Early in my career, before I switched into Project Management, I had the opportunity to lead the Quality department for a leading US-based EPC company – DEPCOM Power. Prior to this, I’d not seen myself as a Quality guy – my background is in Mechanical Engineering, I’d fallen into the Construction world almost by accident, and by a series of fortunate events and amazing leaders who put an incredible amount of faith in me, ended up managing the construction activities on large scale solar projects all over the country. 

In this blog post, I will share some valuable insights and best practices around Quality Management that I’ve learned during my ten years in the large scale solar PV industry – where I’ve been involved in over 2GW of installations and managed multiple projects greater than 100MW in capacity. 

Importance of Quality and Lessons Learned:  

Early on, I encountered challenges when rushing through construction phases to meet production rates, only to face major delays due to high defect rates in subsequent tasks. This experience taught me the criticality of building things right the first time. I emphasized this mindset to my crews, helping them to understand that having to go back to rectify mistakes is never a cost-effective option. 

Challenges in Utility Scale Work:  

When transitioning to utility scale work with larger crews, I faced the challenge of maintaining the same level of quality. Without proper training and strict Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) procedures, issues can escalate rapidly, leading to detrimental repercussions. It is important to address these challenges proactively. 

Changing the Perception of Quality:  

Quality should not be perceived as a negative or punitive aspect of construction. Rather than being “the bad guys,” QC inspectors and Quality Managers should serve as coaches, training, teaching, and helping production teams understand the right way to do things. By focusing on the front end of the process, small issues can be identified and resolved before they become significant problems, protecting the entire team and fostering a positive relationship with the customer. 

Steps to Achieve High Quality Workmanship: 

Hire the Right People:  

It is crucial to have site leadership that aligns with the ethos of doing things right and delivering a high-quality product. Ensuring the right individuals are in key positions and that crew leads understand the impact of quality on a project is paramount. 

Institute a Quality Management Program:  

Implementing a formal Quality Management program is essential for consistently achieving high-quality work. Some best practices include:  

a. Utilizing “Golden Rows” to identify and address deficiencies in the racking system early in the process.  

b. Implementing a “First Article Verification” procedure to align client, production leads, and the Quality team’s expectations, while creating valuable training documentation.  

c. Developing checklists and sign-off paperwork for the Quality team to track deficiencies and their locations. 

Train and Educate Employees and Labor Crews:  

Investing time in training site leadership and on-site labor teams is a worthwhile endeavor. Developing Standard Operating Procedures based on “First Article Verifications” with input from production teams can significantly improve the chances of a well-built final product. 

Reinforce the Importance of Quality:  

Consistently emphasize the significance of high quality workmanship throughout the company. Incorporate reminders during daily meetings, display posters on the jobsite, and communicate via emails to site leadership. Ensuring that this concept resonates with all levels of the organization is crucial for long-term success. 

Achieving high quality workmanship on solar construction sites requires commitment, adherence to best practices, and continuous improvement. By hiring the right people, implementing a robust QA/QC program, investing in training, and reinforcing the importance of quality, solar projects can deliver exceptional results.  

To further enhance your understanding of quality management and solar construction, along with gaining direct access to a wide range of industry leading template documents for quality inspections, first article verifications and standard operating procedures, I invite you to sign up for my newest course, “Quality Management in Utility Scale Solar,” where you can also earn NABCEP credits!  

Secure your spot today here