Supporting the utility sector with expert engineering: a Q&A blog

Our engineering team is at the heart of the business, with their expertise and experience helping to deliver temporary works solutions to sites across the country, whether planned or reactive. With Mabey Hire working hard to adapt its offering to better support the growing opportunities in utilities, we caught up with Nik Arhipovs, Ryan Smillie and Conner Nixon to learn more about how engineering is supporting projects as part of the current AMP7 cycle…

Can you tell us more about your job roles?

Nik: So, myself and Ryan have recently been promoted to Design Team Leaders. As part of this, our roles have shifted slightly to cover more of the managerial side, helping to run the engineering team, look at how we can improve our internal processes, how we can get jobs out to site more efficiently and further develop and train the wider team. We still get involved with the design work, but this is often for the larger, more complex and long-term projects, as well as emergency jobs too. 

Conner: As Senior Engineer, I work on delivering the engineered designs for project work and schemes, as well as mentoring our younger members of the team. I also work closely with the sales team and help support them, whether that’s here in our offices or out on site, meeting with the customer. 

What does a typical day look like for you?

Conner: One of the great things about this job is that a ‘typical day’ doesn’t really exist. It can completely differ day by day and week by week, ranging from checking over designs, working collaboratively with customers on complex tenders, getting out to site, designing the temporary works solutions or even looking more generally at our team processes and how we can improve them.  

Nik: Even if you’ve planned your week really well, that can all change in an instant if an emergency job comes in and needs a fast response – you just have to drop everything else to give the job your full attention.

Ryan: Yes, a great example of this is our work with Scottish Water. The projects can vary completely, from collaborating and engaging with them 18 months in advance of actually getting to site, guiding them through the tender stage. At the other end of the spectrum, there may be a burst water main and they need kit on site that same afternoon. It’s the reactive projects that I find really exciting, requiring all teams to get together and make it happen, from us here in engineering to our hire desk managers, depot teams and operations. When that all goes smoothly, you get a real sense of achievement. 

How do you and the wider engineering team support AMP7 projects?

Conner: It really varies project to project. For the larger projects, it’s all about collaborating and engaging with the customer at an early stage. This gives us, the customer and the overall project a really great advantage, enabling us to put our expertise and experience to good use and help to steer the project. We’re able to identify any potential high-cost or difficult areas and suggest alternative solutions or approaches, deciding what is genuinely the best outcome for the project and the customer.

Whereas for the reactive projects, it’s all about working closely with the customer (often on limited information) to help get the job done as quickly as possible.

What are the main challenges that you see on utility projects?

Ryan: I’d have to say one of the big challenges is the sheer volume of services that you can encounter on any one project. Some jobs can be like spaghetti junction with the amount of existing pipework and cables within the trench, making it extremely challenging from a logistics point of view to fit our temporary works solution in and around them. This is one of the benefits of us having such a comprehensive and varied range of equipment, meaning that we can always provide a solution to any site challenge.

Conner: I’d say the number of stakeholders involved can also be challenging from a collaboration and coordination perspective. For example, you could be working with the water company, the main client, the contractor overseeing the works, the subcontractor excavating the ground and the local council. Unsurprisingly the approval process can be a little tricky and time-consuming, which is where early collaboration is key. 

How do your digital engineering capabilities enhance Mabey Hire’s offering?

Nik: It’s a really valuable offering. For example, on a recent large and complex project there was a lot of ongoing meetings with the various project parties, including the permanent works design engineer. Ordinarily, if there were potential design issues or clashes between the permanent and the temporary, this could be quite challenging to explain and resolve. However, we were able to take the 3D model from our customer, model our temporary works design within this and then bring it into the EVE environment (our immersive 3D design technology). With this, we were able to clearly and visually demonstrate project sequencing and phasing, as well as talk through the design concerns.

Having this level of information available visually really helped to open up people’s eyes, enabling us to work together to resolve the issues as a team.

Ryan: Yes, tools like EVE and the skills of our digital engineering team really do make it so much easier to see the scheme and understand how it will all fit together on site. These digital engineering capabilities can also be valuable during the tender phase of a project, with the client able to include our model in their tender documentation. 

How does your team’s close relationship with the sales team further benefit the customer and the service Mabey Hire offers?

Conner: For me, it’s all about trust. There can often be the stereotype that sales will simply give the customer the answer that they want. However, our close relationship with the sales team mean that they will often call us up whilst on site with the customer and discuss any queries with us directly. As a team, we work hard to ensure that we always make ourselves available to the sales team, whether that’s joining meetings, going over schemes or visiting sites together. 

Early engagement really is key, with our close internal relationship enabling us to serve a solution – not just a product. It’s all about being able to offer the best service to our customers. 

How would you say the utilities sector differs from other sectors within construction? 

Conner: I’d definitely say there’s more reactive and emergency style projects within the utility sector, compared to other sectors. The projects are often a lot more complex too in terms of the number of temporary works requirements on any one job. For example, a wastewater treatment works could involve manholes, chambers and metres upon metres of trenches – a huge variety – whereas a basement excavation is usually just the one large excavation. 

With such a huge variety of temporary works on site, it requires more consideration of project phasing and how the works interact. 

Nik: Yes, I’d say utility sites are definitely busier and often on a larger scale. It’s just more challenging, with additional factors to consider. You’re always going to encounter obstructions with assets, whether structural or other services – it’s about how you work around these. 

What are you most proud of? 

Nik: I’m definitely proud of the journey that the company has gone on over the last year to develop and improve the engineering department and our internal processes. The relationship between departments is the best it’s ever been, and this is having a direct effect on the service we are able to offer customers.

Ryan: I’d second that, I’m really proud of how far the business and the engineering team has come in the last 18 months. From our young graduates up to directors, the engineering team is in a really strong place. As a result, we’re in a brilliant position to be able to work collaboratively with customers, deliver utility projects and deliver them really well.

Conner: For me, I’m proud of the level of trust that we’ve been able to build up, both internally with the sales, hire desks and operation teams and also externally – and this is really showing in the quality of service we’re able to provide to customers. In fact, in some cases the customer will even come directly to the engineer the next time they have a temporary works need, demonstrating the level of trust that we’ve been able to build.

For more information about our design engineering service, please click here.

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