Last month, I addressed some of the pitfalls of company standards, so this month I will touch on some of the benefits of standardization beginning with quality control. For those not familiar with the quality process, continuous quality initiative, etc., standards are the cornerstone of quality control. Analogous to everyone pulling in the same direction, company standards set the course for everyone to engineer in the same direction. And, contrary to some people's belief that standards limit creativity, I believe that standards contribute to creativity.

Pipe Sizing: An Example

If a company establishes the building basics, basis of design, and/or basis of construction, it can control repetitive actions. At the same time, standardization frees up time for the design engineer to focus on more pressing issues. For example, pipe sizing is pipe sizing. There are pertinent issues associated with the sizing of the distribution system but not worth revisiting each and every project. More importantly is the value-added benefit of having adequate time to size the pipe distribution based on hours of operation (e.g., 2,000 hours a year vs. 8,760 hours a year). An office standard to be included in the engineering manual could be multiple pipe charts based on hours of operation each year. Once these charts are established and documented, the company needs to educate each and everyone on the application of the standardized pipe selection chart based on hours of operation. It is important to emphasize that no one should be allowed to size pipes from these charts until they have passed a company test associated with this standard.

Putting Standards Into Practice

When it comes to standard details, a company can buy a published manual full of details or follow the age-old tradition of copying the competition's standard details. That is the easy part. The hard part comes when the company has to establishing a training program for each and every person who will be allowed to make use of these details. Make it mandatory that no one can place a detail on a contract drawing unless they can recite the merits of the detail based on the notes on this detail. Furthermore, when using the detail, the design engineer should understand that he/she must not duplicate this effort somewhere else on the contract drawings. Details are meant to save design and drafting time, as well as be informative for the installing contractor. Another important note when applicable is to coordinate the standard detail with the associated contract specification. Quite often, a detail is revised or replaced with a new detail and the contract specification reflects old information.

Next, let's address the office specification. I believe if we eliminated the words "the, and, as needed, as required, etc." we could immediately reduce the volume of words by 20%. In the place of a wordy specification, let's insert charts, schedules, and a design intent matrix. We have now reduced the specification by 50%. The point of this exercise is to highlight the need to not hide behind words, but instead state what is required. Get to the point!

After the company has reduced the size of the specification, now they can begin the training process. For example, how many design engineers know what a clevis hanger looks like and why you may (or may not) want to use it over a band hanger or roll hanger? This is the type of question that needs to be asked to anyone who is going to provide design engineering that is backed up by a contract specification.

Standards Can Save Money

As mentioned last month, office standards are a "double-edged" sword where an individual, not educated in the company's true intent of the details and/or specification, can misapply these engineering tools. Standards, as I see them, are intended to maintain quality of the documents, quality of the engineering design, and to help meet the design firm's own budget/fee. Standards are meant to be informative and to assist the construction team in cost-effectively installing what is needed without a lot of questions.

Today, engineering firms are struggling to be profitable in a booming industry where salaries continue to climb. Standards can be one way to curb inflation by training the design team to be cost-effective through the use of standardization. The better trained the individual is on standard details, abbreviated/standard specifications, and the use of the company engineering manual, the better the project will be. At the same time, the design firm will be in a better position to be profitable while the customer gets the best value for the money.

Remember, use the right side of the sword when venturing into the standards war. ES