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The right track

September 6, 2011
I just wanted to thank Howard McKew for his many articles and insights in Engineered Systems over the years. So many times, he has focused on important design, construction, operation, and performance issues with direct, sensible approaches.

Over many years, I had responsibilities at GE Aircraft Engines in Cincinnati that went from engine development testing to facility construction to design and construction management (including development of design & construction standards), and finally, safety and environmental management.

My experience has instilled much of the same the same focus that you express so well.

• The design process and design reviews must be thorough, with all stakeholders involved.

• Explain things to customers in ways that they understand and make them part of the decision process.

• The HVAC and safety system operation sequence needs to be spelled out by the design engineer, in understandable terms that make the objective and method obvious (rather than leaving this to the controls submittal).

• The design reviews need to include formal customer commitment, to avoid design and construction changeorders.

• The bid documents for firm bid construction should make clear three acceptable brands for equipment (using the "or approved equal" language leads to games; the recommended vendor feels locked in and keeps the price high, then the winning contractor attempts to substitute and pocket the difference). The construction bids should request unit prices to be applied to changeorders for any likely adds or deletes.

Some of the increase in construction documents is disturbing. Part of this occurs because it is so easy to copy important-sounding text. Part is a CYA mentality. We had extensive facility engineering standards — every one that I rewrote, I reduced by 50%. While some CYA is essential, we are far better off when we clearly and simply convey to the contractor our intent. With too many words, the contractor will likely not read it all and will miss the point.

Commissioning has been a key focus for Howard and is so important. Without this, the design intent and performance will not likely be achieved. Contractors would frequently fail to initially do a proper commissioning and attempt to satisfy me by giving vague reassurances. My favorite response, since we develop jet engines, was, "Say, you know, we have a brand new engine design and we are going to fly in a brand new Boeing plane. We really have not tested either, but we think they will work well — can we count on you to be aboard the first flight?" They usually get the point!

Providing the training and reference material to Maintenance is so important. I insisted that the contractor provide bound manuals, with drawings and commissioning data that clearly identified the specific equipment used for this project. Mylar drawings are posted at the site. I learned the hard way that my creative design was worthless without maintenance, understanding, and support.

Feedback to the designer is often neglected but important. Without this, the designer logically assumes that the design is perfect. Feedback is needed from the contractor, owner, and maintenance.

Good contractors can be a real asset to the designer, giving feedback about the construction documents, design improvements from other sources, equipment that performs well or is of poor quality, simplifications, and cost reductions.

I am really impressed by his approaches, and thank him for his many fine articles. My experience has certainly reinforced my appreciation for his sound advice!

Philip V. Boyd P.E.
Consulting Engineer
Boyd Engineering
Hamilton, OH

McKew responds:

Thank you for taking the time to e-mail me with your comments and feedback. It is always good to get feedback back — good or bad, but preferably good to reinforce we are on the right track with our topics.

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