6 Engineering Site Visit Checklist Tips to Know

An engineering site visit checklist is a big part of most engineering projects. Because design work relies on real-world conditions.

Also, site visits are the best way to understand a project and client. So, you make site visits at the following project stages:

  • Project kickoff to understand a project’s work scope
  • Design phase to iron out project details
  • Construction phase to troubleshoot problems
  • Start-up once construction is complete to ensure everything works

To maximize each of your site visits, follow my 6 engineering site visit checklist tips. My focus in this article will be site visits in the design phase. But, the takeaways apply to all site visits. I’ve also sprinkled in some cool site visit photos I’ve taken at a hydroelectric facility I worked on.

#1 Create a clear plan of action for your site visit

hydroelectric power plant in california

Preparation is key like with anything in life. Before I visit a site, I figure out what I exactly need to do at the site.

Let’s go over an example. Say my project is to upgrade an existing substation for increased capacity. I would first make a list of questions to ask the client and what I need to investigate at the site.

My client questions would include the following:

  • Do you have existing as-built drawings and specifications?
  • How much new load are you forecasting?
  • Do you have a breakdown of the existing loads?
  • Are there any existing issues I should know about?
  • Is any of your existing equipment having problems?
  • How much physical space do we have to enlargen the substation?
  • What’s your lead time for this project?
  • How much downtime can you have in the cutover phase in construction?
  • Are other substation upgrades necessary (e.g. security and protective relaying)

My site investigation checklist would include the following:

  • Confirm all equipment ratings
  • Measure equipment clearances
  • Take photos inside equipment panels (e.g. control panels)
  • Check the condition of existing equipment (e.g. switchgear and power transformers)
  • Measure available space for new equipment
  • Check where transmission and distribution lines enter and leave the substation respectively
  • Check for any facility peculiarities or safety concerns

Keep in mind, some of these items I will handle over the phone or email with the client before the site visit. This allows the client to prepare for our site meeting. Otherwise, the site visit may be a waste of time.

What’s more, the client will know exactly what I want to investigate at the site. For example, I’ve had instances where I forgot to tell the client I want to investigate panel X. Then at the site, the client said they don’t have permission to access panel X.

Come prepared to keep site visits efficient

When you visit a site, your client will probably escort you around. So, you’re not going to have unlimited time to poke around and brainstorm what to do next on the spot. Plus, you don’t want to come off as a confused unprepared engineer.

So, treat a site visit as you would any other high-end meeting. Especially since some site visits take months to set up. I suggest knowing exactly what you want to accomplish before you set foot on a site. Because you don’t want to return from the site visit and tell yourself,

“DAMN! I forgot to take photos inside the control panel!”

Important Note: ask your client about any site safety concerns you should know about. This is important for your safety and everyone around you. 

I go to sites where I’m near live 230,000-volt equipment. Then other times, I’ve had dangerous drives to sites, where one time I even almost died

#2 Investigate the site thoroughly

This is where you go into Sherlock Holmes’ mode. Your blueprint for this investigative work is the plan of action you create in tip #1.

You want to check if the client’s scope of work has any limitations. Or maybe, there are other problems your client missed telling you about. With some projects, the work scope seems straightforward on paper. But once you visit the site, you uncover a whole group of unaccounted problems.

I compare it to our desire to travel and colonize Mars. From Earth, for the most part, the mission seems straightforward. Launch a couple of large rockets to Mars and create an artificial habitat. The habitat just needs to provide oxygen and protection from extreme cold, high radiation, and low atmospheric pressure.

The reality of such a mission is mind-boggling though. The problems are monstrous, and there’s an endless list of problems we haven’t even thought of yet. I’ve listed some of the problems here when it comes to tunneling on Mars alone.

The point is, don’t rely on what your client tells you. You’re the expert and you need to investigate the site to determine what’s best for your client. Thereafter, you can discuss your findings with your client to iron out the work scope.

#3 Take a lot of pictures at the site

hydroelectric power plant switchgear

Today, everyone has a high-end camera strapped to their side with their smartphone. So you can take endless high-quality photos on a whim. But, you need to know how to take good photos at a project site too.

Otherwise, when you return to your office your photos will only cause you more confusion. To prevent this from happening, I’m going to go over 4 tips on how to take and manage pictures. The tips apply to videos as well.

A) Organize and separate your photos at the project site

Keep your pictures organized. At a project site, your photos may all seem cohesive. You’ll think you’ll remember where and why you took each photo.

For example, you take 50 pictures at location A. Then, you take another 50 pictures at locations B and C too. But when you return to your office, you can’t tell which photos go to which location. It’s a huge hairy mess.

To avoid this situation, I write the location or equipment I’m viewing on a notepad, and I snap a photo of it. The following are some descriptors I write down:

  • Inside building X looking at the west wall
  • Inside the left-most cabinet of switchgear ‘Faulk’
  • Investigating high voltage cabling of switchgear ‘Faulk’

THEN, with my digital divider captured, I start snapping my photos. Once I’m done, I move onto the next location. Again, I write another divider note for myself and again start snapping photos. This technique is a must if you’re taking hundreds of photos

B) Take photos in a patterned consistent way

Say you want to take photos of the components in a 90-inch tall control panel. First, step back and take an overall photo of the panel. THEN, start taking zoomed-in photos of the components from the top going down.

This way, you know the mounting arrangement of the components in the zoomed-in photos. Because I’ve had instances where I didn’t take zoomed-out photos, I only had zoomed-in photos. Then back in the office, I couldn’t electrically follow the wiring of the components. It was frustrating!

C) Immediately upload your photos

Upload and organize your photos right after your site visit. This is when everything is still fresh in your mind. So if you forgot to do one of the earlier photo tips, you’ll remember what is what to make a note of.

Next, I suggest making each of your written notes from photo tip (A) a separate folder. For example, say you took pictures at 3 different locations at your project site. Your digital file organization would look like the following:

Main folder: Site Visit at Zeus Substation (DD/MM/YY)

Subfolders:

    • Location #1
    • Location #2
    • Location #3

As another tip, rename each of your photos using a detailed descriptor. And if you spend the time to do it right from the start, you’ll save yourself a lot of future headaches.

D) Take A LOT of photos

Before digital cameras, you could only take a set number of photos because of how expensive film was. But today, with digital cameras, no such limits exist. Plus, you can review the quality of each of your photos on the spot.

So there’s no reason to not take a lot of photos and even videos. They’ll only help you back in your office. I’d go as far as to say, if a particular photo has even a 1% chance of being useful, snap the photo. I’ve found those seemingly useless photos always become useful at some point.

#4 Bring all your necessary supplies to the site

hydroelectric power plant stator

Depending on the field of engineering you’re in, you’ll have a set of supplies you’ll need to bring with you. My list of items is always long. Because you can’t expect your client to supply you with your supplies. Especially since they’re the ones paying YOU!

And this is why I bring all my supplies just in case. You always want to pack for the unexpected.

Maybe you need to measure a piece of equipment with your tape measure. Then a bit later, you need to pry open a panel with a screwdriver. If you can’t do either of these tasks at your site visit, you’ll lose out on a lot of valuable data.

#5 Strengthen your relationship with your client at your site visit

What better way to get to know your client than meeting in person. I know, digital media makes communication super simple. Especially with everyone having a smartphone glued to their hands.

But, face-to-face interactions are still king. For this reason, I find site visits to be a great opportunity to get to know your client. Also, for your client to get to know you.

Because when you can’t put a face to a name, you just become a number on a spreadsheet. But with human-to-human relationships, you build deeper relationships. And I find this typically makes projects run smoother. For example, your requests go unanswered much less.

#6 Be on time for your site visit

This is a no-brainer, but be on time. In fact, arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. You don’t want to leave a bad impression by having your client wait on you.

What’s more, find the exact site address beforehand. This may mean asking your client for map photos and off-road directions. Because some engineering project sites are in the middle of nowhere. There’s no physical address you can easily pinpoint using GPS either.

So, download the site map on your phone in case you lose reception. Or use a non-internet connecting GPS device. And if you’re going to be late, call and give your client a heads up. In the end, be professional.

Engineering site visit checklist wrap up

Site visits are a big part of engineering projects. And the better you approach site visits, the more successful projects you’ll lead.

I suggest though, learning about site visits in your field of engineering. Learn what you should be on the lookout for at a site visit from engineers who’ve been around the block. Then, amend your engineering site visit checklist accordingly. Because you may find there’s something unique for your field I skipped over.

What do you find the most important about engineering project site visits? What do you include in your engineering site visit checklist? 

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