How to approach a site visit

Knowing how to approach a site visit and a bid process is critical to Encore’s success. You have to do it in a manner that will ensure you have a chance to win, or at the very least, to gain the respect of all parties. And ultimately that respect is probably more important than the job quote itself.

We received a call from a well known local electrical company to give them a quote installing 2 fairly heavy transformers and 14 switchgear panels into a building on campus at U of A.
This was exactly the work we were targeting. There is a real need for companies with the expertise to install and replace gear like this. It’s a solid money-making endeavor, but they have fragile internal components; they can be big, heavy, and awkward. It’s a task that requires expertise and the thing to understand is that the risks are as high as the rewards.

Just getting the work is hard, no contractor will let you touch this stuff if they don’t trust you, know you, or they suspect your competence. So don’t oversell your skills; to them, or yourself.
And that’s the other part, they usually bury these things in the basement, or deep inside the building. It takes a good read on the plans and schematics to get an idea. These jobs need a site check but before you go, give yourself some time and go over the drawings, the weights, dimensions. It might be a labyrinth, and a magnifying glass study; but as you look, some of the details will emerge.

We headed down to the campus with our tape measures, safety gear, and best smile.Nothing would be there yet, but we had the drawings, every piece looked big on paper. We like to start our job checks at the initial offload point, so we can walk into the building, the site, on the exact path we would be taking the product.

Right off the bat, I knew it would be a doozy of a job. It was the chemistry building, we knew that one. The delivery entrance was a toboggan ramp about 80 – 100 ft long, down to a basement delivery area, then a flat approach ducking under a concrete roof, to a recessed door. The roof wasn’t bad, about 13 ft high, but the slope leading down to it would have to be dealt with. And the door, it was way too low and too narrow.

We walked into the corridor, pretty narrow, but OK. Just a few steps down the hall was the door to the electrical room, our delivery site. More good news, tight turn. The switch gears were tall but narrow and only 2-3 ft wide; if we laid them on their side, no problem, we could get them in and then find some way to stand them. But the transformers, 14,000 lb rectangular brutes. They were too high to go through the door, too wide to go through the door, and (the kicker), too long to go down the corridor and make it around the corner through the second door into the electrical room.

Now what? We knew these transformers came apart, but to what degree, what dimensions? The head of electrical for the entire campus was there. He was pretty calm. Our contractor didn’t seem too fazed either. We poured over the schematics of the transformers, trying to see how much they shrunk if we stripped the outer metal skin off. It helped, but by how much it was hard to say.

At this point, many site visits take a bad turn. There is a school of thought that prefers to glow with constant confidence, never display a moment of doubt, and sees the need for assistance as a weakness, or lack of knowledge, inexperience. These are all part of the human condition, and no one should be embarrassed at having doubts inside these complicated tasks. Whatever it is, we can’t work like that, and when we run into questions, we seek out the experts; and usually, they are standing right in front of you.

These white hats knew all about the different components; installing, maintaining, fixing. They just don’t move them. So we just asked them directly what they thought. They ‘had’ taken similar ones apart, but they weren’t sure how much they would shrink overall. We needed to see one. The site deliveries weren’t for 2 months, we had time to find one somewhere in the big city. We stood silent for a moment wondering what our next step was when the U’s head of electrical snapped his fingers!!

He had the exact model on campus; and we stormed over there in his van, (stormed is an accurate description as I recall) It was still operating, so we couldn’t touch it. But there were air grill holes and enough openings, we could see.  The metal skin was bolted to an inside subframe. It only shrunk the structure by a few inches in each direction.

But we made some progress. There as a type of ground sticking up above the units nearly by one foot. Electrical said they could remove that. That gave us the height. The bottom frame, the skin was bolted to, was not structural, it was light pieces of angle. We laid on the floor with flashlights peering under the unit and through the grating. The fat cylinders, the dry reactors that were the working guts of the x former, were a solid package; 3 of them, 3-4000 lbs each, but all fastened to a thick inner frame, and everything was bolted to it. The light angle frame of the outside body thrust out on all sides around it, ‘We’ could take that off. Well the contractor, they’re the electricians. We’re the truck, so to speak.

Removing that interior frame, really shrunk the unit. We had the width and height covered, but the length? We took a bunch of photos and got a good estimate of what the overall length and width might be. Then we headed back to the install site.

Using our new shrunken measurements, we drew up what we thought was the exact size of the stripped unit. We drew it in chalk on the concrete floor, then checked the measure, corner to corner. We took that corner measurement, into the corridor and carefully tried to turn that exact length into the room without touching the door frame or the hall wall. It was still tight, but it looked like we had 2 inches of clearance.

When the electrical crew saw that they knew we were good. With a little work, their biggest nightmare had a solution.We just had to figure out ‘how’ to move it.` The switchgear was large, upright, and quite heavy; 3000 lb coffins. They each had to be laid on their side, moved down the same corridor and through the door, then re-stood. Each step had its problems. The initial transport and delivery, the layover, then the interior move, and the final placement, with a further question, how do we re-stand these coffins in the cramped low ceiling room. We weren’t exactly sure, but this is where one has to show some confidence in your company’s expertise and abilities. We would find a way. And we had already worked through the form move and felt reasonably confident about that.

All we had to do at this juncture to put our quote together was give ourselves enough time to move and place everything and see how our numbers turn out. I love working slowly through each task, from travel and offloading, somehow rolling thru the building, negotiating the corners, the doors, re-standing and getting everything up on the little raised concrete dais the architects love so much; estimating times, labor, thinking thru all the tools and equipment we could use.

But this amount of detail is ‘way’ too much for our contractors to absorb, they don’t have the time and frankly don’t want pages of data to obscure their thinking. This is a small part, important, but a small part, of a much larger job. Give them a daily figure, hourly rates to back you up if things go wonky, or the scope changes, and it usually does. A daily figure, build in some flexibility, and a bit of security; weather, weekends, misinformation, wrong or changing job scope, all the usual suspects and submit.

Your client will understand the caution and security clause. He’s got his own and will appreciate the clean, understandable approach. A day figure, a total, and hourly men and equipment list in case there are a few extra’s and that’s it. You might think about putting a cap on the charges. Some outfits want it. Just make sure it’s reasonable, for both parties.

We got this job, and after we finished we started working directly with U of A Electrical. This is tricky ground. Your prime contractor may consider this an intrusion into his playground. You were a guest remember. Don’t go behind his back to sell to his clients. Take the work if it’s offered of course, but the sleazy stink of trying to nab a client’s customer will never fade in your lifetime. So don’t do it. Ever.

But in this case, it was minor work, and they came directly to us, so all good. We also got close ties to the other general on-site and have since done almost an identical job in another building on campus. Did the job check give us this possible future involvement with all the parties on campus? Not totally, but it was the key to open the door.

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