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A stitch in time . . .

Details left unchecked can have serious consequences. Lisa Russell talks to consultant Stanger, whose 125th anniversary celebrations coincide with National Construction Week's modern materials day.

Think through the likely problem areas before they happen and don't trust to luck, advises the team at Stanger Science & Environment. All too often, people fail to ask the most fundamental questions and carry out basic checks, only to find themselves faced with costly problems when finishes fail, hundreds of bolts have to be thrown away or a key component simply doesn't fit.

Too much is done on trust, and basic mistakes are made on projects involving even well known contractors and consultants, says project manager, inspection services, Roger Wood. Management contracting and design and build are making an impact.

'Site teams are now more into management and deal in packages, not processes or detail, ' maintains Wood.

They may care more about when the component is arriving than ensuring someone is keeping an eye on things at the fabrication yard.

Many project managers rely on and trust their suppliers and specialist subcontractors to ensure adherence to the technical specifications. But ISO 9000 does not guarantee, things will be done properly, stresses Wood.

Coming up with an appropriate inspection and testing plan is an important issue. 'We see ourselves as a lot of nanobots worrying the job to death, ' he adds.

Firms need to consider all the potential problems, says head of metallurgy and engineering services Tim Norman, such as whether steel sourced from certain other countries will have been through a sufficiently thorough testing procedure, whether couplers are up to CARES standard, and what documents and test certificates will be needed later in the project, say by an insurer's engineer. A test costing perhaps £100 can give a lot of information and greater confidence, small price to pay when a structure could cost £1M.

Practical testing could take on board anything from inspecting installation of high strength friction grip bolts - often assembled with the component parts in the wrong order - to checking the welding of components or being present for bearing tests. Typically, a major problem costs 29 times more to tackle a second time, says Wood, and often a proper method statement and tests would have avoided the problem.

'People often can't see the wood for the trees. They are so focused on issues like design or stress calculations that they don't ask the most fundamental questions, ' says Norman.

Traditionally, Stanger would be brought in to solve problems, though increasingly organisations are realising the positive impact of taking preventative steps from the outset, spotting where things are likely to go wrong and working on the specification of the materials. Some manufacturers now have a policy of bringing in their own independent testing consultant. And some clients, such as Railtrack, demand secondary independent quality monitoring, to ensure that what they are paying for is what they are getting, says Wood.

The premium for putting in place extra checks, for instance quality audits in a prefabrication yard, adds a small percentage extra to the cost, says Norman. On one project, the firm's total involvement has cost the client less than the advertising hoarding. 'If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, ' warns Wood.

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