Quality Assurance

3 Pillars of Quality Assurance: Part 3 – Vendor Surveillance

January 15, 2021

If you read the first two parts of this series on steel pole and tower quality assurance, then you are already aware of the importance of accurate and current standards and specifications. You also learned how valuable vendor audits can be in selecting the most qualified and reliable structure supplier in the marketplace. And we know that because of several emerging trends, such as reduced safety factors in our engineering designs, changing raw materials, and the loss of tribal knowledge due to retirement at our manufacturing facilities, certain quality issues are making their way into the field at an increasing rate and causing serious problems for utility pole owners.

In this third and final part of our series, we discuss the last leg of the metaphorical “QA Stool” known as “Vendor Surveillance”, and why it is such a critical element for facing these increased risks of manufacturing defects and the pole failures they are causing in our nation’s transmission infrastructure.

Quality Assurance: Vendor Surveillance

The importance of vendor surveillance is supported by a well-researched phenomenon known as the Hawthorne Effect. According to this theory, humans will usually alter their performance when they are being observed. Simply put, people do better work when someone else is watching. In our experience, this theory holds true in our industry as well. So, what does this mean for your next steel transmission pole or lattice tower order? The short answer is “it depends”, but there are many reasons to consider 3rd party vendor surveillance to support your next transmission build.  

Even if you have been using the same vendor for the last 25-30 years and have not experienced any major quality assurance issues in the past, it does not mean you are protected from these issues moving forward. Exo has been into every major pole and tower plant in North America, and many others around the world, and we can say with certainty that no one builds utility service structures perfectly 100% of the time. And with some of the trends previously mentioned, the risk of defect related failures seems to be increasing across the board. It is fair to say that this really is an industry issue, not just a blip that is affecting a small number of suppliers.Targeted in-plant inspections can help mitigate these very real risks. As we like to say in our company, TRUST but VERIFY.

Vendor surveillance also allows you to observe fabrication mid-process. This is important because certain quality defects can only be identified during manufacturing. In these instances, a finished article inspection would be sure to miss the issue, allowing the defect to escape the plant and lead to a potential failure in the field. One great example of this is the fit up and welding of thru-vangs for steel poles. We regularly document oversized slots cut in the shaft of a steel pole by plant fitters and welders. Bridging those spaces with weld or filling the spaces with plugs is not uncommon, and if not done properly, can lead to serious crack propagation in the structural connection (we have investigated many such failures). Catching it in process is the only way to protect against this issue

And finally, vendor surveillance gives you situational awareness of your project’s progress with respect to schedule attainment. Getting honest, real time updates from a 3rd party can alert project managers to certain schedule issues early when there is still time for corrective action, both at the plant and out at the construction site waiting for tower delivery.

To conclude, even with a sound specification and a historically reliable vendor selected to fabricate and deliver structural assets for your construction project, incorporating 3rd party inspection and oversight over the fabrication of your poles and towers is the single biggest contributor to the success of your build and the long-term performance of your structures.  

Trust the Exo Difference

Quality assurance services are the only option for comprehensive project monitoring and managing the risk of pervasive fabrication defects leading to failures. With services like Exo’s Ex-Tend asset management program, we customize tailored solutions to protect your assets over their full lifecycle, mitigate the risks of steel pole failures and unplanned outages, and optimize O&M spend to help protect the asset owners bottom line. Whether it is through lifecycle management, field service and repair, or vendor audits and surveillance, Exo is uniquely prepared to serve your company’s needs and continue providing the asset management services vital to all of your operations.

At Exo, we don’t wait for problems to arise. We give you the power to be proactive. Call us at 281-259-7000 or contact us online for a free consultation to see how Exo can protect your assets.

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Our team would love to talk to you, so we can learn about your lighting company’s goals and primary areas of concern. Contact us today, and we’ll help you take the first step in creating a comprehensive lighting asset management program. Give us a call at 281-259-7000.
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