Getting it Right When No One is Watching

Henry Ford, the great automobile industrialist of the early 20th century, once said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” 

A typical anchor bolt cluster. A typical anchor bolt cluster.

Corry Braak, PCL project superintendent, alongside one of the many anchor bolts for installed by him and his team.Corry Braak, PCL project
superintendent, alongside one of the
many anchor bolts installed by him and
his team.

This quote came to mind when I toured a project under construction by PCL in Orlando, Florida. At the request of the client, I cannot divulge the name of the project, but I can say that it includes an amusement ride. You will just have to wait for the big announcement of its opening along with thousands of adoring fans. In the meantime, let’s call it “Project X.”
During my visit, Project X was well underway. The structure was enclosed and the foundations of the ride piers had been completed. As I toured this massive structure, I discovered an amazing accomplishment that had been performed by our PCL project team. They had placed all the large anchor bolts that secure the ride structure to the foundations in the exactly right location 1,069 times—that is perfect!  This is an amazing accomplishment given the bolts had a placement tolerance of only two millimeters in any direction. This equals about the thickness of 10 sheets of photocopy paper. The bolts are in random groups and clusters all over the building to coincide with the anchor leg supports for the ride. There was no grid pattern to reference back to and cross-check before to placing the concrete.  
Once completed, the general public riding on the attraction will never know of this impressive accomplishment as they hurtle and twirl around on the ride.  
Henry Ford was right: “Quality is doing it right when no one is looking.”


So how did the PCL project team manage to place all the anchor bolts so precisely? Using Building Information Modeling (BIM) to superimpose the ride anchor points on the foundation plan provides only the foundation for correct bolt installation. The BIM modeler must be particularly skilled in coordinating both the ride and structural drawings accurately to make sure the necessary control points are in place and maintained. Also, the ride is manufactured using metric measurements, and the structural drawings are in imperial measurements, so the modeler must work between these two systems to ensure proper placement. Remember in 1999 when the NASA Mars Climate Orbiter missed its intended target because of a metric/imperial conversion error? That was a $125 million oops.


But that’s only the start of the quality process to get 1,069 bolts in exact locations. Meet PCL’s project superintendent Corry Braak, 38 years with PCL and a steady hand at the wheel. Corry and I worked together 25 years ago when I first joined PCL. I congratulated him and his team on this amazing accomplishment with the anchor bolt placement. He shook his head and told me, “That’s how we do it here, just build it right.” 
Sounds simple, but as I listened to the meticulous steps taken to achieve this accomplishment, I realized I was listening to the voice of experience. Corry and his team start by setting rigid concrete forms anchored and secure so they don’t move. Then they set the bolts and secure them in a temporary support and survey the location until they are “dead-on perfect.” Next, his team pours the concrete very slowly and monitors the pour rate so the liquid head pressure doesn’t relocate the bolts on its own. Finally, they survey again while the concrete is green. Repeat 1,069 times!
“This was a team effort,” Braak told me. “Everyone did their part and that’s just how we do quality.”              
The next time you’re on one of those exhilarating and heart-stopping rides at an entertainment complex ask yourself, did the contractor that I trust my life and safety with adhere to the philosophy of “Build it Right and Build it Once?”
TAGS: Quality



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