An often-overlooked part of MEP system design, support and hanger solutions can potentially have a major effect on both installation efficiency and system lifespan.
Ideally, support and hanger systems would be included in the scope of MEP design work, where they can be properly coordinated with the MEP systems and accounted for while the systems are being developed. Sometimes, this part of the design work may be assigned to the product manufacturer itself, in which case it still needs to take place early enough to account for the effect of the support and hanger systems on space use. Most frequently, however, the responsibility for support and hanger systems falls to the MEP contractor who will include them as part of the installation work. When mapping the support and hanger layout on-site, installers are essentially doing a part of the detailed design as they go along, which is bound to affect their time use during installation work and lead to non-optimal solutions.
This is the context for a growing demand to integrate support and hanger systems to the BIM project workflow. When the support and hanger layout has been planned in detail in connection with the MEP design work, potential issues with load management, mounting and space can be detected and resolved before the on-site installation.
Importance for project execution
Neglecting the spaces required by supports and hanger elements during MEP design can be felt directly during the MEP installation. The allotted space for building services routing between ceilings and overhead floors needs to be considered carefully. Although there is often a push from the client side to maximise floor-to-ceiling height, insufficient above-ceiling space results in cramped spaces for the system installation, resulting in work delays, installation challenges and additional costs.
Ensuring correct spacing of the support and hanger elements themselves sounds like a minor thing. However, the effect of the element layout on both the future performance and installation efficiency of MEP systems is surprisingly big. Excessive spaces between supports can result in pipe stress and sagging MEP segments, as well as overloaded support structures, both requiring costly repairs later. Overly tight spaces between supports on the other hand will raise project costs and the installation workload.
Reducing time waste with support and hanger design
A recent study at Aalto University in Finland (in Finnish) examined time waste during MEP installation work. Among the study’s findings, insufficient consideration of support and hanger design and installation order were identified as significant contributors to time loss. According to respondents, the support structures for MEP systems were commonly managed on-site during installation and the space required by them was often unaccounted for in MEP designs.
As part of a vision of for an alliance-based approach to building projects where lines between participants are blurred and tasks are shared according to the ability and competence of different participants, the research proposed including support and hanger systems into the design process earlier with involvement from the installation contractors during the design. Naturally, this also places a demand for production-level detail from the BIM models, including precise information on MEP installation sequences.
Sometimes overshadowed by other disciplines, the effects of support and hanger design span many different stages of a building project, from early definition of space needs to final system installation.
This is the unrealized potential of integrating supports and hangers into the same BIM workflow.