I have to deal with many different tasks on a single day when I was a project engineer. Over the years, I've found a few tools that actually help me in my daily work. So, what are the tools that project engineers can use?
At a glance, the list of tools I'm proposing to every project engineer are as follow:
- Equipment Schedule
- Mobile CAD Viewer
- Site Opening Monitoring Report
- Microsoft Project
- Measuring Tape
- Google Drive
- PDF Editor
- Excel Sizing Calculator
- Mobile Document Scanner
1. Equipment Schedule
Equipment schedule is a very important tool for project engineers, especially in large-scale projects. Unfortunately, I don't see many project engineers using it.
Equipment schedule is a compilation of the specifications of equipment. For instance, in HVAC, the equipment schedule of air conditioners consist of the following item:
- Floor Level
- Tag Name
- Model No.
- Motor Power
- Power Supply
- Running Current
- External Static Pressure
The content of an equipment schedule is not limited to the above items. Often, I include important specifications such as casing material and panel thickness as a remark.
During site walks and meetings, I always carry along an equipment schedule for major equipment such as air handling units, fan coil units, mechanical fans and valves and VAV boxes. I even have a dedicated softcopy project folder to keep all my equipment schedules in order.
Whenever I update an equipment schedule, I always make sure that I put the revision number in the file name so that I can track which one is the latest one.
With equipment schedules, questions like “how big is your AHU” and “how many amp your air conditioner is using” can be answered in a blink of an eye.
2. Mobile CAD Viewer
I believe I don't have to elaborate any further on the importance of CAD drawings for project engineers. We refer to CAD drawings nearly every working day.
Hence, having the ability to view CAD drawings on your mobile phone is superb. While you can always save CAD drawings as PDF files, you often still need to view them in CAD format.
For example, you may run into a situation where you need to refer to an architectural drawing or a structural drawing during a site walk to clarify something. Thus, you may not have converted the drawing into a PDF file. So, a mobile CAD viewer will be very handy.
Throughout my work as a project engineer, I find myself using my mobile phone to view CAD drawings more often than I thought. Thanks to it, I can settle a lot of issues on the spot, without having to go back and check which can be very inefficient.
For a mobile CAD viewer, I recommend DWG FastView (iPhone) or DWG FastView (Android). It's free to use and load drawings very fast. You also can drag, zoom and even do basic measurements. And, if you want more features, you can go for the paid version but I don't find myself using the paid version.
3. Site Opening Monitoring Report
Site opening monitoring report is not a standard report you find in project management. However, I created and used it to ensure that I don't miss out on a single slab and wall openings during the initial construction stage of the project.
Slab and wall openings are crucial in building construction projects. In HVAC, we have slab openings for riser ducts and pipes. Besides, wall openings for pipes, ducts and cables are also important. If a single opening is missing (especially a slab opening), it'll cost you a lot of time and money to get approval and hack the slab later on.
So, monitoring site openings in a structural way can help you to stay in control. Items included in my proposed site opening monitoring report are as follow:
- Floor Level
- Duct/Pipe Size
- Required Opening Size
- Requested Opening Size
- Actual Opening Size
- PIC Signature
The most important element in the report is the requested opening size. Usually, the main contractor is the one who provides the opening for you. So, you need to provide a list of openings to them.
Next, assign a PIC, it can be your site supervisor, to check the actual opening size once it is done. Then, compare it with the requested opening size. If there is a discrepancy, inform the main contractor immediately so that they can rectify it before it is too late.
In addition, if things go sour with regards to site opening sizes, you have a solid report to defend yourself. The report template is included in the Project Engineer Starter Pack.
4. Microsoft Project
Microsoft Project is used to create, monitor and make changes to project schedules. Although it is more difficult to use, it has many advantages over a simple excel sheet.
Many project engineers like to use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets for their master work program or project schedule. They find Microsoft Project is very hard to use.
However, I would advise you to learn how to use Microsoft Project, at least the basic function just enough for you to produce a master work program. Later, you can dive in more to discover its usefulness.
The greatest advantage of Microsoft Project over an excel sheet is the ability to do auto schedule. In construction projects, things change very quickly and frequently. With Microsoft Project, you don't have to adjust your subsequent schedule every time there is a change.
For small tasks such as the completion of a mechanical room or a typical floor, you can use a simple excel sheet to monitor. But, when it comes to the master work program for the entire project, you should use Microsoft Project to handle the project schedule.
5. Measuring Tape
Some project engineers think that they should not carry around a tool like a measuring tape. They believe that site measurement work should be done by supervisors, subcontractors and general workers.
However, a measuring tape is more useful than you thought.
There are many instances where site workers just simply can't understand what you are trying to measure and check. Often, I need to go down to the site and measure by myself in order to be 100% sure of my RFI proposals.
In the past, I did let workers measure and tell me the result. But, I find it incorrect sometimes and the consequences are devastating. So, I've learned to carry around a measuring tape whenever I head down to the site so that I can measure anything whenever I like.
For a measuring tape, I recommend you choose the one with a self-lock function. Whenever you pull the tape, it won't retract unless you press the button. Also, I suggest you get the big one (25 ft). It is heavier but you won't regret it.
Beware of cheap measuring tapes as the spring inside can fail in a few weeks' time. Usually, people use the power lock type but I like the self-lock type where the tape will stay on until I need it to retract. A good one you can buy from Amazon is Stanley Hand Tools STHT30825 25′ LeverLock Tape Measure. Stanley is a good brand for measuring tapes.
6. Google Drive
Google Drive is a very useful tool for project engineers to remotely access all project drawings and documents. So, they don't have to carry around too many large drawings and documents.
Certainly, a physical copy of drawings and documents is essential in the construction site. However, other drawings and documents which you don't expect to use may be needed during site walks and meetings. If you didn't bring them, the issues may not be solved on the spot.
So, in order to make sure that I have all the resources by my side at all times, I upload all project drawings and documents to my google drive. The first 15 GB storage is free and it is more than enough for a project.
With that, you basically can work anywhere at any time you like. Your efficiency and productivity will certainly improve. However, the biggest downside is that you need an internet connection.
7. PDF Editor
Project engineers have a lot of PDF files to deal with. During the construction stage, you need to issue RFIs, site memos and letters to resolve the technical and commercial issues involved in the project.
Furthermore, during the handover stage, you have a lot of pages to handle when compiling the operation manual and maintenance for submission and approval.
Hence, you may need to attach photos and other files in your correspondence. Besides, you may also need to add or remove certain pages. So, a PDF editor will come in handy.
I recommend PDFill Free PDF Tools from CNET (Windows OS only). It is free to use. You can merge, split and rearrange PDF files. I like it because it is very easy to use.
8. Excel Sizing Calculator
Project engineers often need to do sizing when there are clashes and discrepancies. For more efficient communication, they need to do resizing and propose to the consultant for final confirmation.
In HVAC, the most common sizing works are as follow:
- Duct sizing
- Grille sizing
- Cable sizing
- Pipe sizing
Many times, when I was preparing shop drawings, there are certain things need to be resized due to mistakes, obstructions and changes. Furthermore, I often need to do “value engineering” which is a cost-saving exercise by optimizing various HVAC component sizes while still keeping the requirement.
However, these resizing works are very time-consuming. So, I realized that I need to automate and speed up those unproductive work by using excel spreadsheets.
Hence, I brought formulas, tables and design parameters into an excel spreadsheet such that I can enter a few inputs to get the result immediately rather than doing it the manual way.
The greatest advantage of using an excel sheet to do design calculations is that I only need to create it once and I can use it virtually forever. Furthermore, I realized that it actually helped me to avoid many mistakes due to human errors and increased my overall productivity.
If you are not working in the HVAC industry, I can't help you unfortunately, you need to create the excel calculator by yourself. However, if you are working with HVAC, you can consider the Design Engineer Starter Pack where I included 9 excel calculators and other resources to help with your HVAC journey.
9. Mobile Document Scanner
As mentioned earlier, project engineers deal with a lot of project drawings and documents. Sometimes, we need to send a file over to our boss or the client but a photo is not appropriate. So, a mobile document scanner is very handy.
There are a lot of mobile scanner apps on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. However, I find that Scannable (iPhone) is the best one I've ever used. Although iPhone now also can use Note to scan documents, I find Scannable did a much better job.
Since I don't have the chance to use an Android phone. I can't suggest any scanner app if you are an Android phone user. However, it's still worth trying out different scanners and finding the one you like the most.
Many project engineers think that nowadays nobody uses paper and pen to manage a project. In the new digital world, we can store everything on the computer.
However, as much as I support the use of softcopy and digital files, I must admit that notebooks, pens and a pencil case are still necessary for project engineers to manage a construction project well.
Somehow, writing down things on a piece of paper is still more memorable than recording things on the computer. Furthermore, I find highlighters and marker pens are extremely useful to indicate and label items in a drawing.
When I was working as a project engineer, I see many other project engineers only carry around one blue-color ball pen. Whenever I brought out my pencil case which contains 5 different colors of ball pens, 5 different colors of highlighters, 3 different colors of marker pens, 1 stapler, 1 scissor and a bunch of erasers and pencils, they were shocked.
Many times, project engineers expect their company to provide their stationery. However, it is a painful and slow process to request even a new cheap pen. Some companies just like to micro-manage and control stationery costs.
So, I gave up and decided to buy myself a good set of stationery. Alongside the other things listed above, they are my tools to work efficiently on construction projects.
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