How to mitigate construction costs using quality control
Quality must be a teamwide commitment to execute plant construction projects successfully in today’s volatile building industry.
- Learn how to prioritize quality during all stages of construction.
- Understand the characteristics of a quality management system.
- Review some tips to identify and mitigate today’s most common construction risks.
- Beginning a new manufacturing facility’s construction project with quality in mind can ensure final product that exceeds expectations.
- Using a checklist or detailed routine for all portions of the project can keep it on time and on budget, and ensure the team remains safe.
Quality is not a byproduct of a successful capital construction project. Quality is an intentional commitment to systems and processes that ensure construction can move forward despite challenges to deliver a final product that exceeds client expectations.
Quality means consistent planning for safety, scheduling, budgeting, employee training and more from preconstruction to project turnover. An experienced construction partner with a commitment to quality woven into its company culture can ensure quality is a top priority on even the most complex manufacturing and industrial facilities.
Define quality during preconstruction
All project team members — including design, construction and owner representatives — must understand their roles in ensuring quality and remain engaged in the process. During preconstruction, the team should create a customer service-based quality management system (QMS) that will be closely followed through project close out. The QMS identifies internal and external risk and requires documentation, auditing and continuous system improvement.
The team should focus on creating clear documentation in the QMS that can help track and maintain quality through the project’s life cycle. Documents that should be created and reviewed include:
Fully stated policies and procedures.
A defined scope of the QMS.
A process map or flowchart.
Checklists of audit requirements.
Having a formalized routine, even for small-scale items, ensures quality stays top-of-mind for all team members. The process and procedural goals and expectations established in the QMS should be clear, with documentation indicating when tasks need to be performed; where and how those tasks should be performed; and who will perform them.
The first area to focus on quality is the project’s proposal phase, where the team should clarify ambiguous language and identify areas that may require extra attention, such as risks to material acquisition, labor and other areas that may lead to unexpected costs. The initial review can support the team’s understanding of client expectations and deliverables.
The future owner should be kept in mind from preconstruction to project conclusion. The team should evaluate systems to make plant operation more efficient — including future maintenance and even repairs.
Preconstruction also is a good time to focus on relationship building among the team and all involved parties. For example, estimating can be used to form relationships versus simply conducting business interactions. As construction begins and progresses, it’s key to keep lines of communication open among all team members in the office and in the field.
Commit to continuous improvement
After documents are defined and construction begins, the team must commit to ongoing measurement and recordkeeping of progress and compare it to agreed-on documentation to ensure overall quality is consistently achieved.
Regularly scheduled health assessments of implemented processes — such as document control, materials management and deconstruction work package execution — by site personnel overseeing quality will verify that processes are working as intended. Personnel also should conduct broad-based health assessments of the implemented processes as they relate to the applicable scope of work. These assessments should identify problematic noncompliance as well as effectiveness against critical processes, leading indicators, pre-planning initiatives, best practices and technical requirements.
Many companies track lagging indicators such as volumetric reject rates and nonconformances. However, tracking leading indicators, such as assessment and audit compliance, provides a way to course correct in a timely manner. The goal of a successful QMS is continuous improvement, not a project that goes according to plan all the time.
The team should create alternative plans for important processes that carry risk and have the potential to stall the project. Create a risk register to tackle smaller issues before they grow into larger problems. This tactic may reveal long lead items, opportunities for improvement and areas that could use additional planning to keep the project moving forward.
Mitigate major construction and other risks
In today’s volatile construction environment, materials acquisition is ripe for inefficiencies and risk pitfalls. With many materials requiring a yearlong lead time — and some experiencing two years or more — contractors must work with owners and engineers to create backup plans. All materials should be generalized and requested in ranges of acceptability to avoid long wait times for unique or specialized materials.
Working with trusted vendors helps ensure quality in materials. Vendors can offer alternatives to hard-to-access products that can keep projects moving forward and within budget by evaluating the full life cycle costs. For example, a product may have a higher upfront cost but could be more efficient and save the future operator money in the long run.
As labor continues to be a top challenge for contractors, material selections should never be made in a void. In fact, NCCER found the annual industry attrition rate in construction ranges between 20% and 40% as many industry veterans reach retirement age and fewer young people enter the industry. Without taking labor availability into account during preconstruction, a project could require a large workforce, which comes with additional training and supervision that adds to overall costs. Labor is a variable cost that can rise quickly and easily outweigh costs of materials. The smaller the workforce required, the more likely a construction team can control costs.
Finalizing a construction project
At the end of construction, avoid quality pitfalls related to product turnover. Contract agreements regarding turnover, including content and format, may not always accurately reflect what the customer wants. Resolving this situation quickly can eliminate redundancy in quality verification documentation, such as inspection and test reports, certificates of compliance, requests for information, nonconformances and general inspections — as well as lead to a turnover process that is more productive overall.
Engaging all parties involved in the design, construction and future operation of a plant in quality control will result in a final product that is delivered on time and within budget. From preconstruction to closeout, a strong QMS will lead to a smooth construction process and a finished product that exceeds expectations.