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Luis de la Fuente: "This standard will make it possible to standardize the scope of projects and regularize their charges".

On July 14, the officialization of the standard NCh3417:2016 Structures - Requirements for structural calculation projects came into force. We talked to the president of the committee that started this work at the Instituto de la Construcción and this is his impression of the final result.

The engineer Luis de la Fuente, managing partner of René Lagos Engineers and partner of AICE, chaired at the Instituto de la Construcción the committee that started the work that later resulted in the drafting of the preliminary draft of the now officialized standard NCh3417:2016 Structures - Requirements for structural calculation projects. During the time he was there, the scope of the standard was defined, but later, when the drafting of the standard began, De la Fuente did not participate.

Despite this discontinuity, he is very familiar with the work done by his peers. In his opinion, this rule is very justified, given that "we all use it in an informal way, in the sense that every time you send a fee letter, you define its scope, you establish what you are going to deliver, but it does not necessarily correspond to a standardization for all offices".

And this was especially noticeable when internationalizing local engineering, given that "in other countries they have a separation or stages of projects, so we began to realize that it did make sense to standardize, to say what a client is going to receive and, on the other hand, if by chance a client arrives who is not familiar with the real estate market, they may not be clear about the scope, and what they should receive from a structural engineering project", says the professional.

Therefore, it became important for this work to define the standard that a structural engineering service will have, in which both parties (client and service provider) know which are the scopes.

You are a more or less large office, was there a certain standard among the larger offices and was the difference with the smaller, independent offices, or was there like a more generalized clutter in the market?

There was a certain standard defined by some delivery milestones, for example, the deliverable to a municipality defined a certain stage, to bid you had to make a bid delivery, and then you had to define the plans suitable for construction, then there were some milestones that were defined by certain deliveries.

But when you offer, for example, international consultancies, you do not necessarily have a delivery from the municipality, but it is a stage of prior background study. There is also a stage in which you offer alternatives to the client, which defines stages, together with a set of 3 or 4 alternatives. You choose one and define that one, and then move on to the next stage. So, when we have offered engineering services in other countries, there are also certain stages that come from the United States or that are more or less standardized in other countries, and it was very good that in Chile we took this standardization, these scopes and that we left them more or less defined, so that we all spoke the same language.

How was the development of this standard?

Many colleagues, architects and academics participated. The interesting thing was that we did not get together to make this standard, but to do something broader, which is to define what is the role of the structural civil engineer if he is hired for different roles, for example, if I am the main engineer, what should I do and what should I deliver. The same if I am a mechanical review engineer or an expert engineer or I have to be an arbitrator for a judicial problem. We relied on the document "Recommended Guidelines for the Practice of Structural Engineering in California" and set about translating it. It was spectacular to find our work articulated in a single document, which gave us wording to include in the contracts, so some of our responsibilities were very well covered.

With that big job on our shoulders, we came to present it and were informed that we cannot define the scopes of professionals in a standard, so we had to take part of it and focus on what are the deliverables of a structural engineering project and its scopes.

What stands out the most about this work?

The group discussions on the roles of the structural engineer in his daily work, given that our original project was more ambitious, allowed us to reflect on our responsibilities to the client as well as to the law. We had all, in one way or another, been confronted with different roles within our profession and exchanging points of view was valuable. Since we finally restricted our work to the requirements for engineering projects, there was a lot of unused and useful work that hopefully will be taken up and used for a manual.

Were you satisfied with the outcome of this standard?

Yes, I am satisfied in the sense that we managed to generate a deliverable standard for our projects. Now, since this standard will come into force, projects such as hospitals, which today divide the calculation projects into five stages, assigning different deliverables to each of them, will have to comply with this new standard.

Additionally, a by-product of this standardization is that any colleague seeking ISO certification has this standard as a guide for specifying processes and will be an aid to their certification.

Although I was satisfied with the result of the standard and given that the work of translating the California guide is done, it would be useful to resume this work and thus give a greater framework to the work we do as structural engineers.

Market aspects

NCh3417 establishes that a calculation project corresponds to the development of the necessary documentation to execute a building clearly established at the beginning by the client, normally a real estate company, and generally limited to an architectural project.

What do you think of the multiple requests for responsibility by the supervisory authorities for items that, although they are complementary to the development of a work, are often not part of the scope of the project that was contracted, such as party walls, existing structures, site facilities and other temporary works, non-structural elements, among others?

The interesting thing about the standard is that it takes care of this, since it distinguishes between secondary structural elements and structural elements, as well as in the final annexes it indicates: Additional Studies (Annex A) and Complementary Activities (Annex B), guiding the structural engineer in various eventualities that may occur on site, in the case of leaving it clearly established in the fee letter indicates how far we take charge or guide us in the case of offering the additional service that is requested and thus we can begin to banish the typical note of specialists "according to calculation".

Do you consider it necessary for the market to consider these items as an additional development whose valuation is different from that of the developed project?

I believe that the market should be aware of the scope of the structural engineering project, whether it is additional or not will depend on the strategy of each design office. For example, the structural elements are included either their complete development or only their calculation bases for the development of a later engineering as it is usual with curtain walls.

Finally, we as estimators must take care of what the market wants, for example BIM coordination, the standard allows us to indicate what is the relevant stage in which BIM coordination must be developed in terms of relevant passes and that if it is not the case there will be associated costs.

Do you think that the entry into force of this standard will lead to the establishment by structural design offices of a fee basis by type and scope of project?

Just as today the value per surface area for the development of an engineering project or its revision is more or less standard, I estimate that first the scope of the project will be standardized (only main seismic-resistant structure and some non-structural elements) and then, as the market begins to distinguish the different scopes of a project, its costs will tend to be standardized.

Do you think that this standard allows us to take a step forward in terms of considering not only technical aspects, but also legal aspects that must be considered to protect the work of project offices?

Since it defines what you deliver, from a certain point of view they can't ask you for more than what the standard is establishing, that's already a good basis.

This standard is a good start to standardize, but like any start we still have a long way to go and part of this path, in my opinion, would be to take up again what has already been translated from the California guide that served as a basis and thus be able to formalize a much broader manual that allows us to cover ourselves legally.