I have been working on capital projects since March 1970. I didn't know that was what they were called when I showed up for my first co-op position that March, but looking back on it, I was certainly working on machinery that fit into our customer's capital project.
What has changed since then?
In those days, everything was done by hand. There was no computer aided design, there were no computers for Bills of Materials, scheduling and so forth. Hand drawings, hand-built schedules, on and on. The first time I saw a computer on a job was in 1974 when a time share computer was used for some specialized calculations.
The first time I had a computer in an office I ran was January 1980. We did have calculators by then, though.
Today, there is 3-D modeling with interference checking. Drones are used to keep track of progress in the field.
Some of the biggest changes today are in the sourcing of equipment--it comes from all over the world, even within one supplier. Ships and shipments are tracked with GPS and the location of everything is constantly known on a current basis.
Forty-nine years ago, one noticed scaffolding all over the place to place workers at the site of the work. Today, cherry-pickers are everywhere. I recently counted over fifty of these machines on one site. In colder climates, work used to come to a stop in the wintertime. Doesn't seem to happen so much any longer, or the work is schedule so that buildings are enclosed and indoor work continues.
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My estimate is that the time to complete equivalent projects has been cut in half in the last forty-nine years. In real dollars, the total installed cost has gone down, way down.
In one area, I think conditions have deteriorated. When everything was done manually, experienced designers became experienced by "touching" everything up close and personal as it was built and installed. Today, they are insulated from the real work by keyboards, computer mice, computer screens and so forth. They do not get the feel for the work that existed before all these modern aids evolved.
Although we have many ways to do interference checking these days, and although they are very good, better than by hand, it seems to me the designers become too dependent on such systems. They are "dumbed down" in terms of their ability to visualize these problems in their minds. It is sort of like getting used to driving a car that has a backup camera and alarm. Jump from that to a car without these devices and you'll see how dependent you have become on them.
This lack of "feel" results in designs that are adequate but not elegant. It means in general our design elegance sometimes has not kept up with the technology. The human touch has been lost. Yes, we can have 3-D computer models, drones and VR (Virtual Reality) systems but they cannot quite completely replace the real thing. That is what we are missing today.
My point is made when one thinks about safety training. One can have just so much classroom training, video instructions, even VR training. At the end of the day, though, one needs to touch the real equipment and go through the real motions.
Be safe and we will talk next week.
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