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Early collaboration and contractor involvement can have a ripple effect that results in cost and schedule savings—as well as a facility tailored to owners' every need.

Early involvement sounds like a simple concept, but when executed correctly, it has complex—and far-reaching—effects. From better collaboration and informed decision making to cost-saving solutions while delivering an optimal facility, early contractor involvement (ECI) can not only be the difference in cost and schedule, but it can also improve quality from design and construction all the way through owner occupancy.

By creating a direct line of communica­tion between owners, contractors, and designers, JE Dunn’s collaborative delivery methods provide proven cost and schedule savings over traditional design-bid-build. A recent study by the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) found that design-build reduces cost growth by 3.8 percent on average compared with tradi­tional design-bid-build. Ideal for complex projects, industrial clients are seeing the benefits of ECI for optimizing the design and construction process while delivering a facility that meets their needs.


Before exploring the results, it is important to understand the reasons ECI translates to smoother, more cost-effective projects. The biggest advantage when it comes to early involvement is the critical experience of those in the field. With years of experience to lean on, construction professionals know how things will fit together, the sequence of the work to be put in place, and the best approach to ensure the design and the constructability of it match up, establishing a smoother process from the start. That expertise is put to the best use at the beginning of the project—when planning and understanding the impact of the work has a greater influence on the overall success of a project. Additionally, early involvement allows the construction experts to impact decisions – whether constructability, cost, or schedule – without change order cost and delays that would be incurred later in the project. The objective is to reduce change orders and eliminate late project value engineering activities that are detrimental to a project schedule.

In addition to demand for industrial facilities ramping up, the complexity of projects is also increasing, especially in the manufacturing and advanced/automated warehousing markets. Design-build isn’t typically a great fit for developers’ proto­type projects due to their standardization and predetermined specifications, but for highly specialized, advanced facilities, ECI can maximize scope and help with team cohesion. Collaborating early helps ensure the design is constructible and efficient before it gets too far down the road, allowing a contractor to provide valuable input for structural, mechanical, and unique local conditions up front. Because designers are not tied to procurement of materials, builders are better suited to help identify decisions on construction material availability, which can be a huge schedule impact, both positive and negative.


Up-front involvement and collaboration have real and direct impacts on project design that are immediately seen from both cost and schedule standpoints. From early procurement to working alongside architects to compare design impacts against the budget in real time, ECI provides many opportunities to shave cost while maintaining the integrity of the owner’s intent. “Early involvement allowed us to offer multiple options for materials and equipment vendors for a recent manufacturing project in South Carolina,” said Engineering Services Director Todd Stuart. “JE Dunn’s Engineering Services team leveraged vendor relationships to procure a combined package of mechanical equipment, building controls, and fire alarm. This resulted in a six-figure savings for the client.”

Leveraging ECI correctly also shows owners how and where time can be saved on the schedule in addition to immediate cost impacts for many reasons. These include a reduction in change orders, enhanced prefabrication planning, and the ability to essentially fast track portions of the design to align with construction activities – all saving time on the schedule.

Some impacts come down to seemingly simple changes—but have complex ramifications thanks to the timing of them. During a recent addition to an operational manufacturing plant, the team was able to provide a 16-week schedule savings at no cost to the client, among other schedule- and cost-saving solutions. This was made possible by providing options and weighing their repercussions before design was complete. “Due to JE Dunn’s experience and understanding of current market conditions, we were able to suggest modifying the construction type from Pre-Engineered Metal Building (PEMB) to Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) structure. This suggested change saved an estimated 16 weeks on the project with no additional cost,” said Vice President Brent Strength.

Other ECI outcomes in recent industrial projects include: 

  • Doubled processing efficiency via collaborative design-build and active engagement in the design for an automotive project
  • 67% reduction of safety violations and incidences as compared to other existing facilities due to recommendations from JE Dunn early in design
  • $600,000 in savings over precast sandwich panels as a result of pricing exercises for building types that considered multiple factors, including projected energy usage and local development codes
  • Six-week schedule reduction for the installation of overhead MEP due to early identification of prefabricated systems, alongside JE Dunn’s virtual design and construction team.


While the benefits are easy to see on paper, it’s the end users who ultimately see the tangible results that ECI offers. At the Southeast Toyota Distributors Vehicle Processing Center in Commerce, Ga., the owner prioritized their associates, keeping their needs at the forefront for every decision, which trickled down to the design and construction team. “The project was and should serve as a blueprint of the potential outcomes of ECI, as well as the value of transparency and trust between all parties,” said Senior Project Manager Scott Bodden. “We established a set of mutual project goals at the beginning—developed with employee input and buy-in— which helped drive the options the team presented early on. The new facility is now twice as efficient as the old one, and safety incidents have been cut in half thanks to collaborative design and construction and truly thinking through the way the building is used.”

The project also underscores the importance of collaboration between all parties—owner included—at the beginning. Not only does it foster an honest relationship, but it also helps feed the creative process to develop solutions while considering the cost implications and working to identify the best way to solve it together. “By truly working with the owner and design team together, we are able to present options while having an honest conversation to provide guidance based on our field experience and expertise,” said Strength.


The bottom line when it comes to early con­tractor involvement is that owners get the best of both worlds—schedule and cost projections with such a high level of accuracy that they aid decision making and improve the quality of each project. The ripple effect means the results are across all three aspects—cost, schedule, and quality—creating a positive domino effect that delivers optimal results for all parties. Though complex projects are the most conducive to ECI results, the good news is that it’s not just large-scale projects that feel the impact. Brought on during the preconstruction phase for a recent $10 million project to provide input up front and analyze potential savings, the team utilized ECI and identified cost savings that amounted to $900,000—a 9 percent savings on total project cost. By having means and methods discus­sions early in projects, teams usually end up with better design that is more cost effective and makes the best use of dollars and resources, so all parties come out ahead.