Cashing in on commissioning
Mark Todd of the Commissioning Specialists Association calls for new ways of working to match the new technologies now available to the construction industry – and to help achieve better buildings for the future
In the last two decades, I have witnessed many changes in the construction industry. The game has more challenges than ever before and pressure to lessen costs, increase productivity, make ecologically sound choices, and achieve completion on projects within the allotted timeframe so that heavy penalties are not levied, is intense.
New ideas are abundant, which in itself is commendable but so often rethinking standard protocols and methods of working are overlooked. Obviously, no one is trying to reinvent any wheels here, however, updating processes and redefining tasks or improving communication between trades and contractors can only be a positive thing and serve to take the industry forward into the future.
Competition is fierce as always and with the uncertainty of potential Brexit ramifications looming, the industry needs to make its procedures and processes slicker, cleaner and the best-fit for contemporary business operations immediately. Technological leaps are all well and good, but without the sustainability and support of the underlying management of the tasks, hard work, considerate construction, speed, and skill are rendered redundant. Building is a team sport and as such cannot afford to include any weak players. We can no longer allow old rivalries between trades, poor communication, and conflicts of programming hold us back; in order to be more cohesive, new channels must be forged between all areas and best practises shared so that the team, as a whole, wins.
Previously, buildings were expected to be at a stage of near completion when commissioning took place and while this is often still the case, there is now a wave of designers and contractors who are beginning to understand that earlier consideration of the commissioning process is vital to optimising several fundamental features of the build schedule. Synergy means efficiency.
Time and money are paramount for any new development. Economic viability is the first subject covered before any construction starts and the programme is decided with this in mind in order that time is used most efficiently, to minimise extraneous spending.
A more accurate idea of the commissioning requirements at this stage would enable a more economic use of these two factors. For example, ordering the programme to delay the completion of ceilings in order that the commissioning process does not disrupt works that have already been completed and creating extra work to rectify any snags. Errors in the design could be discovered sooner and put right on a drawing, rather than a fully finished building, ensuring maximum time and cost efficiency. Early involvement at the pre-construction stage should include a commissionability study to be undertaken as a desktop review of all drawings and specifications in order to find any anomalies which should then be discussed the design team, point-by-point so that they can be adopted into the design as necessary.
Saving money by being able to better gauge the amounts of materials and conserve wastage is imperative, indeed the ecological aspects can be served at this point too; with so much to gain from BREEAM awards and financial offsets and grants, factoring in the commissioning process from the outset would lead to more effective execution and greater eco results.
It is unquestionably the responsibility of every individual to care for our environment, but the greater responsibility lies with us to facilitate changes and engender ecological awareness and progress on a massive scale. We can literally build a far better future for generations to come but this is only achievable by working smarter; working together across all sectors.
The planning of labour can also be optimised further down the line if designers were better acquainted with the mechanics of commissioning as the Resource Manager can communicate estimates of how many engineers would be needed at various stages of the operation to the designer and potentially reduce superfluous staff early on. Streamlining the numbers of people on site make for less expenditure and fewer wasted man hours, thus saving money and making the process more expedient. All this takes a meeting between the Commissioning Manager and the lead Designer at the appropriate juncture and a lot of headaches and hassle can be avoided further down the line.
The suggestion of a finely tuned integrative approach to our business is not idealistic, it can be a very real way of working. It is up to us to engender an ethos of cooperation, cross sector education, and early coalescence to solve problems in 2D before they are made three dimensional issues with expensive resolutions. I believe that a more unified team is a stronger team, and a stronger team makes for a more dynamic industry, one that is prepared for issues prior to their execution, one that is intelligent and diligent, one that brings the British building industry to the fore and makes it one of which we can be proud.
Mark Todd is vice chairman of the Commissioning Specialists Association and chairman of the CSA Technical Subcommittee. He is also director of Ashford Environmental Services.