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3 Rules to Make Electric Utility Contractors' Lives Easier

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Remember the game Messenger? It starts off with one person telling someone something, and then by the time it gets to the end of the line, it’s usually either off by a few words or completely wrong. I’ve always wondered why that happens…

But from experience, I think I can chop it up to holes in communication. Sometimes we only hear what we want to hear.

In the grand scheme of things, every steel fabricator would like to believe that they are the best- the most reliable, the most efficient, and as true as that might be, sometimes communication gets lost. There are so many “messengers” that hear and deliver important information all the way from the customers, to the contractors, steel vendors, truck drivers and so on, that if the line of communication falls short, it could have a huge effect on the entire project.

And to narrow in a little further, electric utility contractors are the ones who ultimately have to deal with these issues when they arise. When dealing with larger projects, coordinating scheduling, materials, safety procedures, etc. can be very time consuming, but it is also very important.

electrical substation

So what are some of these communication issues, and how can they be solved? Well, I don’t have all the answers since every project is unique, but I do have three suggestions to help improve communication flow between all parties involved to make for a smoother process from start to finish.

  1. Have a clearly defined scope of work.
  2. A set schedule agreed upon in writing from all parties involved.
  3. Well documented customer requests and the means to relay those requests downstream to the different departments like engineering, detailing, shipping, etc.

Depending on when the structures are scheduled to go up, like during outages, material should be checked to make sure that everything is ready to go before the allotted window of time. It might also be a good idea to do inventory checks before the scheduled time to ensure that all the correct pieces are there like hardware or number of poles.

Another communication-must is when tying on to a structure that is already in place. Sometimes it’s not clear if the structure needs to be replicated or upgraded to new codes, and if so, the engineer needs to know if they are responsible for upgrading the entire structure or just the part they are designing.

Having the correct, most up-to-date drawings on site is also very critical. Think about when you’ve tried to put together a desk or a toy car: you need the directions not only to show you the final outcome, but to also follow all the steps required to do so.

During the design phase, if equipment changes, it is crucial that cut sheets get updated so that the engineer can design the structures accordingly so certain things, like holes, can align. If holes misalign or poles don’t fit, it can really put a damper on the entire project.  This usually goes down a long line of communication- from the contractor, to the engineer and then to the detailing department.

Another issue that seems to cause a slight headache is trucks showing up to the jobsite unannounced. It’s important for the fabricator/truck company to call the contractor onsite in advance to make sure they are aware that the material is on the way, and that they are ready and have room for it. It can really throw a morning off if a truck shows up with a couple thousand pounds of steel and either not have enough space to drop it off or not enough manpower to unload it. And while on the topic of shipping, it’s also important that the truck driver is aware of what proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they should have on when delivering loads. 

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