Fieldwork: Conceptual Design to Commissioning on the Construction Site

We meet clients’ needs in the office and in the field – settings with very different demands on our engineers. When the opportunity arose for two young process engineers to oversee the construction of an industrial wastewater treatment facility, I wanted them working on site because it is a great way to grow as engineers and consultants. 

For Elyse Dumas and Ed Sharood working on a construction site, responding to the daily demands of construction, and learning to make design decisions on the spot was new. They had helped develop the conceptual design, operated the pilot plants, and engineered aspects of the system.  The work as field engineers provided invaluable feedback on this process. 

“The difference between design and construction is like the difference between knowing how to drive a car and knowing how to build an engine. Once you start to know how the engine is built, you may start to change the way you drive as a result,” says Elyse, who works out of our Dedham office. Seeing the facility under construction provides her a new perspective on design and how her work interacts with other disciplines. “As a young engineer, the jump from school to conceptual design is easy because they’re both theoretical. Interacting with other disciplines becomes more important as you work toward a detailed design, and the opportunity to work with contractors onsite helps develop this skill. It also provides a design-build literacy, which effects the design process, too. It’s a really valuable experience.” 

Based in Portland, Ed adds, “It’s really important, from my perspective as an engineer, to see what people do in the field. When they have all these design drawings, how do they interpret the information into constructing what is needed. Understanding that transition between design and reality has been helpful and interesting.”

Learning to make decisions on the spot

The project team designed the innovative wastewater treatment process that combines anaerobic digestion with aerobic treatment followed by a Membrane Bioreactor. Woodard & Curran was also hired as the general contractor for the build. Whether it’s Ed or Elyse on site, their day starts early with a safety meeting during which the plan for the day is discussed and safety hazards are brought to the crew’s attention. They follow the crew out to the job site, help assess the condition and note any changes that may have occurred overnight. They assist in setting up for the day’s work, which sometimes means shoveling snow, moving heat blankets for excavation, or setting up safety equipment needed to get the day’s work done. Once the contractors are up and running, they return to their on-site office to coordinate with subcontractors, make changes to designs, answer submittals and Requests for Information, and tend to regular office work. 

As issues are encountered, Ed and Elyse are thinking on their toes to find a solution. For example, the design called for hooks to rig the chemical storage tank into the containment area.  The hooks were difficult to access, which required developing a creative installation technique, which Ed says is “an experience that has already informed a lot of what I will do differently in the future.” 

“I have been involved in dozens of projects from concept to detail design, but then many times we pass the design off or it goes out to bid by outside contractors,” says Elyse. “This project has improved my design-build literacy and exposed me to construction management, which has been an awesome process.” 

Elyse and Ed are working closely with contractors throughout the build to troubleshoot designs and find the best solution in terms of function, schedule, and cost. They are seeing for the first time how their design documents are used during construction, which is already improving their process design work and helping them better serve our clients.


Hugh Tozer Chief Technologist Industrial Waste Treatment

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