Collaborative building is a critical ingredient to project success. Budget, timeline and communication with customers are all improved when interdisciplinary teams and trades work together, sharing plans and drawings with each other. It’s something we have long done at Miller Electric because we know it leads to better project outcomes.

Collaboration illustration

“Miller was one of the first contractors to really collaborate by adding communications wiring to our electrical profile,” says Miller Electric Vice President Tom Parks. “Prior to that, it was all electricians doing fiber optics and low voltage data cabling. We started training guys to specialize in the low voltage side of the business, which opened the possibility for greater efficiencies on job sites since we had both labor forces at our disposal.”

Whether through collaboration between low and high voltage teams, or using BIM to coordinate the efforts of trades involved on a project, we’ve seen the benefits of collaborative building firsthand. Those benefits to customers include:

  • Better decision-making
  • Lower project costs
  • Higher profits for contractors
  • Earlier project completion
  • Fewer contract disputes

Cable Trays, Security Systems and Other Candidates for Collaboration
Examples are helpful in proving the benefits of a collaborative approach. In the early 2000s, cable trays provide such an example. Parks describes how roles had to be redefined once work was split out into distinct groups.

“Cable trays had always been an electrical function. When the basket tray came into the picture, it was an LV tray in the ceiling, as opposed to the ladder style primarily used for electrical wiring. We had to define whose role it was to install that new tray. Today, everyone’s role is well defined and it’s clear whose responsibility it is to work on various tasks. That makes planning, preparation and execution on jobsite smooth and safe.”

With everyone at Miller Electric knowing what they’re responsible for, collaboration occurs on jobsites in every sector. Lighting control systems, Nurse Call, paging, sound masking and security or access control systems at hospitals, data centers, universities and office buildings alike are all excellent candidates for collaboration between low voltage and electrical teams.

Another example of effective collaboration that leads to positive outcomes comes with a combination fire alarm and smoke control system. In this situation, the latter must allow for manual override of the automatic smoke control strategy. The system design and programming must prevent normal HVAC operations from overtaking the strategy. An electrical contractor has an opportunity here to take the lead in keeping all parties involved on the same page as the systems are being integrated.

Now consider an example where a security system with access control, paging and mass notification must be integrated a fire alarm system. Again, the electrical contractor involved is well positioned to lead collaboration efforts on the design and installation of the system. Having intricate knowledge of the nuances of fire alarm design helps electrical contractors coordinate the efforts of all involved to complete tasks like the following most efficiently:

  • Interface a complex paging and sound system with an in-building fire emergency voice alarm communications system so that only one set of speakers serves both systems.
  • Following NFPA 72 guidance to ensure code compliance
  • Lab testing of speaker systems

In situations like the one described above, electricians are often the ones on the job with experience designing system requirements to code and so are best suited to ensure compliance with relevant rules and regulations.

Requirements for Successful Collaboration
Seeing the benefits of collaborative building is one thing. Equally critical is having a culture that fosters it and consistent communications to support it. Collaboration starts long before a jobsite becomes active; it begins when low voltage, electrical, BIM, service and estimating teams bid for work. It continues
through all phases of construction to completion. When it is practiced, there are fewer opportunities for things to get missed and better outcomes are delivered for customers.

Communication is another essential element for effective collaboration. Parks notes that in addition to pre-planning and a positive team attitude, consistent communication can make a big difference in a project turning out on time and within budget. “During the course of a project, there are going to be ebbs and flows,” he says. “You have to communicate consistently as needs and schedules change. Everybody simply has to have the attitude that collaboration is required for success.”

One example of a project where consistent communication saved the day was with a recent build Miller participated in for Bergan Mercy Hospital. The project required many intricate low voltage applications and the only way to stay on top of them while still applying the best and most recent technology was with regular meetings between project managers and field generals onsite. Together, they were able to apply changing technology applications to shifting project needs quickly without jeopardizing the overall project timeline, cost or quality.

What’s your take on collaborative building? Do you see the value? When can you think of a time that better collaboration between trades involved in a project would have led to more positive outcomes for the customer?