6 Engineering Site Visit Checklist Tips to Know

An engineering site visit checklist is critical in most engineering projects. I’m going to go over how you can maximize each of your site visits.

I find site visits to be the best way to understand a project and client. Not going to a project site is like only seeing the end score of two sport teams playing. Until you watch the players play, you won’t learn all the weaknesses and strengths of each team.

With most every engineering project, you may make multiple site visits. These site visits come at various project stages, which include:

  • Project kickoff to understand the work scope
  • Design phase to iron out project details
  • Construction phase to troubleshoot problems
  • Start-up once construction is complete

You can apply my 6 engineering site visit checklist tips to every site visit project stage.

I’m also going to sprinkle in some site visit photos I’ve taken at a hydroelectric facility.

So, let’s get started!

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

hydroelectric power plant in california

Preparation is key!

Like with anything in life, you need a game plan to maximize a site visit.

Before I visit a site, I figure out what I exactly need to do at the site.

Let’s assume my project is to upgrade an existing substation for increased capacity.

I would make a list of questions I need to ask the client. Also, a list of what I want to examine at the site.

My engineering site visit checklist

My client questions are 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?
  • Are any of your existing equipment having problems?
  • How much physical space do we have to enlarge 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 includes the following:

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

Keep in mind, some of these items I can handle over the phone or email with the client. In fact, I do shoot these items over to the client to chew on before my site visit.

This gives them time to prepare for our meeting at the site. Otherwise, the site visit may be a waste of time for everyone. The answer to each of my questions from the client will be, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

Plus, I find in person discussions to be more fluid in many instances. One question always leads to another.

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.

When I got to the site, they told me they don’t have permission or access to this panel in question. Talk about frustrating, after driving 4 plus hours.

Come prepared to keep site visits efficient

When you visit a site, your client will 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 want to be professional. You don’t want to come off as a confused unprepared engineer.

Treat a site visit as you would any other high-end meeting. Know exactly what you want to accomplish before you set foot on the site.

After returning from the site visit, you don’t want to say, “DAMN! I forgot to take photos inside the control panel!”

Especially since some site visits takes weeks to setup.

#2 Investigate the site thoroughly

This is where you go into Sherlock Holmes’ mode.

Your blue print for this investigative work is the plan of action you create in our tip #1.

You need to review everything with your own eyes. Check to see if the client’s scope of work has any limitations. Or maybe, there are other problems your client had missed to tell you about.

With some projects, the work scope seems straightforward as I review it on paper. But once I visit the site, I realize countless problems exist that the client didn’t even know about.

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. Then create an artificial habitat on Mars. A habitat with 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 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. Their smart phone.

So you can take endless amazing photos on a whim. But, you need to know how to take good photos at a project site too.

Otherwise, when you get back in the office your photos won’t make sense to you. You’ll have a bunch of useless photos staring back at you.

I’m going to go over several tips that’ll help you take more useful pictures. My tips apply to video capture too.

A) Organize and separate your photos at the project site

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 mess.

To avoid this situation, I write the location or equipment I’m viewing on a notepad. Then I snap a photo of what I wrote down.

Here are some descriptive things I write down:

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

With my note digitally captured, I THEN start snapping my photos.

Once I’m done, I move to the next location. Again, I write another note for myself.

These notes become my digital separators for organization back in my office.

Believe me, if you don’t do this, you’ll be in a world of pain when it comes to photo tip (C). Especially, if you took 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’ll know the mounting arrangement of the components in the zoomed in photos.

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. I was pissed!

C) Immediately upload your photos

This is key for your photo organization. Because after a site visit, everything is still fresh in your mind.

So once your site visit ends and you return to your office, immediately upload your photos. Then organize your photos in separate folders, as necessary.

Each of your written notes from photo tip (A) will become a separate folder.

For example, imagine you took pictures at 3 different locations at your project site. This is now how I’d organize my photos from my site visit:

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

Subfolders:

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

Obviously be more descriptive with each location.

Also, another tip is to rename each of your photos, with any information that’s fresh in your mind. Be descriptive with your names.

Again, I guarantee you’ll forget the details of every photo in a month’s time. So spend the time to do everything right from the beginning.

Yes, it’s annoying. But, spend the time in the beginning or you’ll kick yourself a month from now. A lot of the times, your design will hinge on your photos.

D) Take A LOT of photos

Before digital cameras, you could only take a set number of photos. It was expensive and you could only carry a certain amount of film with you.

But today, with digital cameras, you have no such limits. Plus, you can review each of your photos on the spot to be sure they’re clear and good.

So there’s no reason not to take a lot of photos and even videos. They’ll only help you when all is said and done.

In short, if a particular photo has even 1% chance of being useful, snap the photo. I’ve found those seemingly useless photos always become very useful in the end. Funny how things always work out!

#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.

When I visit project sites, there’s a list of things I always carry with me in my bag. No different than when you go camping and you bring a set of supplies with you.

You can’t expect your client to hold your hand in a site visit. What I mean is, you can’t expect them to have all the supplies you need for your work.

Especially since they’re the ones paying YOU!

Maybe you need to measure a piece of equipment. You can’t expect your client to have a measuring tape in their truck ready for you to use.

Not only will you lose out on valuable data, but you’ll look like an idiot to your client.

So always go prepared, and pack for the unexpected. No different than when you go camping and you bring a compass, lighter, and extra food packets.

I’ve gone to project sites high in the mountains, and I’ would’ve screwed myself over if I hadn’t gone prepared.

#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 has made communication so simple. Especially with everyone having a smart phone glued to their hands.

But, face to face interactions are still king.

For this reason, I find site visits to be great opportunities to get to know your client. Also, for your client to get to know you.

This always makes a project run smoother too. When you can’t put a face to a name, digital exchanges can become frustrating.

Your requests can go unanswered, email replies can take forever, and so on.

#6 Be on time to your site visit

This is self explanatory.

Visit the site on time. In fact, arrive 10 to 15 minutes early.

The last thing you want is to have your client wait on you. You don’t want to set a bad impression.

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.

For this reason, download the site map on your phone in case you lose reception. Or just use a regular GPS device that’s not dependent on the internet.

Finally, if you’re going to be late, call and give your client a heads up. At the end, always remain professional.

Engineering site visit checklist wrap up

Without a doubt, site visits are critical in engineering. We may be in the digital age, but we still all live in the physical world.

By properly handling a site visit, you can do better engineering. So it’s a no brainer to master creating your engineering site visit checklist.

Also, depending on the type of engineering you’re in, your engineering site visit checklist may slightly differ from mine. So learn from the people around you in your field, who are more experienced than you.

Find out what you should be on the look out for at a site visit. Then amend your site visit checklist accordingly.

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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