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RE: ENR Article

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Dennis,

I know where you're coming from, and have been there too. The system we
work under is dysfunctional to say the least.

My response came out of total frustration with the situation a few years
ago. An entire project was in chaos with everyone
at each others throat when I was dragged in (kicking and screaming I might
add) to sort things out. I finally took over control
of the entire shop drawing process, issuing the erection and piece drawings
under seal (the design intents on that project
were worthless). The response from everyone surprised me. They were all
happy with it. Including me. I no longer was prowling
through the shop drawings trying to make things work with what I had been
given. I simply did it the way I wanted from the beginning.
The owners liked the idea, (but were savvy enough to realize they were
paying for shop drawings anyway, and eventually didn't care
who they paid to do them).  And strangely, the fabricators and erectors
were the happiest bunch on the project. I expected them to kick
the most, since someone unfamiliar with the vagaries of their shop was now
dictating the entire fabrication. It wasn't the case. There were
a few details which they kicked back for practical reasons related to their
particular shop capabilities which we changed. The rest was a
walk in the park compared to the situation before, and they were the most
enthusiastic of all at the end.

[A footnote to that story is that last year, that same client brought a
later phase of that same project (complete with the same worthless design
intent drawings) back to me. I simply told them that I would only work on
it again if I repeated the process we used the last time. This time, the 
job went smoothly from the beginning. It took me three years to get final
payment on the first job as everything was being arbitrated. I received my
final check on this one as the erector was nailing down the decking.]

I have no magic bullet to slay the problem. I suspect it is much easier for
this office to wrest back control of the process than
for most. Our clientele is almost exclusively fabricators, contractors, and
other engineers. Further, almost all our work is steel design.
I now simply tell the client that they will get a complete set of erection
drawings under seal (CASE considers me a heretic, I know).
They probably won't get any conventional design intent drawings at all. If
they want, we will detail the entire thing out prior to bidding
with the understanding that the successful bidder will no doubt want to
make a few changes to suit their shop.

That's all we do now. We gently tell owners to take it or leave it. Judging
from the repeat business (and reports of extraordinally narrow
bid ranges) we get, it must be working.

Having said that, I have no idea of how you would get the arrogant
architect, or inexperienced owner to sign on to this process. I suspect
serious, long term re-education is needed by this profession to turn the
design ship off its current heading.

To me, the bottom line was the quality of my structures. The design intent,
erection, piece drawing split up was no longer working on compressed
schedules and ridiculous budget expectations. Quality, at the very least,
was suffering. On some projects it was so bad that I feared for design
safety as well. Desperation and chaos drove me to try taking back the
process entirely. Now, it's the only way I will work.

No doubt there are other equally good solutions. This is mine.

Peter Higgins, SE