Engineering at Risk
From my experience over the past 20 years, it appears that Engineering is changing into a type of production line in most consultancies and contractors alike. Less emphasis is given to the Engineering aspects of the projects than the economy of the project. There are obviously exceptions in high prestigious projects where this is not the case. But most of the local authorities and private organizations opt for the economy in the construction of the structure to a degree where the Engineering part is sacrificed and decisions are made base on the pressure from client, contractor due to shortage of time and budget in completing the projects.
More often than not the designers are not involved in the pricing and programming the design works, they are given a programme to work to. The Designers should assess the programme and raise their concerns if any right at the start of the project.
Vague scopes of the works can cause a lot of redundant work. It is worth studying the project first and making a list of comments/questions to clarify the areas where the Engineer may think it is unclear. The Engineer needs to communicate the queries using appropriate communication methods (Technical Queries, TQ) to document this at the start of the project.
Instruction from the parties involved in the project is another trap that the designers fall into quite frequently. The Engineer receives instructions to change something without realising the consequences of the change. The Engineer should document the change and inform the instructor of the effect of the change on the program and budget, he/she may change his/her mind.
The contractors generally ignore the construction methods and details that are specified by the designer and choose a cheaper and quicker option without consultations with the designers. They then argue and pressurize the designers to justify the methods used are acceptable.
One of the arguments that we hear constantly is that “we have done this many time in the past”, this does not validated the correctness of the method and its fitness for the specific purpose. The design codes have changed and more strict requirement might be in place today than it was in the past, therefore this should not be used as a justification. Specific projects have specific details, constraints and so on, the fact that it has been done in the past is a vague statement that has no value at all. The liability is still with the designers to ensure they comply with the current Standards.
The other phrase used commonly is “it should be fine”, it should be fine based on what, how many time have we thought a design to be sufficient, prior to carrying out calculation only to find out after calculations that it not sufficient. The designers should carry out the necessary calculation in all circumstances and not post calculate the design. Which then would be impossible to change the design as soon as it is out f the door. The Designer then need to do a lot of research, cutting corners to justify the design.
The designers are expected to work with shorted programs and produce more. The economic crisis has further affected the budget on the projects. One of the common phrases used in many companies to justify the pressure on the Engineers is “You are lucky that you still have a job”!
1) Engineers are expected to work with extremely tight deadlines, obviously not compromising the design and produce the same amount of calculations as before due to shortage of budget.
2) Engineers are expected to accept what has been built by the contractors to economise the construction cost.
3) Commonly used phrases mentioned above should not be used as justification.
4) Vague scope of works
5) Engineers should be grateful for having a job! What a joke!
What should we do as Designers and Engineers.
1) Value our work
2) Assess the program of works at the beginning of the project and raise any concerns that we may have.
3) Document all the communications and decision that are made. People give instructions and later forget! This is very common in our industry, always document the decisions made.
4) Document all the variation/changes to the design and send to the parties involved specifying the addition time, budget and resources that it requires.
5) Ensure that sufficient calculations are carried out prior to submitting something to Client or the Contractor.
6) Do not be pressurised by various parties involved. If you delay the submission and ensure it is right is much better than submitting something which may not be correct. I have seen many urgent cases where if something was not done in two days time then a disaster will happen, few months down the line the designers were still carrying out the design and everything was fine!