Concurrent engineering

Concurrent engineering principles have been successfully implemented in the manufacturing industry and there is a possibility that they can be used to integrate the various disciplines of the construction industry at the project level. However, before this possibility is highlighted, it is necessary to review the source of the split of the industry into the various disciplines and the efforts that have so far been carried out to re-integrate them. In the medieval period the master builder headed a construction team and served in two capacities at once, both architect and contractor.

The master builder saw the project from a broad picture as well as in detail given the fact that he had administrative skills based on thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the work, which also enabled him to direct the efforts of all other participants in the project. This paper reviews project procurement systems and how concurrent engineering principles may be adopted to address the integration of the efforts of project participants from the inception of the project. Using the case of Botswana, the barriers to adopting concurrent engineering principles in the construction industry are highlighted and a way forward is proposed.

Project procurement systems The immediate consequence of the split in the construction industry into various independent disciplines was that for any project to be realized all the relevant disciplines had to be assembled and organized somehow into a functional team. The project organizational structure, which is a collective action required to acquire the design, management and installation of inputs, is referred to as “procurement system”. One of the earliest procurement systems, which is still commonly used in many parts of the world and in Botswana in particular, is the traditional procurement system (TPS) and its hybrids.

The essence of TPS is that construction involving significant architectural input is undertaken with the client contracting the architect as the principal design consultant. A separate contract is entered into between the client and structural/civil engineer. Later, a separate contract is entered into by the client and the contractor/builder. Where the project is predominantly civil engineering in nature, such as a highway construction, the architect is replaced by a civil engineer as the principal design consultant. .

Other procurement systems which have been formulated to respond to time and cost pressures of capital project by integrating the various disciplines include fast track, which aims at reducing the construction project time by overlapping of design and construction activities (Willis, 1986; Hendrickson and Au, 1989; Bennett, 1991). In spite of the success of this approach in some quarters (Hirsh, 1992) critics have pointed out that it often results in unexpected costs and does not necessarily lead to a shorter project duration (Fazio et al. , 1988; Laufer and Cohenca, 1990; Tighe, 1991).

Others include construction management; build, operate and transfer (BOT) (Newcombe, 1996). Despite all these efforts no full integration of the disciplines of the construction industry has been achieved at a project level. This situation has forced the construction industry to look for ideas from beyond the construction industry. The successful application of concurrent engineering in the manufacturing industry presents an attractive inspiration that has been pursued by the construction industry in various perspectives during the past few years.

Concurrent engineering Concurrent engineering (CE) according to its early pioneers is that the engineering and design phase in product development often involves a series of activities traditionally executed by different functional departments in a phased, sequential approach. As far as possible, these activities should be clustered, integrated and managed concurrently rather than sequentially to save time (Clark and Fujimoto, 1989; Kusiak, 1993; Shtub et al. , 1994).

Broughton (1990) summarizes the aim of CE as being “to achieve reduced times, improve quality and cost by the integration of design and manufacturing activities, and by maximizing parallelism in working practices”. Several benefits have been associated with the adoption of concurrent engineering (Clealand and Bursic, 1992; Dowling, 1994), but the one which directly addresses the main problem of the procurement systems in the construction industry is that CE enhances communication and co-operation between designers, managers and other professionals involved in the product development process.

It also reduces uncertainty in the early phases of the project (Bowen, 1992). A study in Botswana Having set the necessary background, the participants were randomly assigned to three groups of equal sizes and asked to discuss the following questions: 1. (1) Which of the procurement systems explained above are used in Botswana? 2. (2) Do the procurement systems used in Botswana fulfill the expectations of the users? 3. (3) Can concurrent engineering principles that have been successfully used in the manufacturing industry be applied in the construction industry in Botswana?

After two hours of group discussions, the participants re-assembled in one group and reported the outcome of their discussions. Since the questions were not framed to generate data for statistical analyses, unanimity was taken to be a simple majority. It was unanimously observed that none of the procurement systems used in Botswana satisfies the criteria of the various systems pointed out per se. The methods that are commonly used in Botswana were said to be the hybrids of TPS. This observation concurs with the findings of earlier studies (Rwelamila and Ngowi, 1996; Ngowi, 1997b).

A hybrid system was defined as the one that does not meet all the laid down criteria, but is used with certain modifications to suit the circumstances. As a result, several disputes have arisen in projects procured through such systems. Only a few projects were said to have been procured using the D&B system. Other procurement systems, such as BOT were said not to be feasible for Botswana because of the relatively low economic activity that may necessitate several years of operation before transfer can be affected.

The second questions elicited a unanimous observation that the procurement systems currently in use in Botswana were inadequate and hardly fulfill the expectations of the users. The users expect the projects to be executed smoothly, but what has been witnessed in most of the projects are disputes which have often led to delays and cost overruns. The different disciplines were said to continue to operate under adversarial conditions. For instance, most participants pointed out that the seminar was their first occasion to hold discussions of mutual benefit with professionals from the other disciplines.

All earlier encounters with their counterparts had occurred in situations where each was defending the interests of one’s discipline regardless of those of others. The responses to question (3) pointed out the following barriers which were said to impede implementation of CE principles in the construction industry: • There are too many parties in a construction project which operate as independent organizations. In the pursuit of profits, this situation has entrenched the adversarial culture in the construction industry and may make it difficult to implement CE principles if the independence of disciplines is not abolished.

• The nature of the current procurement systems makes it possible for parties that did not know one another before, to participate in a project. Often, this leads to poor communication, which brings about undesired waiting and errors such as rework due to implementation of out-of-date information. Moreover, the current procurement systems normally bring the participants into the project at different stages of development. To be able to create a multi-party communication by assembling all the project participants at the conceptual stage, it is necessary to make far-reaching changes to the way the projects are currently procured.

Analysis of the results In general terms, the participants of the one-day conference reached a consensus that the principles of CE could significantly improve the performance of the construction industry. However, they cautioned that for a system that is based on CE principles to be successful, it must originate from a consensus reached among the key participants in the construction industry. It is important to note that the role of the government in a small market, such as the one in Botswana, is very critical, both as a client and a facilitator of important changes.

This role was clearly depicted by the conference participants when they expressed their skepticism on the implementation of initiatives that do not have government support. The responses indicate that all clients are aware that not all the information about the project is captured by the design team at the conceptual stage. They have often experienced situations in which they are required to provide more information, particularly when new project team members, such as the constructor and sub-contractors join the project.

This is contrary to the principles of CE, which are based on the premise that any idea about the projects should be presented at the conceptual stage, no matter whether it is to be implemented during the design, construction or when operating the finished product. Under CE based procurement system, the life-cycle analysis of the project needs to be carried out at the conceptual stage and so at no other time will further information be required from the client.

The responses to the question regarding the contribution of the clients to the uncertainty of the final product indicated that the less experienced the client is, the more uncertain the description of the project requirements become. According to Bowen (1992) defining the scope of the project in an orderly fashion, thus avoiding scope changes, could reduce this uncertainty. This would require all team members to be present at the conceptual stage of the project so as to ensure that the client is presented with all the possible scenarios.

This is a very important factor for the organizations that have a tradition of high staff turnovers. A client representative needs to be in that position for a reasonable period of time in order to understand the dynamics of the industry and how best to present the requirements of the organization at that early stage. The respondents indicated vehemently that it is difficult to adopt a CE approach before a comprehensive re-orientation of how construction is currently procured has been carried out.

This response is a direct result of the entrenched procurement systems, none of which is based on CE principles. To expect the same players to change from the traditional systems to a CE based approach without a period of training would be tantamount to equating CE principles to the traditional systems. The most important task, therefore, will be to educate all the stakeholders of the construction industry of the benefits of using a procurement system based on CE principles and how the barriers mentioned earlier would be overcome.

Conclusions This paper examined how construction projects have been procured during different eras. It was noted that in medieval times the construction industry was headed by the master builder who directed the efforts of all other project participants as a single entity. This resulted in a successful completion of all projects because the efforts of all participants were integrated and therefore it was possible to avoid waste and disputes.

The Industrial Revolution ushered in an era of specialization, which split the construction industry into a maze of disciplines that operate as independent entities, often in adversarial conditions. Several project procurement systems have been devised with the aim of integrating the different disciplines of the construction industry into a workable organization, but none of them has succeeded. CE, which has been successfully deployed in the manufacturing industry, offers a viable possibility of achieving this aim.

However, a study in Botswana identified several barriers that have to be overcome for the principles of CE to be adopted in the construction industry. A concerted effort that involves all the stakeholders in the construction industry, particularly the clients, and directed towards educating everyone of the importance of CE principles and their application in the industry as well as the barriers that need to be overcome, seems to be the way forward. This effort needs to be initiated by the private sector, ensuring that all the potential clients are on board and the government needs to act as a facilitator.

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