How to Build a Quality Bridge—One Bolt at a Time

As the national director of quality management for the sixth largest general contractor in the US (according to Engineering News-Record), the most daunting task for me is to convince others to have the same passion for producing a quality product that I do. You can set up the company quality program, offer quality orientations and training, establish procedures and checklists, etc., and then hope that everyone follows the program to your level of expectation. But when it really comes down to it, it’s up to each individual to possess the right quality mindset.

A portion of the new Gilmerton Bridge.

Just a few of the 100,000 bolts required on the

The bolt bins used for managing the inventory of

The 100,000 Bolt Challenge

The Gilmerton Bridge Replacement​ project just south of Norfolk, Virginia, was one of those projects where everyone lived and breathed a dedication to quality. The project required PCL to replace an aging 75-year-old, double bascule bridge with a five-million-pound lift bridge and two lifting towers, all while keeping the existing bridge operational. The construction logistics required to accomplish this were extremely complex.
The real quality story lies not in the thousands of heavy structural steel members cut and fabricated precociously to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, or the eight 12-foot-in-diameter drilled shafts providing the foundational support for the bridge, but rather in the smallest feature on the bridge—the bolts,  all 100,000 of them.

Develop a Quality Process

When I first visited the project and toured the fabrication and assembly yard, I challenged the PCL team to convince me that they had a quality management program granular enough that it would ensure that every bolt was placed in the correct location and tensioned precisely. They did!
The PCL project engineer toured the lift-span fabrication facility with me to explain their bolt inventory process. Each bolt was accounted for on the Building Information Modeling (BIM) drawing specific to a piece of steel that would be used on the bridge. A warehouse was established at the construction site that had bins dedicated to managing the inventory of bolts based on a variety of criteria, including diameter, length, lot number, and date-tested for each of the 100,000 bolts. As a further quality control measure to maintain the bolt inventory, only one person had access to the locked bolt warehouse on the site. Each time a crew worked on connecting pieces of steel, the bolts for those particular pieces were picked from the bolt warehouse, temporarily stored in buckets, and issued to the foreman for that particular crew. The BIM drawings used in the field for erecting the bridge components specified a location for each bolt. After each section of steel was assembled and torqued, each nut was marked to indicate it had been inspected and reviewed by the quality inspection crews.  
I was impressed with the elaborate quality control process the PCL project team had devised. If your employees really believe in quality, I mean really believe in it, you can hear it in their voices, and I heard a dedication to quality in the voice of the PCL project engineer on the Gilmerton Bridge project. I was convinced the PCL project team would Build it Right and Build it Once.
See PCL’s quality control at work on the Gilmerton Bridge Replacement project.
TAGS: Quality



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