The Role of Quantity Surveying in a Large Precast Company


Quantity Surveying is a vitally important job in any company and it is a prominent role recognised by many but very few actually know what the role consists of. The job carries even more significance in a large Precast company like O’Reilly Concrete, so I decided to sit down with O’Reilly Concrete’s two Quantity Surveyors; Patrick Caffrey and Kevin Smith to get a better understanding of the role and responsibilities of the job.

It was a really interesting conversation which began by talking about the process of minimising costs on projects and the transition from initial to final figures. Kevin and Pat did admit it is a difficult job especially when there are so many different departments for information to process through. Pat said you “have production, manufacturing, transport, installation and design teams which can make things complex. Communication is paramount between all the parties and this can often include extras which need to be passed onto us and fed back in turn to the client.” He also talked about the lessons which can be learned from previous jobs and estimates made. “No two jobs are the same especially when you are dealing with different regions in a geographic sense. Transport and labour, for example, is completely different in London than it is in Liverpool and costs fluctuate Internationally in terms of factors like cranage for instance.”

Quantity Surveying is a unique role in the sense that the actual function of the job is different in every company. Naturally, working in a large precast company like O’Reilly Concrete would be different than it would be in a company which is more construction orientated. Kevin associates the role here as one which is more manufacture-based as opposed to construction which is the very last stage of what a Quantity Surveyor does. “A traditional QS role consists of all construction related activities and other difficulties. Here in O’Reilly Concrete, we are just dealing with precast as opposed to adding in electricians, plumbers and plasterers which makes life that bit easier.”

The ultimate goal or day-to-day duty of a QS is to convert tender stage quotations into a contract award. However, there can be additional factors that come in when a contract is awarded such as “monitoring cost overruns, submitting payment claims, monthly evaluations as well as contractual obligations such as building compliance or environmental issues to ensure the contract is thoroughly followed through on. This all ensures that when the work is handed to the design team, they know they have the green light to proceed.

There is a certain risk element attached to the vast majority of jobs and Quantity Surveying is no different and can often be a high-pressured job in certain circumstances. Pat spoke about the impact of Brexit as a good proportion of work comes directly from the UK. It is vital to keep a close eye on the price of sterling as even the slightest of fluctuations can impact profit so there is a very fine line in terms of Precast margin. If you turn the tables, there is also a major effect when looking at raw materials which are imported from the UK which are relevant to manufacturing. Aside from installation costs, the remainder are fixed and can be minimised with effective communication with the project manager. “

Projects can be broken down in terms of size and stature. A “frame project” consists of the design and build completely including floors, walls, beams and steel. This requires a huge amount of time and effort and must be factored into the rate. Kevin talked about the different pressures being a market leader brings in itself. “A simple flooring project needs to analysed and manufactured which is quite simple and although this would be our bread and butter so to speak, this is the sector which has the most competition and can often be the toughest to win. As market leader and with the excellent reputation we have, we have delivered some huge projects with under still under development as we speak. Terminal 2 in Heathrow Airport, Mallow and Tyrrelstown school’s are just a few and we are in the tender stage with others across Europe in Poland, Holland and Germany so there is exciting times ahead for sure.”

The two lads have an excellent relationship which is crucial and they fit in really well in terms of the culture in O’Reilly Concrete. There is a really close-knit feel about the company and Pat likens Kevin and his relationship to the Irish rugby team. “In any good team, you need a good set of half backs with an almost telepathic understanding of each other with excellent communication. I would see myself as a Conor Murray type of character-a young, good-looking, skilful and athletic scrum-half whilst describing his partner Kevin as a Johnny Sexton type figure-an older, more seasoned campaigner. Kevin just shook his head in disgust!

It has to be said the two lads have a great attitude towards their job and the company as a whole and Pat loves the feel good, team-based atmosphere within the company. “Everyone is willing to lend a hand when you’re under pressure and work together for the good of the company and help because they genuinely want to lend a hand, not just for the sake of it.” Kevin talked about the technology in O’Reilly’s and how up-to-date we are and although other companies can often be slow to adapt to change and implement new technologies, O’Reilly Concrete is certainly not in that bracket. “We are at the forefront of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and have recently installed a new SRM software package called ‘Pipedrive’. This helps to convert tenders into contracts and saves duplication of work.

One pet hate of the QS role was a view shared by both of the lads was the non-standardization of bills of quantity descriptions. Also, the distrust which can sometimes exist between engineers and Quantity Surveyors. “Thankfully, this isn’t the case in O’Reilly Concrete but it does happen whereby the Engineer makes a mistake but does not choose to report it and instead tries to cover it up. This eventually leads to an awkward conversation between the two parties. The hard work of the design team working in tandem with us ensures that mistakes are virtually eliminated.”