Shop Drawings Putting Developments Faster Track

By: Isam Saad Sahawneh, B.Sc.C.E., Dip. Arb, Wednesday, February 02 2012

According to the definition provided by the The U.S.’s Engineers Joint Contracts Document Committee (EJCDC), Shop Drawings are all drawings, diagrams, illustrations, schedules, and other data or information which are specifically prepared or assembled by or for contractor and submitted by contractor to illustrate some portion of the work. These drawings are required to show more details than the construction documents do. Any project involves hundreds of shop drawings’ submittals. This process should be carefully monitored and managed to control and limit the potential of incorrect installation, associated delays, and incurred cost.


Shop drawings bridge the gap between design documents and construction documents. Identifying ambiguities through well prepared shop drawings puts the project on a faster
track. In the words of Arthur F. O’Leary, shop drawings are a “necessary evil”. However, it is not the contractor’s responsibility to ensure compliance with the Design Concept. Coordinated shop drawings show the relationship and integration of different construction elements that require careful organization during execution. Coordination of shop drawings of various trades is of utmost importance particularly when the various trades are being carried out by independent subcontractors. Under these circumstances, the main contractor is responsible for ensuring that the shop drawings are well coordinated, constructability is assured, and clashes between trades are avoided prior to installation. Well coordinated shop drawings prevent abortive engineering and avoid additional costs and signi”cant delays. It is more economical to review and correct a shop drawing than to remove and replace

non-conforming work. There is no standard list for shop drawings. The engineer uses his professional judgment to specify the trades that require his review.


The contract documents require that the contractor secures the written approval of the engineer on all shop drawings prior to execution of the works. This concept of approval, not really meaning, is long held and requires a clear understanding in order to evaluate how to apply in the construction phase. While seemingly complicated, it is really about doing the right thing to protect the intent of the parties. This approval does not change the contract requirements, nor does it mean that the product or the design meets the specifications. Approved shop drawings do not rise to the stature of contract documents. So what kind of approval is this? Contractors need assurance that if they perform in accordance with an approved document, they are in compliance with the contract. Yet the Engineer’s approval is conditional, even illusory.


The engineer reviews shop drawings to ascertain that that the contractor understands the design concept, and ensure that the shop drawing complies with the design concept. The contractor remains responsible for the means and methods of construction and verification of field dimensions. Compared to the contractor’s duty and liability in preparing shop drawings, the engineer bears much less of a burden. The date of submission of shop drawings by the contractor and review/approval by the engineer are significant elements in the schedule. As such approval is a precedent condition to procurement of material and installation. Approval process carries the risk of professional liability. Having reviewed the shop drawings, the engineer indicates corrections or modifications to be made and stamp with an action stamp to indicate any of the following:
– Final Unrestricted Release / Approved / No Exceptions Taken
– Final But Unrestricted Release / Approved Except at Noted / Exceptions as Noted
– Returned for Resubmittal / Revise and Resubmit
– Rejected

Submittal reviewers must have adequate knowledge of the project and experience in the industry to make intelligent, professional decisions on the acceptability of materials, synchronization with other project components, and the overall interpretation of the design intent and contract requirements.


Once the engineer provides all the comments and requests for modi”cations upon initial review and if the contractor complies fully with these requirements, the amended shop
drawings are resubmitted once. There are often numerous resubmissions. Under the pressure of resubmitting within a certain time frame, engineers may return a shop drawing
in advance of a comprehensive review.

Conversely, contractors often fail to comply with the engineer’s review requirements. The consequence is a series of resubmissions that may ultimately delay the progress of the works. As such, the contractor’s schedule should account for one round of resubmissions to ensure that the progress of the works is not affected.


Both the initial review period and the resubmission review period granted to the engineer must be indicated in the specifications. The second review period is ideally shorter than the initial period. Any delay by the Engineer does not extend the time for completion. As such, the Contractor needs to provide evidence demonstrating that the process of work was held back due to delays in shop drawing approval. Liability arising from tardiness in the processing of shop drawings was demonstrated in Sterling Millwrights, Inc. v. United States. The Department of the Army engaged a contractor to build a chrome plating facility. The Army suspended performance of the contract and raised a delay claim against him subsequently leading to his termination. The contractor’s schedule established a five-working days review period for shop drawings. The Army’s review of each shop drawing took at least double the time, significantly impacting the contractor’s ability to comply with the schedule. The court of claims ruled in favor of the contractor and converted the termination, permitting the contractor to recover the profit anticipated in the contract.


At times, a contractor utilizes the machinery of shop drawings to introduce changes in the form of substitutions. The engineer’s approval of shop drawings does not constitute approval or acceptance of design changes set forth in shop drawings, “unless the contractor has specifically informed the architect in writing of such deviation at the time of the submittal and the architect has given written approval to the specific deviation as a prior change in the work.” Conversely, Engineers at times develop a design through the process of submittals and resubmission. It was recently declared that the Engineer’s “artistic bent” results in a constructive change in the contract requirements6. The entire process of

submittals and resubmissions resulted from the architect’s “uncertain, evolving idea of the color he wanted to see.”

There are numerous examples of failures due to improper shop drawings. An appalling example of the disastrous consequences of improper shop drawings is the changes that

were applied to the shop drawings for a suspended walkaway in a Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City. The engineer approved the shop drawings showing the connection changes.
Post construction and delivery, the walkways collapsed in the midst of a crowded event, killing 114 people and injuring hundreds of others. Inevitably all parties, including the
engineer, become entangled in the ensuing disputes. Contractors claim that the engineer approved the shop drawing, while employers retort that that the engineer’s approval does
not absolve the contractor of responsibility. The fear was that the design professional would be held accountable, having reviewed the shop drawing for all purposes including

field dimensions, safety issues, and other matters that do not fall under the engineer’s scope of work. Claimants focused on the word “approved” in the attempt of holding the design professional liable. The contractor is unquestionably responsible for errors or omissions in shop drawings.


The nature of construction submittal and shop drawing process is complex with inherent risks. C4 is a secure webbased submittal management tool that was developed by construction managers, engineers, and architects to mitigate these risks and pose solutions for them. It’s used by contractors, consultants, clients, and construction managers to foster collaboration amongst construction project stakeholders and streamline the traditional submittal process. Delays, as well as other costly problems in a construction are often

caused by the inadequate communication and exchange of information. Adopting a solution oriented direction, elements of the AEC industry started moving away from traditional communication methods, relying heavily on online collaboration and project management (OCPM) technology. C4 is not merely a document management or collaboration platform, but also a management tool that can be used to identify areas of underperformance. C4 serves as a platform to expedite the construction process, mitigate obstacles that arise from traditional review forms, and reduce the risks of time delays.