Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) in construction projects is a project delivery approach where the potential contractors are consulted during the early stages (often the project concept phase) of the project. This approach gained popularity in the early 20th century to streamline projects as a response to the complexity of large infrastructure projects. It aims to supplement the project from the concept phase until completion with the experiences of several competent contractors in the field and is useful irrespective of the contracting methodology (i.e., single package EPC contract or project scope divided to several packages) followed by the project owners/promoters. The shortcomings of traditional approach where contractor interactions during the initial/pretender phase was frowned upon and often led to in cost/time overruns due lack of trust and understanding amongst the parties.
Early contractor involvement provides advantages that are driven by their knowledge of:
1. Available and/or ease of procurement of construction materials (and costs)
2. Critical long lead items so they are designed out of the project or ordered at an early stage
3. The interpretation of the design to make it easier to build
4. Construction methods and how they can change in reaction to the type, availability and cost of plant and equipment
5. Ensuring appropriate /optimal civil foundation methods are factored into the design
6. Construction risk and its mitigation (risk measured in time and cost)
An example for the early involvement of contractors includes the contractor’s knowledge of construction materials includes the choice between steel and concrete structures in the design of bridges. Their in-house ability to deliver specific sizes and types of pre-stressed concrete units at high speeds and high-quality. This impacts material choice. Alternatively, the understanding of the over (or undersupply) of steel is also important.
For the early involvement of contractors in terms of construction methods, an example includes the focus on piling. This involves the ability to drive piles in different ground conditions and the availability of specific types of piles and piling equipment. This can be extended to the type and lifting capacity of cranes available to support on site works matters.
Contractor’s knowledge of materials and equipment can come together in many circumstances to provide different solutions to the same design problem. The availability of high-quality precast facilities allows a high level of precast use to accelerate construction by using precast elements as permanent formwork (and as part of the permanent works design). Knowledge of the lifting equipment available allows the optimisation of the size of the precast units to maximise the benefit of this type of construction.
Interpretation of the design involves visualizing how reinforced concrete bars are spaced adequately to allow the compaction of concrete easily and effectively around them especially in high density areas such as junctions. Also, ensuring that bar lengths are chosen to match the length that they are procured as a way to minimise waste. Another example would be ensuring that welds are designed in places that can always be done by hand and/or on-site welding and bolting is easily accessible by the appropriate tools.