A Different Perspective: Job Planning-The Heart of it All

Gary Bases

Gary Bases is the President of BRIL Inc., an independent consulting firm specializing in brick, refractory, insulation, and lagging. He is also the author of The Bril Book (a complete guide to brick, refractory, insulation, and lagging systems); The Bril Book II (a technical manual that includes bril application drawings for the power-generating industry); The Bril Book III—the Book of Bril; and The Bril Book IV—Boiler Construction. He can be reached at brilincbases@gmail.com.

May 1, 2006

Emissions will be a topic of concern for many years to come thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clear Skies Act and the ever-growing preference for coal fuel. Interest in coal is increasing because it is easily transported and costs about $3 to generate 1 million Btu, compared to more than $7 for the same amount of natural gas or oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. To meet the goals of the Clear Skies Act, the power industry will spend more than $50 billion on new air pollution equipment over the next decade.

Insulation and lagging are key components of these air pollution systems. As with any major component in a large construction project, job planning for installing insulation and lagging is key to the project’s success in finishing under budget and ahead of schedule.

The better a job is planned, the better the chances of meeting project goals. Construction and scheduling requirements make an emphasis on insulation and lagging increasingly important. Insulation and lagging are no longer being installed at the end of the project on completely erected air pollution systems. Instead, the norm now is either to install the insulation and lagging during fabrication of the air pollution equipment and flues on the ground at the plant, or install them before the air pollution equipment and flues reach the plant.

Any delay or problem with the insulation and lagging system could impact the entire construction schedule, and a successful insulation and lagging job begins with good planning. The following steps should be considered to successfully plan a lagging and insulation project.

1. Understand the Job Scope

Prior to starting a job, each and every detail of the application must be understood. This means reviewing all contract specifications and drawings; and, given the opportunity, completing a job site visit. If a job site visit is allowed, it is always beneficial to read and review all drawings and specifications beforehand. This will clarify the job scope. Even if no visit is scheduled, site conditions must be taken into account because they will affect man loading, material handling requirements, and expected productivity.

2. Recognize That Layout and Take-off Work Are Essential

Project layout and take-off work are essential for labor control, material handling requirements, scheduling, and productivity expectations. The take-off and layout work will most likely be done from arrangement and detail drawings, although field measurements also may be required. These layouts and take-offs will act as a control document and a source of information to help verify that all contract specifications and requirements are being met. They also can be of great value as historical documents, offering an advantage when putting together bids on similar work in the future.

3. Review Material Handling

Proper material handling also is important and will help attain the expected work productivity. Having materials available at the specific work locations will eliminate wasted time. Unfortunately, space is usually at a premium, and material storage is most often far from the actual installation area. The materials stored in these areas must be protected from the weather.

Bringing materials from a storage area to a specific work location can sometimes be difficult, especially if the weather has caused sloppy work conditions. Regardless of the conditions, plan ahead. One rule of thumb: Have enough material at work elevation (or within one elevation) for the entire work shift. This will ensure that there are no wasted man hours. No matter how difficult it is to bring the materials to the work location, materials must be at location for the work to be completed.

4. Know Your Craft Labor

Being familiar with the labor crafts working in and around the work area is vital because labor will make up 65 percent or more of the installation costs. Cooperation between the labor crafts is a must for a smooth-running job. Without coordination of craft labor, there will be confusion at the work area; loss of productivity; and, most importantly, unrealized goals. Different crafts claim different parts of the work. Special attention should be given to understanding the distinctions of each craft. For example, on a craft union project, the welding of insulation and lagging attachments might be claimed by several crafts, depending on what the attachment is being welded to (e.g., air pollution plate, flue work plate, or external stiffener). This is referred to as the "first weld." This concern is especially true for a project using craft labor from a union. Each union has its own unique job classifications and bylaws.

For a misunderstanding (jurisdictional dispute) to develop, there must be competing claims for the same work. To prevent such disputes, each union writes up an agreement that defines crafts and area jurisdiction pertaining to their union and craft. However, this does not in itself prevent a jurisdictional dispute between two or more rival unions competing for the same work.

When there is a dispute, an agreement or amendment must be written and agreed upon by the disputing unions that clarifies the issue. For example:
A dispute occurred between the Boilermaker Union Local 27 and 363 and the Asbestos Workers Union Local 1. The dispute was over who will claim the installation of fasteners used for installing of insulation. Insulation requires a fastener that must be welded to the surface of the to-be-insulated surface. The two sides reached an agreement that the Boilermaker will do all stick welding (sometimes called tack welding) on all Boilermaker installations for the purpose of fastening insulation (i.e., boiler and furnace membrane walls).

The above scenario is based on an actual jurisdictional dispute between two unions. The end result was a settlement agreement between the two unions.

Another possible labor problem would be disagreement on craft jurisdiction within a union itself. Craft jurisdiction is a claim to exclusive control over the type of work performed by union members in a given territory, and exclusive right to organize employees performing the work of that trade within a definite geographical area. The difficulty arises when a union is made up of a number of different crafts and two or more crafts within the same union claim responsibility for that work.

The point is that when a labor issue comes up, it can slow or stop a project. One way to eliminate any potential labor issues is for the respective unions to agree to work under the National Maintenance Agreement. In short, the agreement states that all parties (customers, unions, and contractors) agree that there will be no strikes, lockouts, work stoppages, or picketing arising out of any jurisdictional disputes. Work will continue, as originally assigned, pending resolution of the dispute.

5. Estimate Expected Productivity

Estimating work productivity will allow good field control. The initial expected productivity will be based on experience, past studies, and established database. Properly calculating the productivity is the difference between making and losing money. A key to calculating realistic productivity for field labor is to have a pre-job meeting and a walk-down of the entire plant area with the field supervisors. The supervisors are important because they oversee the individual crews and will have the most impact on the ability to reach expected productivity levels. Their familiarity of the local work force will help get the job done on time.

A walk-down and meeting with field supervisors also provides an opportunity to discuss expected productivity (e.g., square foot of coverage per day), craft responsibility breakdown, and material handling requirements. This will ensure that the field supervisors and project manager/superintendent are on the same page, ready to monitor specific work areas quickly and effectively with little or no misunderstanding as to the expected productivity needed to meet schedule.

6. Man-load Each Work Area

Man-loading specific work locations is key for a smooth-running job. It will help to ensure a continuous flow of work, with each work process flowing easily into the next (attachment application, insulation application, and lagging application). The specific work area must be scrutinized and planned to ensure a well-managed job. Nothing can be overlooked, including the amount of space available for material storage, the accessibility to unreachable areas, and the amount of workspace available for pre-engineering that can only be done at the site. Such pre-engineering is required for the lagging installation (flashing of seams, corners, penetrations, and openings requires special, pre-formed shapes and sizes).

Always break down an air pollution system and flue work by the wall, and draw a sketch or layout of each wall area. Add to this sketch the square-foot area, quantities of attachments, material types and thicknesses, number of crew required, expected productivity for installing each component of the system, and how many days it will take to complete. This layout will become a useful tool for monitoring the work area for proper installation, checking on the progress of the work, answering questions, and billing (percentage of work complete).

7. Set up a Layout Area

In addition to man-loading work locations, having a layout area at or near the work location will keep the work flowing. After calculations at the layout area are finished, the calculations and/or sketches are taken to the sheet metal shop for fabrication or used right at the work area for cutting and fitting. Just like the scaffolding, pre-engineering done at the layout area is very important and must be in place prior to starting the work. The key point is to eliminate any wasted manpower. Air pollution systems, along with their flue work, are quite large and require major cutting and fitting on the outer rib lagging and the doors. They also have extensive flashing requirements.

It is highly recommended that flashing around corners and doors be field measured and fabricated at the site. This ensures a proper and tight-fitting lagging system. Two workers doing this together can easily keep ahead of a crew to lay out around the corners and doors and get the material cut, broken, and bent to the work location before the crew is ready to install.


Problems occur even on the best-planned jobs. However, following the above steps will help minimize the possibility of problems occurring and can only enhance the chances for a successful and profitable project.