An Insight into Ownership of Structures
At Subteno Consulting Engineers, we have a cumulative experience in the civil / structural engineering field of over 75 years - with a large proportion of those predominantly involved in steel industrial structures (at both onshore and offshore locations).
During this time, it’s fair to say we’ve seen some strange looking (and honestly some outright shocking) structures in use at various Client asset locations. What I mean by this typically falls under one of the following:
· Structures being over-loaded or deflecting past acceptable levels.
· Structures being modified without proper engineering assessments – initiated from a poor or unclear understanding of its behaviour.
· Structures being improperly maintained (or having no regular maintenance schedule at all!).
There are a multitude of reasons why assets can fall into any of these categories but ultimately, I believe that lack of proper communication and documentation has a big part to play in this - let me explain.
Lack of Proper Documentation
When we’ve previously asked Clients about a particular asset, some are the first to admit that they have no up to date or accurate information available to share. Whether this means:
· There are no as-built drawings (but they do have a scanned copy of a red pen mark-up from 20 years ago),
· They have the original design report (but it has been scanned so many times that the handwritten report is now partially unreadable) or;
· They have the original project specifications (but they are for another ‘similar’ asset that was commissioned 5 years later… at a different location).
Joking aside, this is not as uncommon as you would like to think, and we are used to dealing with this being the case. In fact we normally assume that starting with ‘something’ is better than nothing.
However, as many of these assets enter their next lifecycle phase e.g. a change of use or decommissioning, we must ask ourselves - how can we be sure that these structures are still fit for purpose?
‘Change of Use’ and ‘Fitness for Purpose’
‘Fit for Purpose’ is one of those phrases with is often overused with little thought to its true meaning. Declaring something as ‘fit for purpose’ typically means the structure meets the minimum requirements for which it was originally designed for.
However, during the lifecycle of an asset, it is not uncommon for its intended use to change and evolve over time. Some examples could be:
· The addition, replacement or removal of equipment located within the structure.
· An extension or modification to an existing structure.
· A fundamental change of use (e.g. a factory / mill converted into luxury flats).
Often these changes are for the better, after all re-use of an asset is better than demolition and construction of a new one. But here we must ask ourselves - is the structure still ‘fit for purpose’? All too often little thought is given to the original design conditions of a structure under the assumption that any changes will not have a detrimental impact, but there are many sides to this coin rather than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Part 2 of this blog will follow next month however, if you have a project that you want to discuss with our team please get in touch for a no obligation discussion.