10.11.2015 : Bruce Chappell

Design for the asset life cycle

Designers need to recognise that decisions made as early as the planning stage of projects can have a significant influence on the maintenance and operation stage, and thereby also affect the asset user.

Here's a question for designers. How well do you walk in your client's shoes?

Knowledge of and accounting for the things that matter to the owners, builders, operators, maintainers and users of the assets we design is a measure of how skilled we are as designers.

Our clients can be stakeholders in some or all of the stages of an asset’s life cycle; planning, design, procurement, operation, maintenance, renewal, rehabilitation, monitoring and disposal.

Some key elements of these stages that should be considered by designers are:

  • Is the design safe to build, to use, to maintain and operate, to renew and to dispose of?
  • Will the design enable efficient maintenance with minimum disruption to asset users?
  • Does the design offer the best whole of life value?
  • What design alternatives are there that the owner should be aware of, enabling the owner to make investment choice?
  • Will the end user (the asset users and/or client’s customers) be satisfied with the level of service the asset provides?

Unless designers consciously develop the knowledge and undertake the training needed to answer these questions, the best designers will be those that spend time working in the various asset life cycle stages. Industry collaboration and knowledge sharing is fundamental to getting the best long term outcomes.

A good example of this thinking is a designer including cross-over gates in motorway median barriers. Gates in the median barrier allow the maintainers and operators of the network to move all traffic to one side with temporary cones placed to separate opposing traffic flows. This is called contra-flow. The advantages of being able to do this are:

  • A section of the motorway in one direction is isolated for safe maintenance activities to occur
  • Road users do not get detoured off the motorway into unfamiliar suburbs
  • Road user delays are minimised
  • Maintenance and operation is more efficient with significant savings

Designers need to recognise that decisions made as early as the planning stage of projects (e.g. conditions of resource consents) can have significant influence on the maintenance and operation stage and thereby also affect the asset user.

Designers, the challenge is there, develop your skills to design for the asset life cycle.

About the Author

Bruce Chappell

Technical Director - Civil Engineering

Bruce is a Technical Fellow specialising in pavements. He’s spent the last seven years embedded in the Auckland Motorway Alliance (AMA) where he leads the asset management team. His recent experience has highlighted the need for maintenance and operation safety and whole of life cost issues to be represented during the planning, design and procurement stages of capital works projects, to help get better outcomes for all stakeholders and customers.

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What Do You Think?

martin · 11/01/2016 2:36:08 PM
Great article Bruce! A challenge with capital works can be presenting a compelling case for additional expenditure up front in order to realise the longer term benefits over the asset lifecycle - particularly when some of the less tangible benefits (such as improved levels of service) may not easily translate into cost savings. We've experimented with tools before to compare design solutions in terms of whole of lifecycle cost and benefits, but more often than not we find that it's the lowest capital cost that gets approval. Its a great initiative to promote this whole-of-life thinking right back at the planning stage.

Nick Jarvinen · 20/11/2015 12:18:30 AM
Nice article, Bruce. I hope it gives some new insight to designers on the clients' long term needs.