By John Doherty

As engineering and construction firms continue to expand globally, their need to manage costs at all levels of project delivery becomes increasingly important.  One of the key ways of managing costs is by putting in place a program that promotes continuous improvement in operational effectiveness, an approach that a majority of the industry’s companies are interested in adopting. 

PwC’s 2013 E&C CEO survey revealed more than half (53 percent) of CEOs indicated a focus on improving operational effectiveness. To be successful, operational effectiveness programs should have process, functional and talent management dimensions. From a process perspective, each step, from opportunity identification through turnover, needs to be assessed for opportunities to reduce time and move decisions to the lowest possible level consistent with appropriate review. Opportunities for reducing time can be as simple as making the operational manuals and sporting checklist accessible to the project manager through tablets.  Some  firms also have approval processes in place that require senior management involvement in all steps in the process, where, in fact, the decisions could easily be handled by less senior management as long as a well-structured and approved delegation of authority matrix and governance process is in place.

Processes effectiveness is not only about the efficient execution of the project. It is also about having a standard model for project management across regions and countries. With this approach, staff can be readily transferred across regions to meet client demands without the need for significant retraining. Functional excellence is also key.  Each functional department − purchasing, cost accounting, IT and HR − needs to look closely at the department processes as they intersect the delivery of a project and ensure the operational level of excellence supports the goals being set by the delivery team. For example, a purchasing department that takes weeks to respond to a request for a new subcontractor can significantly impact a project’s success.

Many companies are exploring models where the purchasing staff, while still owned by the corporate function, are deployed on the projects.  This model can help ensure the corporate policies and procedures are maintained while supporting the need for rapid response at the project level. Talent management is another area where a focus on providing operational excellence can significantly impact delivery. This is particularly true when sourcing staff from external agencies. A talent management function should have a disciplined approach to capturing not only current but projected needs and proactively translating these into a steady pipeline of new candidates from regions where the skills are well developed. In summary, globalization is driving a need for operational excellence at the process, functional and talent management levels.  Companies that do not focus on operational excellence are likely to have significant challenges meeting their profit and revenue targets as they expand into international markets.

John Doherty is PwC’s U.S. engineering and construction advisory leader. He has more than 35 years of experience in industry and expertise in the areas of strategic planning, large capital program management, project risk assessment, project bidding, buyout optimization, project execution improvement, supply chain management, strategic planning and IT management, and application implementation.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

By Tony Inglese

Concrete has been an integral part of structures in society since the Romans first used it thousands of years ago and it is easy to see why. The Pantheon in Rome still survives to this day proving the ability of concrete to survive the ages. Concrete as worked so well for so long that historically the industry is rarely a witness to revolutionary innovation. However, in recent years the concrete industry – fueled by advances in science and technology – has begun to see several interesting new trends that may very well indicate where the industry’s future lies and how we will see concrete differently in the future.

Polished Concrete Floors: Even today concrete floors are unfortunately oftentimes seen as a bare-bones build-in that is only suitable for warehouse floors and parking lots, however, in a world where green tech have spiked in popularity polished concrete floors are beginning to offer sustainability to commercial and retail facilities across the globe. Polished concrete is created after being treated with a chemical densifier, being ground and polished with high-grit pads until it is 800-3000 grit, and then stained or dyed with a variety of stains and dyes that can make it look similar to various granites or quartzes. Because polished concrete floors are already made of a material that is built into facilities to begin with, it reduces a building’s carbon footprint simply by cutting out the need to buy flooring. Additionally, these glossy floors reflect overhead lighting quite easily which can help even the largest and dimmest of spaces to look brighter.

Pervious Concrete: Also known as permeable or porous pavement, pervious concrete is another green trend in commercial concrete construction that is becoming increasingly more popular and an increasingly environmentally-conscious world. Pervious concrete is actually a technology that was first used in the mid-19th century but has recently rebounded as another Green technological advance. As its name suggests, pervious concrete has miniscule pores that allows rain water to drain into the ground instead of overfilling storm drains and detention ponds. Additionally, it prevents materials from being swept into storm drains and clogging them.

Graphene Reinforced Concrete: Graphene is a flat monolayer layer of graphite in which the carbon atoms are arranged hexagonally. Research in recent years has shown that graphene could potentially be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, material in the world with an ultimate strength of 130,000 megapascals (MPa) and a density of 1.0 g/cm3. Comparatively, concrete has an ultimate strength of 3 MPa and a density of 2.7 g/cm3, structural steel an ultimate strength of 400 MPa and a density of 7.8 g/cm3, and diamond an ultimate strength of 2,800 MPa and a density of 3.5 g/cm3. Concrete is already commonly reinforced with steel or other fibers but even a small amount of graphene added to concrete has the potential to hugely boost concrete’s tensile and compressive strength as well as reducing concrete’s weight.

When consumers think of the word “change” they often don’t think of the concrete industry; after all, to most, concrete construction looks like as if it hasn’t changed since the Romans first did it. But the truth is that science and technology impact concrete construction in so many ways and these new ways to make and use concrete will lead to the creation of structures that will last a millennia.

Tony Inglese works for Enviro-Systems, a concrete construction solutions company offering environmentally friendly concrete products that assist with concrete washout and concrete removal

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

By Tara Compton Half the summer's gone, so if you were planning to take advantage of those couple extra hours of daylight each day by upgrading the tech solutions in your home, you'd better get moving. Today's innovations include motorized window shades, do-it-yourself alarm systems and thermostats that learn your temperature preferences, all of which can be controlled remotely through your mobile device. As a construction professional, you've got a leg up compared on other homeowners when it comes to DIY projects – so check out what's new and exciting in home technology solutions. Here are some tips to working your way through what's out there:

Motorized Window Shades

Motorized window shades enable you to control how much light you let in or keep out of your home, regardless if you're home or not. You can use a mobile app to check and set your window shades throughout the day, provide light to your pets during certain periods, protect your furniture from the blazing summer sun or set the shades to open a few minutes before you arrive home. Learn more about motorized shades at the Customer Electronic Design and Installation Association site.

Wireless Security Systems

With more people choosing to use apps to control home automation, a wireless security system makes good sense today if a homeowner travels or is away from home frequently. Violent crime and property crimes continue to rise, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, homeowners can have extra peace of mind with a wireless security system. With a mobile app, you control your home's security system from anywhere in the world. Wireless systems also manage your security through power outages and storms. Monitoring systems are made to continue to receive signals wirelessly, even if the neighborhood's power has been knocked out.

Smart Energy

This same mobile technology explosion enables homeowners to tinker with the amount of energy a home uses during the course of a week or month through use of a smart thermostat, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat. Controlled through Wi-Fi, this thermostat "learns" the temperatures you prefer and adjusts itself accordingly. Homeowners can check energy stats, wattage amounts and cost savings with various changes to energy plans. All of this is gleaned and controlled right from one's mobile device.

Tara Compton researches environmental sustainability, DIY home repair and holistic health and wellness practices. 
Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].  

By Frances "J.R." Babineau

Continuous insulation (CI) has quickly become the rule when it comes to meeting the higher efficiency requirements mandated by the most recent International Energy Conservation Code. As exterior foam sheathing becomes a more common means to achieve CI, it is important to understand the details that can detract from CI’s effectiveness.

Here are five considerations:

Avoid using just one insulating material While traditional cavity insulation is great, batts and rolls alone cannot prevent thermal bridging. Solution: A combination of exterior foam sheathing and interior cavity insulation ensures a seamless thermal barrier across the structure, making a great CI solution.

Properly install cavity insulation Cutting corners on the cavity insulation will decrease the overall effectiveness of the entire wall system. Batts and rolls, or spray foam are good options, but standard installation best practices must be followed. Solution: If installing batts and exterior sheathing, ensure the batts are trimmed properly and aren’t compressed into tight spaces. Interior cavity insulation should touch all six faces of the structure — the front, back and all four sides. If using spray foam, fill the full depth of the cavity to ensure proper R-value – but don’t overspray. If cavities are overfilled, contractors must trim or grind down the foam prior to gypsum board installation.

Choose the right sheathing material Not all materials are created equal: Be sure to use the material that will lead to minimum complications and maximum performance Solution: Of foam sheathing options, XPS and polyiso are the two most popular. XPS foams are durable, are less permeable and offer an R-value of about 5 per inch. At an R-value of about 6 per inch, polyiso foam is one of the most thermally efficient insulations on the market. Polyiso also contributes to a more fire-safe structure as it will not melt even at very high temperatures.  This makes for a great solution for commercial building.

Right-size and air-seal windows Window frames and panes are very conducive. Accounting for 25 percent (or more) of the total area in commercial buildings, they can constitute up to half the energy loss. Solution: Consider reducing the window-to-wall ratio and avoid floor-to-ceiling windows. Instead, design window locations and selection to maximize effective daylighting and views. It’s win-win: people still benefit from the sunlight and the view but the thermal bridges between the sill and the floor can be reduced with insulation. Also, note that gaps around windows should be air-sealed with foam, not fiberglass.

Make balconies energy smart Balconies are a high-demand element in commercial buildings, but they can be a thermal nightmare. Solution: Don’t create the balcony simply by extending the floor slab to project off the side of the building. Instead, create a balcony that is separated from the building structure using steel connectors and foam blocks to secure the balcony to the building. Or, consider using a less conductive material such as wood or wood-plastic composites or a standalone balcony connected to ground.  

As a building scientist for Johns Manville, Frances "J.R." Babineau is responsible for research and technology development of building products and applications, with an emphasis on indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency.  He has been with Johns Manville for 16 years and is actively involved in standards development through ASHRAE and the Building Performance Institute (BPI).  

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

By Ron Antevy

As a designer or contractor, you want repeat customers, since multiple projects with the same facility owner will almost always result in higher profit.  Why is this the case?  For one, the sales costs go down with a repeat customer.  An element of trust is built between you and the owner so subsequent projects don’t have to be solely about cost, ensuring that you maintain your margins. Finally, as you gain experience with the same owner, the operational “unknowns” and risks are reduced. How do you go about increasing the odds that your customer will return for more? When the project is all said and done, the owner needs to look back and say that the scope, cost and schedule met their expectations. Try these three things during the project to standout with the owner and really "wow" them.

  1. Over-communicate: Provide regular status updates and report good news, as well as bad news. No job is perfect and owners know it better than most.  Are you sharing the whole story?  In the absence of information, people will naturally make assumptions, usually bad ones. Proactively communicate with clients, eliminating the chance of a bad assumption.
  2. Be Transparent:  The more information you are willing to share, the more vulnerable you become. That doesn’t sound like a good thing, but vulnerability builds trust. People do business with people they trust. For more on this, check out this book.
  3. Accept Accountability: If you build a reputation as someone who is willing to be held accountable, again you build trust. Even if that accountability results in a problem or two on the job, you will come out ahead in the long run.  On the other hand, if you spend your time and energy figuring out ways to cover your behind, you won’t have to worry about accountability – but don’t expect future work.

Ron Antevy is president and CEO of e-Builder, a cloud-based construction program management software provider.

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].

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