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Ten Keys to Successful Contractor-Engineer Relationships in the Tilt-Up Industry

By: Kimberly Kayler, Constructive Communication, Inc.

The finger-pointing that can occur between the designer and contractor is nothing new. For example, on a recent project, Dan Doyle, President of Doyle Contractors Inc. — a full service design-build contractor specializing in Tilt-Up construction – got a call from the field because there weren’t enough joist pockets for the Tilt-Up wall panels. When Doyle looked into the situation, he learned that the steel fabricator added additional pockets because of increased loads, however, that information was not passed back to the contractor or the panel engineer. While such a scenario would have ordinarily resulted in a great deal of finger-pointing and blame between the contractor and the engineer, open communication between Doyle and his engineer, Craig Olson, P.E., C.E. Doyle Project Engineer – allowed them to quickly remedy the situation.

Olson and Doyle shared their insight and tips for success related to this topic with attendees at the TCA Convention. Following are 10 keys to success for your next project:


  1. Get involved early: Be sure to get involved early, even if the architect and/or contractor don’t pull you into the project early, so you can educate them on how you normally do things. This is especially important on a project if the architect and/or general contractor are new to Tilt-Up. Provide specific details as this will aid them in their own design and planning efforts.
  2. Ask a lot of questions. For example, how crucial is the location of the wall panel joints? Although, sometimes, you can’t move the joints for architectural reasons, if you have some flexibility, it broadens your available scenarios with regard to erection. Same with moving doors, rustication, corner details and more.
  3. Check and double-check in the field: Make sure someone with fresh eyes checks everything in the field. Too often, the engineer is tasked with fixing a problem in the field that is set in concrete, literally, such as embeds located in the wrong place.
  4. Check and double-check in the office: It is important to review every set of drawings that hits your desk, regardless of your role. A lot of problems can be caught before they get to the field if fewer assumptions are made.
  5. Over-communicate:It is important to include everyone on project status and questions to ensure all members of the team know what is going on. For example, even if a particular question does not apply to all team members, as a matter of policy, Olson copies everyone on the email. Such communication is greatly aided with today’s project tracking software tools.


  1. Go to the source: Some of the best ideas about how to tackle a particular issue come from the field employees. Be sure to ask for their input instead of simply sitting around the office trying to hash it out.
  2. Give us time: Too often, contractors become the bearers of bad news as they are the ones left to provide a cost estimate for design ideas. In many cases, contractors are given a short time period – sometimes as little as a day – to provide a cost estimate, so they simply provide their best guesstimate. However, when afforded more time, value results. For example, when an architect allowed the construction team a week to find a solution, they had the chance to talk to vendors, suppliers, subs, as well as field personnel. The result was an idea that was 50 percent cheaper than the original estimate.
  3. Visit the site! The willingness of the architect and engineer to visit the jobsite sets the tone for open communication and a real partnership. Be sure to invite them to come out as it will greatly aid in project success. If this is their first Tilt-Up project, get them out to another site before your project starts.
  4. Involve us early: Too often, the general contractor or construction manager wait until the project has already started and is pretty far along – such as doing foundations — before they hire the Tilt-Up subcontractor. This results in a rush process to get the panel drawings complete, which simply adds cost and increases the chance for error.
  5. Design for success: We often hear that engineers design for the competency of their contractor, who may not be familiar with Tilt-Up. Instead of lowering the bar, educate the general contractor. By teaming early and educating, you don’t have to limit the design possibilities.
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TILT-UP TODAY, a publication of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, is THE source for Tilt-Up industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the Tilt-Up industry. A subscription to TILT-UP TODAY is included in a TCA membership. Subscriptions for potential TCA members are also available. If you would like to receive a complimentary subscription to the publication, please contact the TCA.