Isolated Phase Bus Contractor: 10 Tips to Avoid a Bad Hire

By July 16, 2014 June 21st, 2016 Blog, News

Selecting the right isolated phase bus contractor is mission critical.


Isolated phase bus is the only system critical component in your power plant that has no redundancy and no quick fix when it goes down. If the Isophase contractor you hire doesn’t have the necessary skills, experience and financial stability, it could mean unplanned downtime, safety hazards, and additional, unexpected expense. That’s why a thorough assessment of potential contractors is so important.

Assessing isolated phase bus contractors

Here are ten critical considerations when assessing contractors to perform isolated phase bus installation, maintenance, testing, and emergency services:

1. Isolated phase bus project relevance & experience – What is the power plant service provider’s isophase bus project continuity and experience level? What is continuity and why is it important? Continuity is the continuousness or frequency of which something happens. If the contractor you hire only performs a few isolated phase bus projects a year, efficiencies cannot be maximized because a ‘recall factor’ is involved. Furthermore, and equally important, is continuity of the craftsmen performing the work. If this is their first, or one of few isolated phase bus projects they have worked on, you will become part of their learning curve. Particularly, if they have a revolving door of laborers with no skin in the game, they may lack concern for the project outcome. Your best work will be performed by IPB contractors who rely on isophase related work as their primary livelihood, not a fly by night cowboy who wants to throw his hat in the ring for a round or two.

What to ask for when inquiring about project experience documentation:
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    • Project title, contract start date, contract required end date, and actual completion date – if there are discrepancies in dates; ask for an explanation. Verify the input with the client reference.
    • Project scope of work – is there related past performance experience? How many similar projects? How frequently and recently have they performed similar projects? Are these projects truly similar; compare & contrast.
    • Details of the firm’s role and activities during construction of the project. Compare & contrast performed roles to required roles; do they match up?
    • Explanation of unique project challenges; were any lessons learned documented?
    • Was there any technical experience gained or innovations involved? How about photos supporting project beginning – middle – end?
[/list] 2. Who are you paying to perform the work? – Evaluate the company and their services structure. Are they self-performing or will they be partnering with others? The further removed you are from the contractor actually performing the work and/or the more subs that are involved, the more opportunity for miscommunication as the project life cycle unfolds. Some companies tend to use the past performance of the individuals vs the company. While individual past performance on similar projects is very important, it is important the company performing the work (and liable for the warranty) has direct past performance history as well. Utilize the companies online presence such as their website, social media, and case studies to educate yourself on this history of the company’s previous services performed.
3. Evaluate the leaders of the pack – Along with understanding the company’s project experience and structure, it is valuable to know the depth of experience their principal employees have. Ask them to provide a resume for the Project Manager, Superintendent, and Foreman that will be leading the project. Did they go through a typical growth and evolution process or is it someone that was in an entry or mid-level role with their previous employer and now a VP or Senior Manager with their new company? This may seem like a small detail; however, if people don’t go through the learning curve of career advancement, you end up with an unqualified individual (or team) with large egos using your project as their playground.

Look for the following information:
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  • Do they have varying schedule experience
  • Have they acquired diverse isophase project experience that relates directly to the project you’re bidding out? Are these projects recent? How long have they been with the current company? If not long, what is their previous experience?
[/list] 4. Not all project references are the same, are you comparing apples to apples? – Reputable power plant contractors have plenty of satisfied customers; ask to be sent at least three references and talk to them. Make sure the reference came from someone who made the hiring decision and was directly involved with the project. Also, pay attention to how many same or similar isolated phase bus projects the contractor has performed within the fleet.

In addition, when viewing reference information, be sure that:
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  • The reference is from a related past performance experience.
  • For larger projects, ask for multiple references from the same project. One reference for each of the main areas of interest: safety, quality, contracts, accounting, operations.
  • During your reference check, ask if the client was satisfied in all areas of the project: quality, reliability, cooperation, knowledge, cleanliness, safety, etc. Ask how they measured each of the aforementioned.
[/list] 5. Quality should be ingrained in every aspect of their business – What does their quality assurance program consist of? When working with power plant facilities, quality assurance is very important to ensure the project is completed in a safe and efficient manner with quality results. When QA/QC is not treated as a priority with every stage of the isophase project, mistakes are made, quality is compromised and safety is threatened.

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  • Do they have a published quality manual that has been approved by a third party?
  • Are they ISO9001 quality certified? If yes, do they have a full time lead auditor on staff?
  • What is their QA/QC department structure? Do they have a full time QA/QC staff member with similar IPB project experience?
  • What investments do they make for continuous improvement and what is their quality methodology?
[/list] 6. That which is not growing is dying – Ongoing training & certification renewals are valued and invested in by companies that are here for the long-haul. It is important to know your hired isophase contractor has regularly updated employee training and certification standards.

Be sure to ask the following:
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  • What is their employee qualification process?
  • What do their initial and ongoing training requirements consist of?
  • How frequently does training occur and in what formats?
  • Are they educated in isolated phase bus IEEE Standards?
  • Are their employees up to date on both MIG and TIG welding certifications?
  • Are their welders certified in the 6G position?
  • Are their employee training certifications accurate and up-to-date?
  • Installing isolated phase bus requires expertise from both electricians and welders. How many of each of these craft laborers does the company have on their fulltime staff and for how many years have they worked directly for the company?

Lastly, ask them to provide documentation of these certifications and a written approved manual of their processes and procedures.
7. Safety is an adjective, and a verb – It is an adjective in that it should be the foundation on which every process and procedure is based and it is a verb in that it requires ongoing attention and action in order to insure it becomes the reality. Can your contractor demonstrate the action they take to ensure safety is their priority? It is important to not only know that your Isolated phase bus contractor’s insurance is current, but that they have an up-to-date documented safety record as well. Look at both their Experience Modification Rating (EMR), as well as their Total Recordable Incident Rates (TRIR). An EMR is calculated by the contractor’s insurance carrier. It is used to calculate the cost of past injuries (lost time incidents) and gage the likelihood of future risks in the company. In order to work in most facilities a company’s EMR needs to be below 1.0. Although the EMR is a valuable number when it comes to safety performance, OSHA’s TRIR is more applicable when assessing multiple companies in similar industries. OSHA’s TRIR calculates the frequency of incidents compared to hours worked, providing a proportional number compared to performance output.

Ask for the following safety documentation:
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  • Up-to-date insurance form that meets your company’s standards.
  • EMR letter from the contractor’s insurance carrier; preferably from the past five years.
  • OSHA Logs from the past 3 years.

Similar to QA/QC, what is their safety department structure? Do they have full time safety personnel? What about a safety program or committee focused on:

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  • Industry safety standards.
  • Updating safety manual processes and procedures.
  • Documenting, evaluating, and communicating near misses.
  • Performing on-site safety audits. What is their documented methodology to perform these?

Lastly, a qualified isophase contractor should have an approved and documented company safety manual. Ask the safety manual be provided and ensure all safety hazards that might occur during the provided scope of work have a documented process and procedure. If not, have the contractor revise and re-submit prior to work being performed.
8. The unpredictable – Isolated phase bus systems are vital to the operation of your power plant, if these system critical components go down, will this contractor be able to mobilize quickly? Can they withstand the schedule and responsibility of an emergency project? Ask about their emergency project experience, de-mobilizing timeline, and geographical area of operation for isolated phase bus services. Do they have a fleet of mobile service vehicles stocked and ready for an emergency? Have they been involved with the emergency preparedness program development for any utilities? Do they have any contracts for emergency preparedness action in place with any utilities? Will they provide these details? Most importantly, are they knowledgeable enough in isolated phase bus to provide a preventative maintenance plan to minimize an emergency?
9. Do they know isophase like the back of their hand? – Are they throwing a low bid with an expedited project schedule at you because they know you will be awarding to the lowest bidder? Or have they demonstrated their diligence and thoroughness with the questions they have raised during the bidding process and details they have included in their proposal? Will they share information with you about a project that was over budget or that had an extended schedule? Will they provide a client reference for this project to validate their story? How well does the isophase contractor know the job at hand? Are they able to provide proven cost savings? If the end price of a previous project increased, can they explain the discrepancies or change to the budget? Can they demonstrate proven budget predictability as it relates to project cost and schedule? All of these questions prove a contractors predictability of a project. Predictability translates into efficient, cost effective, innovative, and safe project outcomes.
10. Protect your gizmos and gadgets – When the project is complete, how protected are you? Many clients overlook the fact that when single sourcing to an isolated phase bus manufacturer, the manufacturer does not handle the install themselves. They outsource it to an installation vendor. The manufacturer generally provides a factory technical rep to ‘oversee’ the installation in order for their product warranty to be valid, but the installation warranty is not covered by the manufacturer. That is why you need to pay attention to who the manufacturer plans to have handle the installation. All of the questions above come into play. A standard warranty is 12 months from the manufacturer. An installer’s standard warranty is 12 months. Ask for documentation as to the number of warranty claims the contractor has had to cover. Are they willing and financially able to offer an extended warranty that they can support? What is their warranty track record? Do they have a warranty claim themselves on their product and services? How does that compare to competitor’s claims?

Get our answers to these important Isophase contractor assessment questions:
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