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A Day in the Life of a Project Engineer

Updated on February 19, 2010
Yours truly on a construction site - project engineer extraordinaire!
Yours truly on a construction site - project engineer extraordinaire!

Alarm goes off at 4.45am

(Attempt to) wake up, trudge out of bed and take a leak or sink battleships (depends).

Grab my high visibility clothing (long sleeve high-viz shirt, long trousers) and take them to the bathroom. Shave (if I feel like it), shower and get dressed.

Have some breakfast, surf the net for a bit (limited access to websites at work - surf control)

Pack some lunch. (Option: buy lunch if I can't be bothered)

Put on my steel cap boots.

Make sure I have my prescription safety glasses and leave for work at 5.45am.

Drive for an hour and arrive at work by 6.45am.

Make a cup of coffee. So far so good.

Prestart Meeting at 7am sharp

Watch latecomers in the workforce arrive, they are still half asleep, while prestart is taking place.

(Prestart meetings on a construction site are held first thing in the morning and involve everyone in the workforce. The supervisor and engineer go through the day's activities. Particular focus is made to safety - incidents from the previous day or hazards they should look out for that day, any deliveries expected on site etc. This way, everyone knows what will be happening around them so accidents can be minimized.)

Workforce rolls out to work around 7.15am. However, there is a new starter today - a rigger.

I give him a safety induction, covering topics such as the minimum site requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), safety rules for working at heights, rigging, using power and electrical tools, scaffolding, drugs & alcohol policy, emergency procedures, dehydration, dispute resolution process...among other things. I make sure he has the right PPE and that I have seen a copy of his rigger's certification before I let him go out onto site.

There is a concrete pour about to take place shortly, so I go over to the unit with the supervisor and make sure that the formwork is of the correct size, the steel has the correct cover and all the embedded cast-in items are installed in the right location as per the engineering drawings. I check all of the items on the concrete pre-pour checklist and advise the supervisor that the concrete pour can proceed.

The concrete trucks are early

They were not due for another 15 minutes. The laborers whinge a little bit but direct the truck as it backs up in line with concrete pump, which had luckily arrived on time today. I grab the concrete docket from the truck driver and start filling out the pour records (when the trucks arrived, when they started discharging, how much water was added to the mix etc - all very important quality records).

Halfway through the first truckload of concrete, the pump breaks down. Not too much of a crisis but more of a bloody inconvenience. I had previously made sure the subcontractor had access to a kibble which can be filled up with concrete and lifted with the crane as a contingency. The supervisor makes this happen. I ring up the batch plant and tell them to give us a bit more space between trucks because now we are not discharging as quickly as we planned with a pump.

The pour continues until completion, taking a little bit longer than expected due to the pump breaking down.

Before we know it, it's "smoko" time - a half hour break for "morning tea".

Chase up materials

After smoko I get on the phone with our procurement department, who are not site-based. I chase up a purchase order for a material requisition I sent them a couple of days ago. I finally get it and am on the phone with our supplier to order a surface retarder that is applied to the formwork to expose the aggregate on the internal face of the concrete units. I am told this will be delivered in a couple of days - just as well, that's about as far as we can stretch current stock.

We have to despatch a precast unit tomorrow morning, so I print out a copy of the lift study and take it outside to discuss it with the crane driver and riggers & make sure everyone knows what is planned and that they are happy with it. The crane driver is helpful, unlike our first one. He suggests a minor change: one of the shackles I've prescribed don't go through the hole in the spreader bar, so we'll need to use a larger one. This isn't a problem, because we have larger ones available on site.

Technical Queries

One of the steelfixers came in to see me with a construction drawing - always a great sign, it means they're actually reading the drawings!! He said that there are starter bars coming up from the base of a unit and starter bars sticking out of the walls of the same unit. These starter bars intersect, meaning we can't install the internal shutters without bending the bars. He wanted to know if this was ok.

I told him we'd need to get approval from the client before we cut any bars, but I didn't see a problem with it as long as there is sufficient lap length for the insitu reinforcement. I quickly wrote up a technical query and sent it off. I rang the guys to get a verbal approval that will be followed up with the paperwork I sent in writing. it is the best way for site to pick up a phone and get things done, otherwise you have people standing around unable to progress with their work which gets very expensive!

Subcontractor Progress Meeting

After a lunch break that I decided not to miss today, I prepared my subcontractors progress claim for submission to accounts for payment. I had received a bill for the works undertaken over the previous month and had to check that the work claimed for had actually been done. After checking the invoice and preparing the progress claim, I got our subcontractor and project manager to sign off on the documents then I sent them through to accounts. Normally I'd be looking after multiple subcontractors so you can imagine "month end" can be a bit hectic getting all the claims finalized in time before the cut off date.

After this it was time for our weekly progress meeting with the subcontractor. I went out to ask the supervisor to join us for this also. We all made some coffee - I made mine in my special project engineer's mug - and sat down to go through the minutes of meeting.

In progress meetings we discuss everything - safety on site, quality and technical issues, construction planning and commercial issues. All the parties are involved: the subcontractor representative, project engineer, supervisor and sometimes the project manager. Everyone needs to be on the same page and have goals which are aligned, otherwise the schedule slips, you spend more money than you have to and it all goes downhill from there.

Next thing I know it's 5pm already. But I stay back a little bit to catch up on all the paperwork...

Famous Engineers

Rowan Atkinson - qualified as an electrical engineer, but obviously makes more money from comedy.

Dilbert - Everyone's favorite project engineer. I think he has been promoted to Chief Engineer actually!

MacGyver - he's a bit of an all rounder so I probably shouldn't pigeonhole him as an engineer. He's also a scientist, history buff and a very quick thinker. Any engineer's favorite TV show!


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