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The 'Magnificent Seven' Elements

February 18, 2011
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At some point in time, every industrial plant must bring in an outside contractor to do specialized work such as boiler blasting, concrete waterproofing and ceiling painting that in-house manpower cannot perform on a cost-effective basis.

With the right selection, an outside contractor can act as an ongoing partner to help plant managers and facility engineers lower costs and add value over the long run.

1. Precise Planning

The need to run at 100 percent production levels at all times heads the list of priorities at most every processing plant.

In defense, the best way to avoid having any outside work halt the process is to insure that the contractor provides a precise, highly-detailed plan of the project work in advance.

"If a contractor can''t tell you how he''s going to do that job and lay it out in an organized, detailed, step-by-step fashion, then you shouldn''t hire him because he isn''t sure of what he''s doing," says Michael McMahon, president of Coating Systems Inc. (CSI). "Put another way, if you can''t build it on paper, you can''t build it in reality."

2. A Qualified Workforce

Given today''s scholastic environment, where far more students study computer science as opposed to metalworking, the pool of skilled craftsman continues to dwindle.

"The importance of having a job go smoothly rests, in great part, on the skill of the people actually twisting the wrenches," says McMahon. "They must possess a basic aptitude for the job, as well as a good work ethic."

Recognized training programs can vouch for satisfactory performance levels from a given craftsman.

Additionally, most every technical discipline has credentialing bodies, which evaluate respective contractors and their employees for competency.

Ask the contractor to provide a list of the potential workers and request their job history.

3. The Right Equipment

Often underestimated, the painful truth is that inappropriate or underperforming equipment can greatly increase the time it takes to complete a project.

"When we tackle a critical project like applying a coating of epoxy novolac to the inside of a 300-foot diameter storage tank, we go through the trouble of bringing in portable air conditioners or heaters, depending on the time of year, to manage the environment within the tank," McMahon explains. "The controlled environment allows workers to continue spraying 24 hours a day instead of just eight. The job gets finished in one-third the time, so the tank can get put back online that much sooner."

Even something as simple as ready access to the equipment and tools can make a difference in the timeline.

"We heard of one informal time/motion study that revealed the average mechanic spends an hour and five minutes each day looking for tools," recounts McMahon.

4. Safe Work Practices

Safety can never be compromised for the sake of speed.

If anything, a serious accident can stop a project in its tracks and immediately place a project budget in peril.

Checking a contractor''s commitment to safety begins at the top.

"The mechanics will do whatever the supervisor lets them do," notes McMahon. "If the foreman allows the workers to stand on a ladder without a safety belt, they will do it. So, supervisors should attend ''process safety management training'' classes so they will set the right tone."

A contractor''s membership in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) also indicates a commitment to reducing injuries.

Additionally, the prospective contractor should be able to demonstrate site-specific training of its employees.

5. Access To Spare Parts

Every product manufacturer understands the need for a "second source" supplier; it should be no different for contractors who show up to do critical work at a plant.

"With the experience of coating over 400 tanks behind us, I can assure you that you have to have ''Plan B'' as well as ''Plan C,''" advises McMahon. "To be really on the safe side, the contractor should have duplicate pieces of machinery at the ready so, if a part breaks, it won''t halt the work."

6. Constant Communication

Upon completion of a project, few plant managers like surprises such as unexpected, expensive change orders or up-scoping.

A conscientious contractor must be willing to provide project reports up-front, on a daily basis.

"Clarity with the customer is crucial," McMahon stresses. "I recommend that the customer receives three separate reports at the end of each day; each one covering construction overview, safety and quality."

7. A Long-term Partnership

An index of suspicion should rise when a contractor appears anxious to take the money and run.

Some eventually declare bankruptcy, leaving plant management with no recourse if anything goes wrong.

Look for a contractor who is willing to maintain an on-site presence well after completion of the scheduled work.

Even beyond that, added value stems from a contractor who is willing to act as a resource for long-term maintenance planning.

"Plant foreman can benefit from permanently delegating some of their technical services to a contractor with expertise in their respective fields," explains McMahon. "Many of our foremen stay on at a given site to provide various cleaning and maintenance services."

Ultimately, enlisting the help of a proven contractor on a year-round basis allows processors and manufacturers to keep their own staff focused on the core competency of the organization.

David Rizzo writes technical articles for Torrance, California-based Power PR. He has published two trade books, 150 technical articles and 300 newspaper columns. For more information, contact Coating Systems Inc. (CSI) at: PO Box 7512; 4618 Old Louisville Road; Savannah, Georgia, 31408. They can be reached by telephone at (912) 964-7884 or toll-free at (888) 422-8129. Coating Systems'' fax number is (912) 964-0584 and their website is

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