Wavin's market leading Wavin Revit Packages which offer collaborative working and features like auto-routing preferences, accurate bill of materials and a Wavin Validation View. We provide access to these unique packages free of charge, and are particularly useful for commercial developers that operate in Revit.

BIM offers a fresh view on value added engineering, unlocking cost savings, greater efficiencies, improved scheduling, as well as environmental benefits such as supporting ‘lean construction’ and reducing unnecessary waste.

With a single, shared model, every discipline can work alongside each other, using a shared language via interoperable data. This improves pre-planning by detecting clashes early on in the design phases and avoids problems later down the line. Designers using our Wavin BIM Revit packages are significantly less likely to over engineer a project because the package gives prompts about the most appropriate fittings to use. Working with our experts early on in the process in this way cuts down the amount of design feedback and consequent changes needed after the value added engineering engagement reports back.

“Using BIM isn’t just about increasing profitability, it allows us to think flexibly. For example with AS+, we offer 2.7m pipes that reflect the typical distance between floors to cut waste. AS+ is also highly durable reducing the risk of damaged product onsite.” Amanda Gibbon, Commercial Technical Sales Manager, Wavin

Value added engineering allows us to take an independent look at the developer’s plans to identify the best way to get the right product in place for the right application. At times, this involves swapping products out in favour of ones that may appear to increase cost, but actually lead to cost reductions in other areas of the build.

“In many high-spec and multi-occupancy buildings, it makes sense to use the more expensive Wavin AS+ low noise waste water system, for example. Not only does this create a better living environment for residents, but it potentially allows the developer to save costs on the purchase and installation of lagging.” Adam Salt, BIM Coordinator, Wavin

Our expert review of the plans also frequently reveals that the design has been over specified, and we’re able to suggest alternative routes to achieve the same end result, often taking products out of the design. It’s surprisingly common that architects specify products for a building’s external aspect that are aesthetically pleasing, but operationally unnecessary. For example, asking for rainwater downpipes that are symmetrical and occur at regular intervals, when fewer pipes can do the job perfectly well. Taking out these over specifications can achieve significant cost savings when scaled up across nationwide building projects or large commercial tower blocks or arenas.


Extra ‘added value’ in our value added engineering service

Our experts have studied how to efficiently manage water and waste from roof to river across thousands of projects, and have built up a unique bank of knowledge. This includes product expertise, as well as regulatory awareness and technical insight – and all of this is channelled into our value added engineering service. With this, we aim to offer a whole-project partnership, easy access to our bank of expertise, certified training and unique tools – including our BIM Revit packages.

And we’re not content with a standard level of service. For many, value added engineering means highlighting potential revisions to construction plans, with no on-site visits or follow-up. If a developer runs into a subsequent problem on site, the value added engineering provider often abdicates responsibility and puts it down to ‘installer error’.

Our value added engineering team instead offers partnership for the complete project, including on-site assessments / progress visits to make further adjustments. By seeing situations for themselves, they can make sure the recommended and agreed plans are being followed correctly, with no ad-hoc changes. They can also talk through any issues with the contractors and give experienced advice.

Plus, we’ve made it easy for developers to benefit from our expertise. Our customer portal gives a single point of access to e-learning, CPD and training resources, including extensive ‘how to’ videos and downloads. Training is also a key part of our value added engineering offer; our toolbox training on how to install products safely and easily comes with certification to reduce the risk of installer error.

We’ve also made many of our technical tools available to customers. For example, we offer a sound check tool, where you can enter details about the room dimensions, pipe situation and what’s discharging into the pipe, and our tool will work out whether the chosen pipe would need to be wrapped for sound proofing or not.

Underpinning value added engineering with strong sustainability principles

Sustainability has always been an important business driver for us, and we continually strive to deliver sustainable and resource-efficient solutions through responsible means of production. Already, our manufacturing sites are running on 100% renewable energy, we transport products via the most sustainable method available at the time, and 40% of our forklift fleet use Bio LPG.

We’re reducing carbon in our products, manufacture and distribution and have a clear strategy to achieve net zero by 2050. Our efforts have even been recognised with Construct Zero Industry Business Champion status, awarded in June 2021. We also offer EPD certificates for our products.

Part of our sustainable innovation is a focus on increasing the amount of our range that is made from recycled materials from its base of 30% today. Already, our Recycore Technology uses as much recycled PVC as possible to ensure that our products have the same (or improved) proven and excellent performance characteristics as the virgin products that they replace.

This commitment to thinking and acting sustainably run through our value added engineering service, too. It shows up as recommendations to make more sustainable product choices, and also takes more unusual forms, such as minimising waste, reducing deliveries to site and enabling easy installation processes that use less heavy machinery.

“We’re ultra-aware that getting rid of wastage at the end of a job is a massive problem for contractors, and that paying for removal and wasted products cuts their profitability. With the use of Wavin Revit Packages and our experts' experience means we can specify different lengths of products that mean wastage is severely reduced.” John Clarke, Commercial Technical Sales Manager, Wavin

The next step in de-risking commercial developments

We regularly work with national and commercial developers and on average need just a two-week turnaround from receiving plans to delivering practical value-added engineering recommendations.

As a preferred supplier and the only provider of water solutions to offer a complete roof to river product range, we can be confident that everything we provide integrates smoothly, reducing the risk of commercial construction.

To further protect developers from risk, our value added engineering service offers end-to-end support from a dedicated technical team skilled in finding cost and time savings while increasing sustainability.

Find out more about Wavin commercial plumbing and drainage solutions or get in touch below.

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