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Value engineering: perceived benefits vs potential pitfalls

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The concept of value-engineering or “VE”, isn’t new to our industry; especially in an era where cutting costs of building projects is more important than ever before to win contracts and continue to succeed. But when it comes to applying the idea behind value engineering in the real world, those benefits aren’t quite so clear-cut. This can be seen in countless projects and works achieved with this model, including the now-famous Grenfell tower, in which a premium, non-combustible façade system was considered one of those extra un-necessary costs.

Is value engineering as good as it appears on paper? It honestly can ultimately depend on context and how VE is implemented in “real-world” ways. Read on to find out more about value engineering, the potential benefits of implementing reduced-cost building as well as the pitfalls that can come from using VE as a method of cost-cutting.

The benefits of value engineering

When spoken about as a concept, value engineering sounds like a smart move for construction companies or cost-consultants. After all, any reduction in costs reduces the overhead for the building, which in turn pleases investors and owners alike. This is one of the main advantages of insisting upon value engineering for your project – the reduction of extraneous contributions to design, performance and construction leads to a lower build cost overall, making the delivery of ambitious projects achievable with a smaller pot of money.

Combine this with the idea that value-engineering provides a blank specification slate and you’re theoretically left with a building that is potentially marginally less built for purpose yet remains completely functional. Used correctly [and responsibly!] value engineering can be a fantastic way to strip back unnecessary additions to buildings, especially costly ones or those with little purpose. A trained architect or cost consultant is capable of fulfilling a client’s request for reduced costs without sacrificing on the quality of the building in many cases, and this is where value engineering can come in handy.

While reduced prices are one of the top reasons why VE is an increasingly popular choice, time is another reason why such measures may be implemented. A short turnaround on a project might not be the most advantageous to construction and project management, but in some cases, value engineering can help teams to achieve functionality faster, without worrying about additional construction requirements or complex blueprint specifications. Provided all of the health & safety features are included, there’s nothing wrong with the use of value engineering to improve timescales.

The pitfalls of value engineering

While there are some benefits to opting for value engineering to expedite the construction of a building and reduce overall costs, there are also several pitfalls to consider too. The first of these problems is that often VE is not implemented correctly – and the cost-cutting of the investors or owner is prioritised over the quality and safety of a building. In instances where value engineering isn’t used as part of a bigger picture and instead is utilised in select areas to cut costs, later on, those changes can introduce new risks into the construction process and into the building as a whole.

For value engineering to be successful, it must be considered and implemented by a trained professional before construction starts; it should not be considered an afterthought to save money once construction has begun. This is another pitfall of value engineering, as failing to use professional guidance for reducing time and costs can lead to failure further down the line – this can be material, structural or mechanical failures as a result of incorrect implementation. Often, if these guidelines aren’t met, VE can cost far more in the long run than directly investing more money in a project in the first place.

As a cost-cutting exercise, the first thing individuals involved in value engineering think about is often the savings. However, it’s important to note that even where savings are made, it’s still legally required and vitally crucial that the health, safety and welfare parts of the original design are honoured and remain in place. Failure to manage these requirements effectively due to cost-cutting could lead to hefty fines or even disaster down the line if not looked after properly.

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Using value engineering safely

Once you understand the pitfalls and benefits of choosing value engineering for a project, you’re able to make a more informed decision about whether VE is right for your building or your next construction project. Ensuring everything is implemented diligently, and that all safety, structural and management requirements are met is not optional when employing value engineering. If you consider the concept as a way to streamline a project, rather than a way to create something as cheaply as possible, you’re far more likely to succeed.

One example in which value engineering was not implemented for the right reasons was the infamous Grenfell Tower. Aluminium composite cladding and combustible insulants were used in the block’s refurbishment after the original façade design was value-engineered for cost reasons. There was a total lack of consideration to the suitability of the revised specification or the future safety of the occupants. Cost was the only driver for change and several legislative loop-holes were exploited to reduce the specification to inadequate levels. Value – engineering was cited as the reason the specification was changed and the landlords expectation was savings had been achieved without compromising performance.  The result of this particular VE exercise was one of the deadliest structural fires in the history of the UK.

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For any upcoming projects on your radar, it’s essential to understand when cost-cutting measures such as value engineering are appropriate, and when pushing back on the budget is the best bet for the building, and the safety of the structure, as a whole. For facade engineering that matches all your safety requirements and reduces specification risk, alsecco’s rainscreen cladding and other insulated cladding systems are your top choice. Designed to last and to meet all the ethical and legislative needs of your buildings, we should be your brand of choice when it comes to doing the job correctly the first time.

Are you interested in our cladding? Get in contact with us today to find out more about why our systems are the best choice for your next construction project.

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