The ISO 9000 standards were the result of actions and needs for industrial processes during World War II. When the war was over, concepts such as inspection and control were established. Production and products were being consistently controlled. By then, the word “quality” was associated with “conformity”, i.e. control and command of production.

By the end of the 50s, the approach that used inspection processes to ensure quality continued developing in theUSAquality requirements procedures and specifically “Quality Program Requirements” MIL-Q-9858 applicable to military industry. Afterwards, NASA promoted the evolution of the concept of Inspection to systems and processes to guarantee quality.

The procedures destined to guarantee quality continued their processes in the most critical industries such as energy generation, aeronautics and nuclear, until 1987 that the Guide for Quality Assurance in Great Britain BS 5750, turns into ISO 9000 standard under the support of the International Standards Organization, entity that promotes standards for products and services.

Throughout the years, Quality Management through ISO 9000 spread from its original application in critical industrial processes to all kinds of companies including those that generate intellectual products such as Legal Firms; it goes from fast food companies to the ones we are going to analyze in these lines: construction companies.

Let’s see the difference between the industrial processes the standard was originally design for, and the processes of the industry we are dealing with.

Quality in Construction Industry

In an industrial process, production resources are well defined and with a marked permanence in time. We could simplify this by saying that in an industry, machines and workers operating them are quasi-stable resources in the production process. Their modification is slow and it’s conditioned by technological improvement. 

The products generated in this industry by the use of those machines, are well defined and last in time.

Production means and products elaborated remain in time. As a result, the production procedures are developed at the beginning of the production process and remain the same throughout the process being altered only by modifications due to equipment technological improvement and continuous improvement processes resulting from the application of ISO 9001 standard. Through the application of the norm productive process flaws are capitalized in pursuit of continuous product improvement.

In the case of construction industry these conditions of process and resources stability that make relatively simple the application of the conditions established in the standard, are not verified. This turns the correct application of the norms exceedingly difficult.

The singularities of construction industry are the following:

The product generated by the construction industry is always changing. 

Indeed, every work fulfilled – a building, a power plant, a transmission line, a dam – is different and has its own singularities.

  • The resources employed in the productive process are also changing. Indeed:
    • The professionals and technicians employed in these constructions change due to the fact that the companies develop works with different characteristics.
    • Moreover, even though when the staff is the same, the professionals have neither the same level of competence nor a thorough knowledge of the procedures to complete.
  • In many cases, works are done between professionals coming form the companies and their subcontractors who should work as a real team with the implied information and qualifications.
  • Even though a new construction is done with the same characteristics that the one before, construction teams are not usually the same.
  • Execution and control procedures differ from work to work. Even though construction assignments have specific realization procedures, the technical contract specifications are different.
  • Finally, quality management systems do not exist or barely exist in non-certified companies or consortiums and Joint Ventures of certified companies in which each company has their own management procedures.

So, the question is: How can we apply an established standard for permanent and qualified human resources, stable production means, defined procedures and always alike final products to an activity where everything changes?

ISO 9001 standard has chapters related to the general organization of the company and one chapter aimed specifically to the production process.

The chapters on general organization refer to the company’s indirect operations, i.e. those processes that are not specifically developed for any work.

This is the case of Human Resources, Purchases, Equipments, accounts departments among others.

But there is a department, the production one, which is regulated in chapter 7 of the standard and refers to planning, production and product control processes.

After having applied the concepts of quality management to many important public and private works inArgentina, we can state that the inconvenients mentioned above caused poor instrumentation of chapter 7 of the ISO 9001 Standard by most of the building companies inArgentina, including many of the big ones.

Now, how can we approach this matter?

I asked myself that question when YPF invited our company to bid for the Quality Management Audit for YPF’sCorporateBuildingin Puerto Madero. 

Induction of quality management system

Supplies and processes should be effectively controlled by the ones producing them. This is the basic principle to achieve good results.

We have two participants in the productive process, the Contractor and the Work Inspector.

When I say Contractor I refer to the one that produces something.

A good contractor is the one who knows how to do the job. When we perform activities of direction, inspection and contract management it’s a relief to audit a good contactor.

If the contractor doesn’t do its job with a proper control system, it doesn’t matter how good the inspection is; the work won’t turn out fine.

Control activities will not necessarily increase the cost of the work. Contractors know how to their jobs and have all the experience. Sometimes they just need to follow certain organized steps within a structured management system to achieve quality.

This is why, before the work begins -no matter the level of certification the company has- as directors, managers or work inspectors, we have to verify the quality management systems employed by the contractors and if they are not consistent, which the case most of the time, we should lead the contractor to implement a suitable quality management system.

We never try to substitute the contractor’s shortcomings with an intensive inspection work. On the contrary, we believe that they are the experts on “doing” and that they were the ones qualified to carry out that work. That’s why we should help them to provide a self-controlled service through the application of a quality management system under the guidelines of the Standard.

After that, as inspectors and auditors, we audit the management system verifying that the contractor is taking evidences of the systematic control done and we inspect by sampling the resulting products under those controlled procedures.

In the case of YPF’s corporate building we were only in charge of auditing the quality management system.

The subcontractors in this project are some of the most important companies in the Argentinean market. Some of them had an ISO 9001 certification and some hadn’t. But all of them had to be induced to complete or implement from scratch a quality management system.

The result was that once consolidated the use of the management system, some companies remained using it as internal procedures and others got certified ISO 9001 with that same foundation.

What to control

Buildings such as YPF’s corporate building present great complexity.

Architecture, structure and facilities have characteristics and dimensions that are not what an average professional is used to find in common buildings. For example, the cool water collectors for the air conditioner system are steel pipes ASTM A53 Gr B of 12’’ similar to the ones used in distilleries.

All the supplies used in the building’s construction are of unusual amount: wires, connectors, lamps, lights, and the like.

So, how can we make an efficient control of all these supplies and processes involved??

Quality’s purpose is to create a product that, as times goes by, can be operated and maintained within design conditions and that provides safety to goods and guarantees health to the users.

Our criteria was to divide products and processes in different degrees of criticality, giving a greater level of control to those that affect people’s health and building safety.

These supplies were qualified as critical.

Within this category the supplies included are high power isolating switches, fire sprinklers, among others and the processes included are, for example functioning test for elevators as trials for emergencies.

The requirement for supplies traceability in the ISO 9001 standard is left to the Customer’s request.

Tracing a supply is to identify its exact typology, manufacturing lot and exact location in the construction work.

In order to ensure the safety of the building and its users’ helath the management system established supply traceability as a requirement for critical supplies.

Focusing on the construction work 

As we’ve said before, the standard establishes management conditions for every sector within the company: Purchases, Human Resources, Warehouse, Planning, Production, etc.

In cases of Standard application to quality management in construction, as for consultants and engineers, the fundamental target must be focusing in our work management, i.e. focusing in the development of the quality management system in the following aspects:

  • Engineering Management
  • Supplies Management
  • Production Procedures Management
  • Precommissioning and Commissioning
  • Quality Records Final Issue

 The Quality Supervisor of the building company is in charge of the proved control procedures established for all these stages.

When we talk about “proved” it means that the controls done are registered in forms that might be audited by others, whether they be in paper or in digital form.

Let’s make a brief summary about the stages of the quality management system.

Engineering management

The basic idea of this kind of control is to establish procedures to ensure that the blueprints or documents used in the construction works correspond effectively with the last version approved.

It seems obvious. However, the complication is considerable in big works.

The parties involved are many: Client, Work Direction, Managers, Construction Company, Subcontractors, Engineering Departments, Purchases, and the like.

For this reason the following procedures, among others, must be implemented: 

  • Procedures of emission control and report

Procedures of control of the emission state and report of documents, in the jargon “engineering situation” 

  • Procedure of implementation in construction

Clear procedures of what can the Contractor do with the various possible reports of a document, to ensure that the construction is done with those documents validated for such purpose. 

  • Procedures of valid revision

If there is a modification in any of the blueprints for construction, there is a procedure that assures that the copies distributed among all the sectors are properly replaced.

This also includes the equipment tested in factory through protocols such as boards and cells. They have to be manufactured and tested according to the latest engineering version. In terms of boards, this is a rare case since they receive new loads as the work progresses.

It seems simple but it is not for complex works. 

Supplies management

  • Approval requirements

Approval requirements must be established for each supply.

Each supply must fulfill certain requirements such as resistance requirements, anticorrosive protection, linearity, thickness, material quality, dielectric insulation, etc. to be suitable for its incorporation to the building work. 

  • Procedures of inspection in-factory.

Definition of product, procedures of prototype test, shipment test, packing conditions and documentation for dispatch to work. 

  • Procedure of reception in work and internal dispatch

Procedures of reception including proved verification of all requirements, storage conditions, segregation or quarantine in case of non conformities, recording of lots for traceable supplies and internal dispatch procedures.

Production Procedures Management

In this case the procedures employed in construction and assembling of supplies are described.

This procedure implies to specify the contractual conditions to the Contractor’s methods and equipment. It also implies to establish proved self-control records that allow the supervisors, who are in charge of going through the construction or assembling, to note or register the control results.

In fact, this control is always done by the companies in charge of the work. So this is simply about the implementation of a control record to be systematically completed in the moment of realization, which in practice, turns out to be a marginal cost.

Precommissioning and Commissioning

Precommissioning defines the pre-operation test of every part of the installation.

For example, the verification of a pump set in motion in normal operation conditions. Usually, this operation is done by the manufacturer. However, the fact that the item can be set in motion and that it functions correctly doesn’t mean that it was verified to meet the target for which it was designed. 

Commissioning defines the set in motion of the installation, i.e. the verification of the design conditions of the item.

This type of verification is usually done in big engineering works such as dams, transmission lines, industrial and oil related works but, as far as I know, there is no precedent of its application in big buildings.

In many of our supervised works, the systematic application of these procedures lead us to discover, for example, that the level of real lighting verified doesn’t correspond to the one in the design, or that the flow of air of a VAV box was not the corresponding one, or that the engines of the anti-smoke blinds didn’t work because they were wrongly polarized affecting not only the performance of the entire air conditioning system but also the building’s safety. 

In YPF’sCorporateBuilding, all these proved tests were done through pre-operation and set in motion protocols.

These protocols were designed as any other engineering document and contained, among other details, the expected conditions of the equipment or facility and all the verified conditions from the tests.

Final Emission of Quality Records

Once the work and the management process are over, all the documents that provide evidence of it are ordered into labeled volumes, in paper or in digital form. This invaluable information is left to be used in subsequent operation and maintenance tasks during the building’s lifetime.

This information includes records of traceability concerning critical elements so that, in case of failure, the building’s operations manager can locate them and those belonging to the same manufacturing lot.

Certifier or Consultant Company?

When YPF invited our company to quote for this service, we had the opportunity to compete with quality certifier companies.

 What made them decide for us was the methodology proposed to solve the problem related to the building’s quality management.

This methodology is the one described in this article.

So, what’s the difference between a quality certifier company and an engineering consultant company when it comes to focusing on quality problems?

I can answer this question knowingly since I’m a consulting engineer and I’m trained as IRCA-ISO 9001 auditor.

The quality certifiers are trained to verify if every management procedure of the auditing company suits the guidelines indicated in the Standard’s latest review. That is to say, they audit processes, not products.

Deceptively you can see in the boxes of pharmaceutical products a seal of conformity to the ISO 9001 Standard. However, when a search in detail is done, it can be realized that the seal related to the “process” used to manufacture the carton box. In the best scenario what is certified is the production process of the drug but never the drug’s qualities.

When we -the consulting engineers- face quality audits on construction works, we must apply the concepts of the ISO 9001 Standard to achieve a final product that responds to the conditions for which it was designed, prioritizing and balancing design, safety, construction and operative matters as well as possibilities of fulfillment.

That engineering criteria is what separates and differentiates us from them, the quality certifiers.

The market of work direction and quality certifier companies

During the last 20 years, several certifier companies have settled down in our country in order to develop a market of quality management systems certification for companies.

First they dedicated to the automotive industries, then to the industrial companies that supply automotive companies, after that they went for industrial companies in general, then service companies, banks, insurance companies and finally construction ones.

When an ISO 9001 certificate is granted to a company, it means that all the procedures that the company uses to manage quality are within the guidelines given by the standard. It doesn’t mention anything about the functional aptitudes of the products or services generated by those companies.

Lately, several private and fundamentally public clients, blinded by the word quality but little informed of the function of quality certification companies, entrusted these companies with control assignments of engineering works, assignments specifically related to work management which is an undeniable responsibility of engineers.

In fact, the two latest power plants in construction were trusted to international certifier companies for which quality is only one part of work direction.

Professional scope and training.

Direction and management of an engineering work or even an architectural work of the magnitude of YPF’sCorporateBuilding, is a non-delegable responsibility of engineers and engineer consulting companies.

But, due to the development of control and management techniques, directing a complex work without education concerning project management, costs and work standards, quality management systems auditing, environmental auditing, safety and sustainability auditing is not possible today.

In view of the advancement of certification companies over the engineering market, thoughtful, coordinated and effective actions are imposed to defend our market. Moreover, universities should take actions such as fixing the new engineers’ curricula to properly prepare them in direction and inspection of works and in particular the new paradigm of quality in construction.