Lessons from a neophyte

Over the past year, I've developed a new, deeper respect for what plant engineers go through on a regular basis. I've been going through a major remodeling project on my home. It's been a little more than a year since we started, and we're nearing completion. What an education! My hat is off to any plant engineer who deals regularly with major projects, outside contractors, barely competent s...
By Richard L. Dunn Editor May 1, 2001

Over the past year, I’ve developed a new, deeper respect for what plant engineers go through on a regular basis.

I’ve been going through a major remodeling project on my home. It’s been a little more than a year since we started, and we’re nearing completion. What an education! My hat is off to any plant engineer who deals regularly with major projects, outside contractors, barely competent suppliers, undisciplined designers, etc., etc.

I know plant engineers have to deal with these kinds of challenges on an almost daily basis. And conversations with many of you lead me to believe I’ve had it easy. So, I feel like I’m preaching to the choir here. Nevertheless, let me toss out a few lessons I’ve learned — or already knew, but didn’t pay enough attention to.

Never assume anything. It’s not that people are out to get you; it’s just that well-intentioned people can, and often do, make mistakes. Whether they’re careless mistakes or honest errors, they cost you time, money, and aggravation.

Double check all drawings and specifications— especially if they include existing facilities/equipment. Make sure that dimensions on the drawings match what actually exists.

Make sure that what you think is being ordered is actually what is being ordered. Part numbers get transposed. Direct replacements sometimes aren’t. Exact matches sometimes don’t.

Inspect all deliveries. The bill of lading may be correct. The package labels may be correct. But what’s inside may not be.

Track down all subsequent changes that may result from a single change. Nearly every change calls for another change somewhere else — or at least creates the opportunity for a change. Investigate all the possibilities.

Do the math. Get the “hidden” costs out in the open. Compare your numbers with your suppliers’. Work the schedule (e.g., does “a week” mean seven calendar days or seven working days?).

Keep good notes and records. The best memory is the one that’s on paper.

Remember that a good contractor or supplier is a resource to be cherished. Alliances and partnerships are almost trite expressions these days, but real ones are worth developing and preserving.

And one other principle I’ve learned to appreciate more than ever: Problem prevention is the best way to save time, money, and stress.

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