University of Calgary

Engineers help build

Engineers help build construction productivity

By Grady Semmens

Labour shortages, lack of materials and poor weather may be some of the biggest challenges for Calgary’s red-hot construction industry, but that doesn’t mean companies are completely at the mercy of forces they can’t control.

Major improvements can be made to virtually every construction operation to boost productivity and save time and money, according to experts at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering who are helping the city’s biggest industry players enhance their project management process.

“It’s not that the industry is inefficient, but there are areas where it can make some improvements by adopting new technology and work practices that can dramatically improve performance and lower cost overruns,” said Dr. Janaka Ruwanpura, a civil engineering professor and director of the school’s project management program.

Six companies from the Calgary Construction Association, including major contractors Ellis Don, PCL, Graham and Ledcor, teamed up with the project management program in 2003 to investigate ways of improving productivity. The partnership began with an initial $58,000 investment from the companies, which was topped up by federal government funding for a total of $174,000.

The partnership yielded at least $2 million in savings for the industry in the first two years, which prompted three more companies—CANA, Stuart Olson and Revay & Associates—to join the next phase, which includes $450,000 in new funds.

This five-year project, which began in the summer, has identified the top 10 targets for improving construction productivity.

Ruwanpura and a team of 10 graduate students are now working on construction sites around Calgary to develop new management practices in the industry.
“The construction industry is recognizing the need for research to improve productivity, as this is absolutely essential considering the current labour shortages,” said Dave Smith, executive director of the Calgary Construction Association.

“The partners in this project have been most impressed and are recognizing the valve of enhanced productivity, which improves the bottom line of their financial statements in a tough industry that takes on a high risk in building today’s complex projects.”