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Meet Lincoln Forbes, Ph.D., P.E., CNC Director

What has been your involvement with IIE?

I have been actively involved in IIE since the early 1980’s, starting with the Miami Chapter as Newsletter editor, then becoming Vice President, and later President in 1983-84. I served National in a variety of roles including conference moderator, track coordinator, member, task force on Women, Minorities and the Disabled in Engineering, and Director of the Government Division in 1988-89. I also enjoyed membership in the Special Productivity Projects Committee, where we awarded prizes to outstanding organizations. At the local chapter level, I have come full circle, serving as Vice President again. I have also made several conference presentations over the years.

How did you get involved with the CNC?

I was indeed fortunate to have been asked to head up the Construction Networking Community when it was initiated at IIE’s Annual Conference in Portland. I had been asking IIE to create an interest group that would focus on construction-related activities for many years. In fact, I pioneered the creation of a small think tank through the University of Miami’s IE Department back in 1990–91 to promote the application of IE techniques in construction. We assembled a multi-disciplinary team that included architects, civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineers to study the possibility of applying IE techniques to the design and construction industry. We identified areas of need, such as low-cost housing, where our combined efforts could have a beneficial impact on society at large. At the same time, we felt that such a contribution would begin to improve the public perception of industrial engineering.

Did the team learn anything that would improve the construction industry?

Unfortunately, Hurricane Andrew intervened in August 1992 and changed our priorities for many years. Nevertheless, as South Florida struggled to recover from the devastation of one of history’s worst hurricanes, it became clear that IEs could play a significant role in construction. For example, serious lapses in construction quality were discovered that added to the devastation — such as roofing systems that could have been much more securely anchored at a minimal cost. My awareness of this situation deepened my interest in the construction industry’s untapped potential for IE application.

How have your educational background and experience helped you in this endeavor?

My career path has been somewhat non-traditional and multi-disciplinary. My undergraduate degree from the University of the West Indies is in Electrical Engineering. I worked as an electrical designer with an innovative company that trained me in HVAC at Carrier and gave me site engineer responsibilities so I had a very good foundation in the construction process. I had no IE training at the time, but saw the opportunity to improve the construction process. While pursuing an MBA at the University of Miami I discovered the field of IE in the middle of my pro-gram. So great was my interest that I pursued an MSIE at the same time as the MBA. I liked the fact that IE placed an emphasis not just on hardware, but on human resources as well. My first post-graduation job came through a contact made as a dinner meeting guest of an IIE Senior Chapter member. That job led to the opportunity to connect IE techniques with the construction arena. Working in construction quality control has made me acutely aware of the errors and losses that can be introduced in a typical project as it progresses from design to construction. Later on, I went back for a Ph.D. and focused my research on quality with an emphasis on the construction environment. Currently, I’m in the Facilities Planning and Standards Department of the nation’s fourth largest school system with one of the largest construction programs in the country. We provide many services, from the development of educational specifications for new facilities to conducting ongoing research and evaluation to improve the delivery of construction services and the durability of the finished product.

For example, through Post Occupancy evaluation we identify systems and materials that provide the lowest life cycle costs. We measure customer satisfaction with the completed facilities to promote continuous improvement. I am also personally involved in strategic planning for and implementation of the Florida Sterling Criteria in the school district’s construction program. The Florida Sterling Criteria are Florida’s version of the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award Criteria.

What role can IEs play in construction?

The sky is the limit for IE involvement. With an estimated loss rate of 30%, there is much room for improvement. In an $800 billion industry, a 5% reduction in waste would translate into a savings of $12 billion annually in the US alone. The losses resulting from safety lapses or job-induced illnesses are fertile ground for improvement. Value engineering is often conducted on the products of construction, but very infrequently on the construction process itself. While construction professionals have been making process improvements over the years, their efforts have been fragmented. As we have been trained to be integrators, IEs could overcome the wasteful effects of fragmentation. IEs have optimized the application of lean techniques in the manufacturing and service arenas. We can bring the same cutting-edge approaches to the construction industry. Construction automation may be the wave of the future as the construction industry seeks to lower costs. In Japan, the increasing age and declining numbers of the experienced work force have led to increased interest in automation. For IEs, there is clearly room for growth in automation research.

What are the most challenging issues facing the CNC?

Membership, membership, and membership! We need to increase our numbers as rapidly as possible. We need the economy of scale that allows us to document members’ expertise under a number of categories; so that the industry will recognize that it can come to us for a wide range of skills. For this to happen, we need to have each and every member helping to recruit new members to the Institute and to the community in particular. We also need to promote activities to keep our members engaged and involved in order to provide them with value, so that the community can continue to grow. I would like to see our members communicating with each other on a regular basis and sharing knowledge so that the community will serve as a meeting place, not just for technical information sharing, but for business opportunities as well. If we can first strengthen our ties with each other, then we will be equipped to establish new ties with the design and construction industry and gradually position ourselves as valuable contributors who can help to improve both quality and profitability at the same time. Our members can begin to network through several means. Our Discussion Forums allows us to post queries or comments on important issues and invite feedback. The newsletter is an excellent vehicle for sharing information – members are invited to submit articles for publication to Bonnie Thiede.

What would you like to say to the CNC members?

This is an exciting time with the promise of many possibilities. We have a golden opportunity to position the IE discipline and profession in the minds of the marketplace. If we can convey to the forces that drive the construction activity – developers, corporations that depend heavily on facilities to market their product/services, and architects/ designers – that we can provide value, then we can become a major force in the construction process. We already do in many ways that run the gamut from value engineering to safety management and project scheduling, but we can do more if we persuade industry decision-makers that they will benefit from our expertise. We have been granted a conference track in construction for the 2004 Conference in Houston, Texas. That track will serve as an excellent vehicle for us to showcase our skills and make the case that we can help the industry save billions of dollars each year. Get involved right away. Join a committee and lend us your expertise, whether in planning and promoting a conference track, writing for the newsletter, supporting research, or helping other members. Let us build the CNC into a force for change that helps IEs be seen as the providers of specialized knowledge and skills that will greatly improve the competitiveness of the construction industry.

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