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Expert Engineers Plus? How Collaboration can Add Value

Building & Construction

by Daphne Wassermann, CEng, FIMechE, MIMMM, MCIWM Technical Director, Cadogans


When you think of an expert witness you perhaps imagine a lonely role: the specialist in his field drawing on a life-time’s experience. Even if he or she works for a large organisation they may be the only person doing this type of work.

Support is available to individuals from various organisations which provide guidance, training and networking support. Nevertheless, when it comes to the crunch, the preparation of a report or standing in the witness box, the expert is generally alone.

Cadogans adopts a different model. With a core salaried staff and over 80 consultants we have experts in almost every engineering discipline. But there is more to it than that. We have colleagues who understand what we are doing and a system of peer review to ensure that all reports that go out achieve a uniform high quality. A fresh pair of eyes can pick out the flaws in an argument, highlight information that may have been ignored or issues that have been disregarded. That is in addition to the typos! I have found this process improves my reports and my confidence immeasurably.

It does not end there, however. In the rest of this article I will discuss large disputes where a whole team is required, smaller matters where two or three experts in different disciplines work constructively together and cases where we work closely with quantum and delay experts.

Teamwork
The first dispute was international, between a contractor and a utility company. It was complicated by different regulations in the country of construction, compared with the standards normally used by the contractor. This type of contract also required an immense quantity of documentation to support the design.

Documents had to be translated, with opportunities for minor misunderstandings or differences in interpretation. Part of the dispute involved thousands of comments to which the contractor had to respond. In many cases the required changes had knock-on effects on other documents. Some comments were regarded as valid but some were viewed by the contractor as being unnecessary. In order to form an independent view of the extent to which these comments were valid a statistical sample was selected randomly. The comments related to all aspects of engineering including civil and structural, mechanical, electrical and health and safety. Cadogans put together a team of core staff and consultants with different disciplines and skills levels. Each comment was assessed according to predetermined criteria and graded as to whether it was a reasonable comment or not. The statistician then extrapolated the outcome to the full number of comments.

Our role in this was technical. Was the comment a reasonable one? But there were also cost and delay implications. So we worked closely with the quantum and delay experts who had been appointed on the matter.

Complementary disciplines
Much of my work relates to things that fail. This can be a valve in a pipeline, a plumbing fitting, a bicycle or a sports scooter. I combine knowledge of materials with a knowledge of stress analysis and mechanical engineering to try to determine the cause of the failure. Sometimes my own knowledge is not enough.

Failure of a small plumbing fitting can cause a completely disproportionate amount of damage. It is tempting to blame the plumber and in many cases the fitting was incorrectly selected or installed. There may also have been unforeseen stresses in the system. However, the system may have been modified since it was originally installed and this may have led to circumstances where a perfectly adequate fitting can fail. In such cases I have consulted with colleagues who are experts in building services for advice on the design of the system. In some instances my colleague has been appointed in addition to me, to give the evidence
that is within their field of expertise. Proximity to a variety of engineers in different specialisms encourages this synergy, to the advantage of the experts and their clients.

Corrosion is a particular type of failure requiring specialist input. In another case I inspected a metal mesh which had become discoloured following unexpected water ingress. The question was whether this affected the structural integrity of the mesh and what remedial measures were required. A metallurgical examination had been carried out by another party. One of our corrosion experts was able to give advice on the extent of damage and the probability of any further degradation. He also had knowledge of suitable protective coatings that could be applied.

How much will it cost? What is the delay?
Quantum and delay are very specialist topics, outwith our normal engineering expertise. They are integral parts of most construction claims.

Over the years we have worked with many claims and delay consultants on a wide variety of projects. One example was the fabrication of a sub-sea gas installation. Another related to a new oil and gas processing plant where there were differences between the original scope and the final requirements

The relationship with Hill International, experts in delay and quantum, has developed over the years and we have now become part of the Hill group. This gives us ‘in-house’ access to their range of skills and international contacts while they can now offer their clients our engineering knowledge and experience.

Conclusion

There are many advantages to co-operation between experts in different areas of engineering. Two brains are better than one and the quality of our individual
work is enhanced. In more complex cases we can offer clients an integrated approach covering two or more disciplines. For large disputes a whole team with different skills can attack mountains of information in a co-ordinated way. Finally, we can link with claims consultants with confidence and assurance.

• Daphne Wassermann is a Technical Director at Cadogans, specialising in mechanical engineering and materials aspects of disputes. Cadogans accepts
instructions relating to engineering and health and safety matters from within the United Kingdom and abroad. For details of Cadogans’ full range of services and specialist expertise please contact us by telephone or visit our website.