How To Usher Quality In Works?

//How To Usher Quality In Works?

How To Usher Quality In Works?


Er. Jagvir Goyal

The key to create something beautiful and to build a decent reputation for an organization lies in having a complete quality control in construction, not by merely appointing QC inspectors but by removing the basic flaws in the system of tendering, supervision and management of men, machines and materials. Let us analyze the prevailing scenario.

Often, Quality Control in construction works looks to be a complex problem to the engineers requiring them to adopt a very systematic, step-by-step approach. The reason behind this situation is the gaping gap between the theory and on-the-ground reality which has become very wide indeed. Simplest way to bridge this gap looks like increasing the number of personnel in the quality control cell. Such a solution, in actual, doesn’t bring results. To master the art of quality control, one has to look deeper and find out the root causes that lead to poor quality in works.

Quality Contributors: In order to have a self-priming, automatic quality control, first of all, we have to pin-point the items which need to be intensively monitored.  These can be listed as:

  1. Materials.
  2. Men.
  3. Machines.
  4. Money.
  5. Design.
  6. Tendering.
  7. Supervision.

Each of these quality contributors can be discussed.

Materials: Obviously, a number of materials are required for the construction of a structure or project, big or small. The quality of each of these materials will lend to the quality of final product. If the concrete ingredients like cement, sand, coarse aggregate, admixtures and water are not of good quality, how can the concrete be? If the bricks are substandard, brick masonry work can’t be of any standard. If the pipes and joint materials are not good, plumbing work can’t be leak proof or corrosion free. It is therefore of utmost importance that each and every material used in a structure is thoroughly checked and tested for being of top quality before allowing its use in the structure.

Materials can be divided into two classes. Ones, which are brought to site only after the testing of their samples in laboratories of national repute or at the manufacturer’s premises in the presence of trustworthy engineers and the others, which are tested or sampled at the site itself. In this case, the material samples need to be drawn jointly by the supplying agency, using agency and supervisory agency and sent to laboratory of national repute for testing.

Materials under the first category should not be allowed to be brought to site if they don’t conform to specifications while in second case, if materials are not according to specifications, then their removal from the site should be ensured. Just taking punitive measures against the supplier or user but putting the materials to use serves no purpose.

An effective way for the project or structure owner to have quality and his peace of mind is to take control of supply of certain important materials. A list of such important materials can be drawn. It may include cement, steel, sanitary fittings, wood, bricks, paints, electric fittings, finishing materials etc. The owner can easily ensure the quality of materials, check them to be as per laid standards and regulate their supply to the construction agency, thus eliminating all chances of use of sub-standard materials.

Men: By men here, we mean the men executing the work at site. Next to good quality materials, good workmanship plays a vital role in producing a top quality finished product. Men are exposed to different standards of training and experience and acquire their skill accordingly. All don’t possess the same skill. Some are excellent in their work, some are for namesake only. That’s why they are rated as first class masons, second class masons and so on. You can judge them from the wages demanded by them. Take example of welders. They need to be classified as welders for horizontal welding, vertical welding and overhead welding, issued identity cards accordingly before putting them on job. A welder skilled in overhead welding can do any sort of welding job while a horizontal work welder may not.

A confident and skilled worker knowing his job will ask for higher wages and will yet be always in demand. Key to having good workmanship at site lies more in choosing really skilled workers than controlling them at site later on. Once you have chosen a highly skilled worker, he will live to his reputation and produce best results, even if not reminded once to do so at site. His output may be little lesser but that has to be tolerated to have better quality of work.

When it comes to workmanship, unfortunately, we are in a tight spot. Most of the skilled workers in India have either migrated to Arab countries or have started their own businesses to earn better wages. The carpenters, masons and artisans carrying ancient Indian skill are no where seen now. We are left mostly with unskilled or semi-skilled workers. This has been leading to ever deteriorating quality of work.

Upgrading standards of workmanship is not a simple matter. Higher wages or stricter supervision do not pay unless the worker is skilled in his work. That’s why many institutes have initiated training programs to impart skills and to inculcate good work habits among workers. Ambuja Cement people are doing quite a job in this direction. In India, Construction industry is highly labor intensive. Thus, the need for skilled workers will continue to rise for many more years, till the time Indian construction industry becomes fully mechanized.

Machines: Luckily, Indian construction industry is getting mechanized at a fast pace. After the opening up of Indian economy, all the world leaders in construction equipment manufacture have set their eyes on Indian market and have opened their branch offices in India. Top companies from Germany, USA, Sweden, China, Australia and all major countries have put their feet on Indian soil. There was a time when India was in awe of German and Swedish construction equipment. No more now. All this equipment is now available in India, both for purchase as well as hiring.

Latest construction equipment has the power to do wonders. Both speed as well as quality can be achieved through its use. Be it earth moving equipment or the one for concreting, ready mix, concrete pumping, slip forming, road construction, structural steel work, compaction, high rise construction, screening and crushing, tunnel boring, mining, milling, height accessing, dewatering, pumping, piling, drilling, loading, brick or block manufacturing, wood handling, paving, hoisting or steel processing, machinery for it is available. Name a job and equipment for it can be identified immediately.

What is required for better quality control in works is to choose right equipment for a job. The engineer should be very careful in selection of equipment. Over or under performing machines don’t bring desired results and affect not only the quality but progress and economy of the job adversely. Seeking an equipment expert’s advice is better than choosing a wrong machine. Precision, efficiency and maintenance free working for long hours should be the other main features to be looked for.

Money: It is totally incorrect to think that producing good quality of work shall cause more cost. Men of high skill and caliber if employed on the work shall provide better workmanship and better output than that given by semi-skilled workers. Machinery of better make, efficiency and quality shall give better output and performance. It may cost more initially but will soon recover its own cost while substandard machines shall have frequent breakdowns demanding more repair and maintenance costs. Materials of good quality help in achieving required strength, durability and architectural finishes. They eliminate the chances of failure of structures and prevent all failure costs.

A study conducted by USA a few years back revealed that 20 to 25% of total cost of a work was spent in correcting or rectifying it to an acceptable level of quality. Cost of correcting the work was found to be much more than that of steps to be taken for quality control. For 100% defective work, cost of quality control is obviously zero while for a 70% defective work, the cost of failure was found as more than double the cost of construction. Any cost saving made by sacrificing quality of materials, skill of men or efficiency and precision of machinery ultimately results in defective work resulting in higher expenditure on rectification of a job besides loss of reputation. Similarly, money saved by non employing proper supervisory staff results in excessive wastage of materials, idling of machinery, low output of manpower and poor workmanship.

Design: The design team plays a pivotal role in ensuring the creation of a safe and economical structure at site. Skilled designers have the ability to design taller, slender and economical structures that are fully safe, strong and durable. It is important that a designer has a good exposure of field working. It apprises him of the problems faced by the field engineers and his designing drifts away from theory towards practical and realistic area. The designer has the key of simplicity in his hand. A simple structure can obviously be built more quickly and safely than a complex structure. What the designer has to always keep in mind is that besides safety and durability, the structure designed by him fully serves the purpose for which it has been created.

Tendering: The tendering process is prevalent in the country for the last six decades but we are yet to perfect the art of tendering. Faulty procedures generate unnecessary competition among the bidders leading them to quote non workable and exceedingly low rates to fetch a job. The real problem begins after the allotment of works. The lowest and successful bidder, in a bid to earn some profit from the quoted low rates, tries to use inferior materials, hire semi-skilled workers, deploy inefficient and rough machinery. He even tries to win the supervisory staff through ulterior methods. Result is that the quality of work suffers.

Construction works, when allotted to such contractors who have quoted lowest rates, irrespective of whether their quoted rates are reasonable or not, suffer a lot. In India, procedures are such that even if the tendering authority realizes that the rates quoted by the contractor are too low and that he will give a bad quality of work, it has no option but to allot the tender to the lowest bidder.  The tendering authority is under pressure from both sides.  If the work is not allotted to the lowest bidder, the contractor may sue the department for partiality.  If work is allotted to the contractor who is not the lowest bidder but whose rates are reasonable, there is always a fear that the audit party will raise an objection and level a charge that the authority has caused a loss of a particular amount to the government department by not allotting the work to the lowest but to a higher bidder.

A better system would involve a joint appraisal committee which would examine the rates quoted by the contractors.  If the rates are too low in comparison to the present market rates, the tender should be rejected.  The contractor may be given a chance to explain as there is a possibility that he may have stored some materials foreseeing the future rise in prices.  In addition to scrutinizing the rate of each item, the overall assessment of quoted rates should be compared with the estimated value.

Supervision: Best method to ensure complete quality control in structures and projects is to create an independent Quality Control cell at a project site. Only an independent cell can make all the quality control checks and tests fairly and honestly. Sample collection, their testing, computation of readings and bringing out final results is an important job in itself. It can’t be handled by the engineers associated with design or construction work. The Quality Control cell should be fully equipped with all the equipment it requires for taking out samples and their testing at site or in laboratory. These expenses should be counted as a mandatory part of the cost of every structure.    

In order to have a better quality control at site of work, the supervisory staff needs to adopt a systematic approach and simplify its checking procedures. Checks on various items of work and materials at various stages need to be made a matter of routine, as automatic as a military drill. Any construction work should first be divided into clearly laid down stages of work. All these stages should be checked and passed by the supervisory staff before proceeding to the next stage. It should be the joint responsibility of the executing and supervising agency for the quality of work done up to that stage.

Further, for each stage of work, there are a number of sub-activities involved. A check list detailing each sub-activity should now be prepared. For example, in the case of construction of a residential building, there may be 20 major sub-activities and each sub-activity may further involve checking of say 20 check-points. Sub checks under each stage should be made by the supervisory agency during construction itself. Benefit of such checking is that the defective work gets rectified during construction itself. Otherwise, once an item has been completed, its rectification needs dismantling of the work done and leads to wastage of time and money.

A host of precision instruments are now available which should be put to frequent use by the supervisory engineers for accurate assessment of the quality of job done. Concrete is a major and essential component of almost every structure today. A structure’s strength, durability and service depend much on the quality of concrete used in it. Supervisory engineers should pay special attention to the quality of concrete as by doing so, they shall be almost ensuring the overall quality of the structure.

Mini Field Labs: Establishment of a mini or mobile field laboratory by the supervisory engineers often results in timely checking of work and its rectification can be done easily. Such a laboratory should be equipped with all testing apparatus to check the quality of concrete and its constituent elements. Establishment of such a lab costs to the owner just a fraction of the project cost but dividends paid by it are much more than the cost of the mini or mobile laboratory. A compression testing machine, cube moulds and their accessories, a vibration table, sieves for fine and coarse aggregates, a sieve shaker, Vicat’s needle apparatus, Le Chatelier’s apparatus, slump test apparatus, proctor needle, pressure meter, length gauge, thickness gauge, chemical analysis kit, concrete permeability apparatus and if possible, Los Angeles abrasion testing machine can be part of it.

Non destructive testing equipment is becoming popular in India, day by day. The lab can be equipped with this testing ability also if the nature of job demands it.

Incentives: Promoters of good quality should be promoted by one and all connected with the field of construction. Awards should be instituted for the executing and supervising agencies by the government, government departments, leading construction magazines, engineering institutes and equipment manufacturers. Such measures provide recognition to a person or agency and its efforts, encouraging them to continue excelling in the field of quality control in future also.

Conclusion: Good quality builds good reputation and reputation, good or bad, travels faster than the man himself. Good reputation means good future business thus results in long term benefits too. Poor quality of work costs extra in the long run. The earlier one wakes up to this hard truth, the better it is for his work and business. Timely checks made for quality control and accordingly clearance at every stage can avert many a mishaps. A systematic broad approach, as suggested above may help in drawing a blueprint for having an effective quality control at a site of work.