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August 2009
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Construction Procurement and Constructing with Glass

As the summer comes to an end most university and college students are rushing around trying to get everything organized for this year. A select few are trying to get their PhD and Masters Thesis defence done so they don’t have to pay another term of tuition. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend two presentations at the University of Toronto in the Civil Engineering Department, both masters defenses.

Presentation #1: Analysis of the Low-Bid Award System in Public Sector Construction Procurement

The main thing that I took away from this presentation was that typically a project in the public sector has about a 25% final cost escalation after the bid. What this really means is that public sectors budget for ‘$x’ but really they need to budget for ‘$x+25%’ – that can get really costly for us taxpayers!

Other things highlighted in this presentation:

  • Pre-qualified Vs Open Bids: Typically the public sector has Vendors of Record and only allow specific companies to bid on projects. In an open bid anyone can bid the job. The author noted regardless if the company was pre-qualified that all jobs saw a 25% cost escalation.
  • What project are they bidding on?: The author suggested that companies will ‘low-ball’ their job price just to get the job knowing that they can charge for many extras. Other companies will bid the ‘whole’ job and build in contingencies. I wonder which overall in the end would be cheaper?

I thought the research as lacking, particularly in consistency of level of government; there is a big difference between municipal, provincial and federal jobs in terms or budgets, project size and complexity.

What should we do In the Future?

The author didn’t offer research ideas for the future I these should be incorporated:

  • Analysis of government levels: i.e break it down to municipal, provincial and federal
  • Project Scope: Some $100 million jobs are the easiest so break the projects down by complexity
  • Project Cost: Even though those $100 million dollar jobs are easy how do they compare in over-runs with the bigger and smaller jobs?
  • Schedule: one season vs multi-year – what are the impacts?

I questioned the author on pre-qualified bidders under completed designs and asked if an investigation was done on contracts where no ‘extras’ were permitted. This area had not been explored because most of the projects looked at were bid on at the 30% design stage (I see a flaw here). But looking at the other conferences I’ve been to this year I would think that a P3 is needed here, such that the risk is transferred both to the client (the constructor) and the owner (the public sector). Using P3’s BC has been able to minimize cost escalations and has built many impressive projects.

Presentation #2: Investigation of Glass Fibre Reinforced Polymer (GFRP) Reinforcing Bars as Internal Reinforcement for Concrete Structures

GFRP might be the future in concrete construction, well at least for certain applications. Typically concrete is reinforced with steel; to be technical concrete is great in compression and terrible in tension so without any reinforcing material in it everything would come crashing down.

Why switch from steel to glass? When steel is produced it is not in its elemental state, that shiny steel wants to return to it’s rust covered natural state. As the rust penetrates the steel it looses its structural strength. Plus steel is highly reactive and with all the chemicals in our buildings and roads the steel is once again on the defence and can break down.

Enter glass. A material that does not react to the chemicals the same way steel does. It is actually stronger than steel and has been shown to withstand twice the applied force of steel.

Drawbacks to glass:

  • No way to monitor its behaviour: Because glass does not react the same way as steel and because it is so new there are many testing mechanisms to test the glass
  • No way to tell it will fail: Steel has both an elastic and plastic phase. As it approaches its maximum load it enters plastic deformation. Basically we can see when it is going to fail. Glass on the other hand is only elastic and fails once it reaches it’s ultimate load
  • Not recyclable: the glass fibers are covered in resin. Separating the glass from the resin is almost impossible. And to add insult to injury using recycled glass initially significantly lowers the strength so only new glass is used in GFRP.

A bulk of the authors work was testing the GFRP at extremely cold temperature, -40C/-40F. The author noted that the GRFP had no strength deviations at these low temperatures and performed well – good news for Canada!

In the end I have to say that I did enjoy both presentations. I thought the second candidate did a far better job at answering questions and proposed where future research could go (the student it starting his PhD this fall in GFRP and is continuing to build upon his research). But what I really took away from this was that a master defence at the University of Toronto is more of a presentation; these candidates weren’t sweating it out at all!


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Time August 27, 2009 at 6:36 pm

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Comment from IT Procurement Jobs
Time May 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm

can i apply for these projects ? i have master degree in computer science and having two yr exp in this field.