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Formula for Profitability

by Glen Toepfer

Winning bids in today’s competitive geosynthetics market is challenging and wise installers know that a company’s image can win or lose them some very important bids.  However, it is not enough to just win bids.  The real win for an installer is keeping the business and ensuring future business while maximizing job profitability.  Revenue is not enough; companies require profitable revenue. So let’s take a look at some of the formulas that help drive profits for geosynthetics installations.

Quality = Image = Business

Geosynthetics is a niche industry and boy does “information” (good or bad) travel fast; but as we all know the bad usually travels faster.  In this industry image is often tied strongly to work quality and on-site performance.  More than one installer has been removed from a project for performance issues during the project, or lost subsequent work during the next phase of construction due to quality or company perception. 

It seems crazy that one bad welder could cause failure rates to exceed allowable standards on a large project and all of the sudden a major revenue source is in jeopardy.  In that moment the entire company is being judged on one individual’s quality.  This is unfortunate but we have seen it happen on more than one occasion. A company has to work hard to gain business - no one can afford to lose it, especially for something as easy to address as image and work quality.

Our industry is often under heavy scrutiny and site owners are getting more and more savvy in ascertaining the value and protection they are getting for their money.  In today’s media hungry world, environmental issues become Public Relations nightmares that no site owner wants. They simply cannot afford to have their containment systems leak, even if the installer has to pay for the warranty work.

It is ridiculously easy for a Site Owner to test an installer’s dedication to staff training and quality.  One quick way is to ask the QC’s a few questions.  How do you think a Site Owner is going to perceive an installation firm whose vacuum test technician answers “I don’t know what a leak looks like” midway through the project?  It has happened on numerous occasions! Having an answer like this occur one time is one time too many for an installer who wants to win more business.  

Taking the time to properly train personnel is imperative to performance, quality, and ultimately the image and reputation of the installation firm.  All installation staff should be prepared to answer what they are doing, why they are doing it and how their job impacts the projects quality.  In an industry with stiff competition and an emphasis on low cost bids, every project impacts the installation firms’ bottom line (or Return on Investment (ROI)); therefore it is imperative that the installer’s image and reputation remain unblemished.

Quality Control = Profit Control

A common industry belief is that it is the responsibility of the Construction Quality Assurance (CQA or QA) personnel to catch problems during the installation.  Not only is this categorically untrue, more importantly, it gives away control of the installer’s ROI to an unknown entity.  While QA personnel should address quality issues, contractually it is the responsibility of the installer to perform a quality installation.  If you do not believe this statement, ask yourself which party will be performing the warranty work on installation issues and who will pay for them.  QA’s will be paid for re-inspection of any rework but installers give up their profit margins to address quality failures.

Additionally, there are two major flaws with assuming QA personnel are responsible for project quality.  The first is that it assumes the QA personnel are educated in geosynthetics installations.  Many are not.  It is not good for either party if both the QC testing trial seams and the QA observing trial seams cannot identify a peel or partial peel.  How many projects do you see the same QA personnel on a jobsite from year to year? Not often.  Turnover is high, due to the same low cost challenges faced by installers and the reality is that “green” QA’s are a poor insurance for a project’s ROI.

Secondly, there are many projects throughout the various geosynthetics installation markets that do not require a third party QA, but place this role on the installer.  The best choice an installer has for maintaining quality on all their projects is to shoulder the burden of quality themselves and implement a regimented training program, modified for the specific roles of personnel on the team.   Having the mentality that your field crew will leave nothing for a QA to find is the best safeguard, even when there are no QA personnel on site.

Quality Training - Improved ROI

An intensive training/certification program for installation personnel is a great way to help instill core values within the installation team.  Such training may include:

Planning: Less time = More Profit

  • Plans to minimize seams, and minimize the amount of extrusion welding performed.
  • Use a pre-construction meeting to obtain the right answers, before the job begins, reducing costly delays and improving project profitability.  

 Subgrade:

  • Sound installation begins with having a properly prepared foundation upon which to deploy the geomembrane.
  • Installers pay for warranty work, not earthwork contractors.  Make sure the subgrade will yield you the best possible installation and minimize the possibility of warranty work.

Materials: Poor Materials = Increased repairs & seam failures

  • Sound installation continues by having a quality material product with which to work.  A geomembrane that is blemished can impact the overall quality due to increased repairs which reduce the integrity of the system, and sometimes even impact the ability to produce consistent quality seams.
  • Training staff to recognize poor materials and their impact can increase profitability.

Trial Seams

  • Trial welds are of the utmost importance because they offer a chance to identify a problem and fix it before welding occurs.  
  • QC personnel should be trained to not only evaluate a coupon based on peel and shear, but in identifying potential problems with welds (lack of squeeze-out, missing air channels, off-center, overgrind, etc.).   
  • If a weld passes a trial seam, but is suspect by the QC, they should be empowered to reject the weld in the interest of the installer.  Likewise, the QC should be able to look at the entire test weld strip and see if it is uniform and consistent, or if there are variances, and reject based on this as well.
  • Efforts should be made to reduce sampling from only “good” looking locations.

Seaming: Seaming Quality =  Project Quality

  • Seaming is the key to putting a sound installation together.  
  • An operator is the only person who is present close-up during welding of the entire seam and therefore has the best chance to identify suspect areas, especially those that are contained within the seam overlap.  
  • Operators should be trained to be proactive in communicating suspect locations to their team.  
  • QC personnel should be trained to identify pre-welding problems (cleaning, overlap, tape, wrinkles, etc.), welding problems (operators struggling with equipment, setting changes, etc.), and post-welding indicators (wheel spins, burnouts, creases along seam, etc.).
  • As an installer looking for a competitive edge, QC technicians certified through such a program, much like the existing IAGI Certified Welding Technician (CWT) program should provide a boost to their image through the added credentials.

Non-Destructive Seam Testing

  • It is also important to understand the importance of non-destructive seam testing (including repairs).
  • The difference between non-destructive seam testing (strictly a check of continuity and in most instances does not correlate to seam integrity) and destructive seam testing (which is a test of seam integrity).  
  • How the tests work, and how the equipment works, and that equipment maintenance/replacement is a must for maintaining and ensuring quality.

Destructive Seam Testing:  Communication = Improved Placement

  • Minimizing unnecessary holes in a geomembrane is an ideal goal, and destructive sampling would seem to go against this philosophy; however,  verifying field seaming through destructive sampling has been shown to improve field quality, so they will likely be around for a while – at least until a better technology comes along.  
  • Even though destruct marking is usually the responsibility of a QA, properly trained QC personnel can do their part in helping to reduce the amount of unnecessary holes.  
  • If there is a specific indicator of a flaw in a seam, it would be better to be marked for repair and no sample taken, rather than cut a hole, and then subsequent holes for tracking samples – which is sure to happen if some overzealous QA comes along looking for a suspect location.  
  • Equally important is evaluating the destruct location.  If the marked area is obviously going to fail, ask the QA if a patch is acceptable and the location can be moved.  Experienced QA personnel typically just want to ensure a suspect area is repaired and will be willing to move a sample.

Repairs: Preventive Maintenance = Lasting Quality

  • Every project has repairs, and they are usually performed with an inferior weld.   
  • The team should understand not only the requirements of the physical repair, but proper damage preparation (such as terminating all straight line cuts with a keyhole or removing them all together through a circular cut).

Final Walk Thru: Insurance = Profit Protection

  • This is typically an installer’s final opportunity to address quality concerns before a containment system is put into operation.  
  • Addressing Quality concerns now will be more cost effective than after the system is operational and crews have de-mobed.
  • Final walk thru’s should be performed and QC personnel should be trained to identify and remediate any quality concerns immediately.
  • It is also important for crews to effectively minimize traffic for any remediation that is found in already completed areas.

 Documentation

  • It is important for QC personnel to understand that observation is just as critical, or perhaps more critical than documentation.
  • It is essential that QC personnel obtain accurate documentation and be able to perform daily checks on the documentation to ensure nothing is missing.  They should be generating a daily punch list of missing items (and following up on those items to ensure they are corrected).
  • A field drawn as-built is extremely important and QC personnel should know how to compose one, as well as key information that should be on it.


The goal of investing is to spend dollars in such a way as to maximize ROI.  Investing in your team’s education and training on core company values, image and quality will improve your projects and your bottom line.

About Glen Toepfer
Glen W. Toepfer, C.E.T. is President of CQA Solutions http://cqasolutions.co/develop-your-team/training, LTD a firm specializing in Construction Quality Assurance for containment facilities. Author of the book The Complete Field Guide to Ensuring Quality Geosynthetic Installations, Vol. 1 Fundementals & Geomembranes.His vast industry experience includes more than 50 million square feet of geomembrane QA/QC, including a single installation with 136 million square feet of geosynthetics materials installed with zero leaks. Active in the industry, he authors the blog Uncontained.co <http://uncontained.co/> , authors and presents industry papers and provides expert witness services and technology solutions. To ensure quality worldwide, he has designed SuperTek, the industry's first real-time data validation QA/QC software system. His passion for waste containment quality has led to proven field protocols and systems that ensure quality on every project.

 
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