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Thinking, the Best Practice

Technology can’t beat thoughtfulness

Early in my career, a contractor called me about a potential issue he had identified with a steel detail I had provided for the roof framing of a commercial building. My memories of the specific problem are foggy, but if I remember correctly, it was Joe Angel with Taylor Kohrs. As a new engineer, it wasn’t unusual for me to get questions about my designs. However, what was unusual in this case is there wasn’t a crane on site with steel up in the air, and a dozen guys standing around waiting for an answer. In fact, concrete hadn’t even been poured for the foundation yet, and we hadn’t even seen steel shop drawings.

The last issue of Colorado Builder focused on how technology is impacting our industry and roles. The accelerating pace of adopting technology into our daily work routines is sometimes dizzying. It is very easy to become laser focused on that technology and how it can be implemented to improve accuracy, increase design speed, quicken build rate and reduce errors. Technology, current and as-yet unimagined, definitely assists throughout the design/build process.

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A three-dimensional virtual model of the building I was working on might have enabled me to anticipate and avoid the question Joe Angel posed that day, but his question was more aligned with a sequencing/constructability issue, a question a completed model may not have revealed. I recall commenting to my boss and mentor, Pat Bush of Bush Reese and Company, that Joe called to ask a question about a portion of the construction that wouldn’t be started in the field for weeks or even a couple months. Even at this early stage of my career, I was able to identify this as unusual. Pat’s response was, “Eric, a good contractor builds the structure in his head well ahead of actually placing any materials in the field, and an excellent contractor does this before he orders material.”

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Thirty years later, this experience still informs my practice of engineering and assists me in judging the skills of those with whom I work, both in design and in the field. While technology can assist and streamline our process, there is no substitute for the quiet discipline of sitting uninterrupted and thinking through a design and how it will be constructed. Whether you are the designer or the builder, thought and planning is the best practice.

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