Global warming and climate change are arguably in the top 5 most important problems facing the world today. Countries, sectors, industries, and individuals alike are focused on and striving for net carbon zero targets in the very near future and must work towards reducing the carbon being produced.
This has led to a global focus on the transition from energy derived mainly from fossil fuels to energy derived from various renewable sources, such as solar power, wind energy, hydropower, geothermal energy, and bioenergy.
The supply of raw materials will be at the center of efforts to decarbonise and electrify the global economy as we move from fossil fuels to renewable energy generation, examples being copper for electrification, nickel for electric vehicles, lithium and cobalt for batteries, tellurium for solar panels, and neodymium for the magnets used in wind power generation. The demand for raw materials is driving the resurrection and growth of the global mining sector, as metals and mining companies strive to provide the vast quantities of raw materials required for the energy transition.
All of this is of course good news for the mining and engineering construction sectors as expansion projects are rolled out across the globe, and these projects require any number of construction professionals during the planning, design, and implementation phases. Once again, this is good news for companies like RLB providing project management, cost management, and quantity surveying services to mining and engineering projects. But how is the role of the quantity surveyor changing to meet the needs of these projects?
Mining and engineering projects in the modern world are very different to what they were 20 or 30 years ago. Whilst they seek to achieve the same goal – extracting, processing and refining raw materials at the most efficient and cost-effective price – the method of execution is very different with a key focus being “getting to production as soon as possible”. Gone are the days of having the time to produce an accurate definitive cost estimate, to go through a rigorous value engineering process, to follow rigid procurement process, or to follow traditional tried and tested construction methodologies. Projects have moved from being capital sensitive to being time sensitive, and consequently those traditional timeframes for implementing various phases of a project are significantly reduced. Of course, money will always be important, especially if you’re “signing the cheques”, so the balance between these much-reduced time frames and managing the budget has become an extremely important exercise.
Consequently, the role of the cost manager or quantity surveyor on these mining and engineering projects has also changed. The estimating or feasibility phase is often carried out with very little design information from which to estimate, and in some cases is a factored exercise using projects of a similar nature. With ever increasing frequency, the estimating phase is carried out concurrent with an early procurement phase, specifically for long lead items and early construction activities such as bulk earthworks and basic site services. The project procurement phase in fast-track projects is an accelerated process where enquiry documents need to be prepared in a short time. The measurement of drawings is less important than it would have been in earlier years, and the extraction of quantities is largely done electronically by the design engineers from their 3D modelling. Similarly, the production of bills of quantity is regularly done by the design engineers who pass on already populated bills of quantity for checking and verification, and occasionally reformatting, by the quantity surveyor. The period allowed for the adjudication of tenders and award of a contract is kept to an absolute minimum, thus requiring the cost manager or quantity surveyor to work smarter in order to properly contribute to the process and minimize risk to the client and contractor alike.
In the post-contract phase, construction programmes are again kept to a minimum with very little float, and the design and engineering teams are under pressure from the start to produce construction drawings to meet these programmes. The quantity surveyor’s role is one that focuses more on contract administration and contract management, attending to contract amendments as the scope is confirmed and finalized, managing an aggressive cashflow forecast, and of course managing the budget and keeping an accurate forecast of the expected final account value.
Thankfully, the modern-day quantity surveyor is well trained and the transition to this “new” role is easier than it first appears. Working under pressure is not new to quantity surveyors in general and certainly not to mining and engineering professionals, so adapting to these conditions is not difficult if the quantity surveyor plans and executes his work correctly according to this plan. Generally, quantity surveyors understand contracts and how to work the specific terms and conditions in order to effect proper contract administration and management when allowed to do so. There are also many electronic quantity surveying and contract management software systems available to rely on to carry out any number of tasks, and if properly set up and utilised from the start, can greatly reduce the time spent on even the most basic activities.
So how is the role of the quantity surveyor changing in the context of modern-day mining and engineering projects? I would suggest that it hasn’t changed that much. Whilst the importance of the various tasks performed by the quantity surveyor may have changed over time, and whilst the methods employed to carry out these tasks, and time available to do so may have transformed, at its most basic level, the role is to act as a gate keeper for construction project finances and contractual relationships, thereby ensuring that the financial and contractual positions of construction projects are effectively controlled and accurately reported. And the person best qualified to do so is the professional quantity surveyor.