When you purchase anything, I’m sure you’re looking at the quality of the product.
Well, the same thing goes for construction. When an owner pays for a new building, they expect the quality to meet industry standards.
Contractors deliver quality products by developing solid quality assurance plans, and implementing quality control. Quality assurance involves methods of guaranteeing that a customer will receive a quality finished product. Whereas quality control involves applying different methods on site to maintain a level of quality throughout construction.
What does quality mean in construction?
When we think of a quality product, one might think it means it’s functional and without damage, but there’s more. There are specific requirements that are laid out in the contract plans and specifications that need to be met. Construction companies should have a quality management system in place to meet the customer requirements.
This is important because as construction progresses certain elements get buried behind one another. This is a normal component of the construction process, and is one reason why coordination is critical.
For example, let’s take the construction of some walls in a house. First you need to install the framing so you can fasten the drywall against it. Next, you need to make sure the electrician does all his work before you can even consider closing up the walls.
Once the walls are installed, the framing is now hidden behind the walls. So, as the customer you would have no idea what it looks like behind those walls.
This is why having a dedicated quality control is important. They will be your eyes on the construction site to make sure that the crew is meeting the on-center requirements shown in the plans. Also that the electrician is installing the correct number of junction boxes for any outlets and light switches in the wall.
What is the difference between quality assurance and quality control?
Now that you know a little bit about quality control, let’s look at quality assurance. This can come in a few different forms but one way is through a quality control plan. This plan is to be presented to the customer for the review and approval.
The plan should detail the methods in which QC activities will be applied to the project. For example it could contain functional testing, deficiency correction, and trouble free periods to name a few.
Quality assurance could also involve a consultant hired by the project owner to confirm quality standards are met. They may decide to use a commissioning agent who will conduct various tests towards the end of the project. By carrying out these tests they’re able to validate that the work was completed to meet the specs.
You should now be able to see that quality assurance is more aimed towards guaranteeing a quality final product. With quality control, the goal is to implement the methods that are laid out in the assurance plan.
What dictates quality control?
For quality control there’s 3 major things to look at, good workmanship, meets plans and specs, and free from defects. If you can keep this up throughout the project, you will end up with a high quality product to turnover to the customer.
You’re looking to see that the quality of the work is neat and tidy. If you have an electrician, the wires they run shouldn’t look like they threw some spaghetti in a box. When you’re looking at finish carpentry, there shouldn’t be major gaps in the corners of your door frames.
When making sure the work meets the plans and specs, you need to first check to make sure they have the right material. The specs will typically call for a specific type, and they would have sent a cut sheet specifying what they will install. Check this against the material onsite.
Below is an example of a time I walked a job site and found an issue with some painting work that was done.
Also, the work needs to meet the details that are called out in the plans. So, if you have a call out for 12” on-center between your roof rafters, make sure this is met. Take a ladder and tape measure to check the actual distance between the 2×4 or 2×6, whatever is spec’d out.
The QC also needs to make sure that the carpenters used the correct size for their lumber. Depending on the roof, a structural engineer might have to perform some load calculations. This will determine the sizing and the distance between each rafter.
If the carpenters don’t follow the plans, then there’s the risk of the roof falling in as it begins to age and the material weakens. Then the contractor has a bigger problem on their hands having to repair everything that was damaged.
Here’s another example of some of the documentation required when performing quality control.
Results of delivering a quality product
If you can maintain quality control on a project this will look good on the company and will likely result in repeat business. Owners are always looking for solid contractors whose project teams don’t cut corners in order to complete a job.
Additionally, if you’re consistent with quality control you will save the company and the owner time and money.
If you can avoid having to perform rework, then that’s less labor and material costs for the contractor. You also can’t close out the project until all the rework is completed. Meaning if you don’t get it right the first time, you might miss the deadline until all rework is complete.
For an owner, if they can rely on the contractor, then they don’t have to spend more to provide quality assurance. They don’t need to go out and hire a third party consultant to perform constant inspections. When a customer knows that the contractor will provide quality work to meet client satisfaction, both parties win.
Developing a quality control plan
With quality assurance, it comes with developing a sound plan to turn over to the client. This should list out the methods that construction firms will utilize in order to maintain the quality of the project. Let’s look at some of the right things you should include in a quality control plan.
Within the construction industry, if there’s not communication set up, then this can affect the project costs negatively. So, it’s good to lay out the procedure of how communication will be handled for the project.
The best way to initiate the field crew engagement and getting them familiar with the project is by having pre-task meetings. These meetings are held to discuss the project scope of work. Answer any questions the crew may have and clearly state the quality requirements for the project.
Have these meetings frequently to make sure that they’re reminded of the task at hand. It’s good to identify the frequency of these crew meetings so the client is aware. If an issue is not caught early, it can snowball into something much worse if left unattended.
Vendors and suppliers
It should be stated how vendors and suppliers will be managed. After all, they will be the ones providing the material and equipment for the project. So, you need to mention the steps you will take to make sure what is provided is correct and free from defects.
First, before you even have any material ordered, you should be sending in a submittal for the engineer to review. Once they have provided the approval, then you can release the order.
Then, as you begin to receive said material, you need to perform some inspections before it’s installed. Say you’ve submitted RMC conduit for your electrician and this is what was approved. For some reason, when they arrive at the job site, they come with a truck full of EMT conduit instead.
The quality control manager will need to make sure they’re looking at what arrived and documenting with photos. The QC will reject the material they brought and will tell them to come back with RMC. This will be on project management to correct since they allowed their crew to go onsite with the wrong material.
This may seem harsh, but there’s a good reason that RMC was spec’d out. This may have to be installed in an outdoor location and if EMT was used, this could rust out much quicker. Then, the customer will have to look at replacing the conduit sooner and this would look bad on the contractor.
One quality system for deficiency correction is the use of a log. Whether it’s a punch list or a deficiency log, both work in a similar fashion. The idea is to document the problem as it’s discovered and begin working to correct the issue.
The QC should be performing a thorough inspection of the job site, this should be done almost daily. As they identify issues, they will update the log to provide to the field crew and subcontractors. Remind them of the issues and that corrective action needs to be done on a weekly basis.
Project managers should work with quality control managers to stay on top of their crew and subcontractors. The field needs to communicate back to the management team when they correct items on the log.
Also, keep in mind that this list will need to go to the owner, and they will want to see progress.
By having this log and sharing it with the team and owner, it adds to the quality assurance. As an owner, you would want to see that the work is being inspected and items found are corrected. I would be worried if you have a project where the punch list was empty, this tells me that there might be quality issues.
Functional testing procedures
This type of testing process typically applies to new equipment that has been installed for the project. The contractor is required to run the equipment to meet specific testing requirements. This shows that the installation was done correctly and is ready for turnover.
A good example is HVAC equipment, there is quite an extensive testing protocol that contractors need to follow. They need to run the equipment under various conditions, test the safety measures, and conformity to the sequence of operations. These items alone can take days to test for some equipment, but you prove the equipment is working.
You should include the testing procedures that you will be performing with the quality control plan. This way your customer is aware in advance of the type of testing required. When the project is near completion, the test results will be provided to the owner with the closeout documents.
These topics are just some things that should be included in your quality control plan. For more on quality control plans, click here.
Regardless of your role in the construction company you work for, you should be familiar with the quality control process. It’s such an important part of construction that can help with the project’s success. Turning over an end product to the customer that is of good quality will keep them happy.
Know that quality assurance is defining how quality will be met for a project. This should be done primarily by the contractor, but the owner can also opt for support from a consultant.
Quality control is the act of actually putting the quality assurance plans in action. Performing work which documents that quality standards are being met on a job. Having the goal to maintain a specific quality standard that has been set at the start of the project.
Thank you for reading.
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