4k Monitors – Are they a Necessity for Truss/Panel Designers? (Part 3)


4k Monitors – Are they a Necessity for Truss/Panel Designers? (Part 3)

The last 2 weeks we explained details and definitions of 4k monitors and introduced the idea for their use in component design. Before reading this week’s article, please click here to review Part 1 and here to review Part 2 in this series so that you can follow along in this article coherently.

4k-monitor

Working Distance

We learned from the last installment in this series that not all truss design tasks are optimally suited for high-resolution monitors. We made a distinction between the resolution of the monitor, which is a literal count of the number of pixels built into the screen; and the size of the monitor, measured in inches.  I had suggested grouping a designers’ tasks into three categories, with the following recommended ideal monitor resolutions – of course, with design software other than MiTek, your mileage may vary:

  1. Plan reading – 4k. This would be for examining architectural or structural drawings, normally in PDF or CAD format.
  2. Layout – QHD or WQXGA. Something in the 2560×1600 neighborhood seems feels pretty natural for laying out a building’s worth of trusses
  3. Engineering – HD. A standard, inexpensive HD monitor seems to play pretty nicely with MiTek’s Engineering software.

We also learned that humans can only resolve a certain level of detail, and that with a good set of contact lenses or glasses your eyes will be ready to perform at their greatest potential, like they were looking at an optometrist’s chart on a far-away wall. When considering monitor resolution and visual resolution as two sides of the same coin, the new variable we will consider today is the working distance between your eyeballs and the center of each monitor that feels most comfortable to you.

While it may seem natural to jump to the question of “how large a monitor can I buy?” the truth is that working distance is a more important question to consider before going shopping for a new screen, because a high-resolution monitor won’t help you if you can’t visually take in that many tiny pixels from long distance.  Conversely, if you prefer to work close to a screen, a large monitor will actually work against you because it will take up a significant amount of real estate on your desk, requiring you to swivel your head around unnecessarily to view a second monitor – when a much smaller monitor at extremely high pixel density would be sufficient for your needs, assuming your eyesight is up to the task.

So take a moment to move backward and forward in your chair right now, and ask ourselves a few different questions:

  • First: quite subjectively, “Am I enjoying being this close, or this far, from my screen? Do I feel that this this is the best working distance?
  • Second: “Am I working at an uncomfortable distance because my desk is poorly designed, or a bad fit for my needs? Are the arms of my chair hitting the desk edge? Or is it that if I sit too far back I get glare from the window?” Etcetera. There are a multitude of reasons that we feel forced to sit in a non-optimal position in relation to the screens.
  • Third: “If I feel like I would prefer to be closer or farther from the screen, and nothing else seems to be stopping me, is it perhaps that the screen is too dark and dim or too bright to handle at that distance?”

Take the time to resolve any of these issues which might prevent you from working at a comfortable viewing distance. If your desk constrains you into working in an ineffective manner, stop now – put the funds you would have spent on a new monitor into a more flexible desk setup which gets your aligned more effectively with your screens.  We all like new electronics and a new desk may feel a bit dull, but truthfully, no replacement monitor will help you if the desk it sits on forces you to locate it in an awkward way – and larger monitors are even more unwieldy and hard to position than small ones.

Having settled our desk or workspace questions, we can now measure the distance that feels most comfortable to us. I like to hold a folding rule (remember those?) next to my skull and extend it straight out in line with my vision, measuring from a spot in the center of my monitor to a point on the rule which is exactly in line with my eye.  I find that 30” works pretty well for me; I don’t feel any significant ‘strain’ or tension in my eyes when I work at this distance for long hours.  Your results might be different.

Horizontal arc

Having settled on a working distance, we need to now settle on what I call, for lack of a better term, “horizontal arc”. This is a circle segment in which you should imagine yourself, more particularly your head, at the center.  Sitting in your desk chair, start by turning your head left and right; as you swing your head from side to side, find a maximum amount of “swiveling” in your neck that you feel comfortable with.  Some folks are fine with craning their neck every-which-way; others prefer to keep their heads absolutely still, or nearly still.  Keep in mind that a horizontal arc that initially feels comfortable might not feel so comfortable when you have to repeat this motion every five or seven seconds.

Next, without turning your head from side-to-side, simply look back and forth, trying to determine the area of your vision in which you are actually comfortable working. The portion of your vision which includes the highest density of optical receptors is actually rather modest, compared to your peripheral vision, and the boundary between the two is less of a dividing line and more of a long, smooth transition.  Think for a moment about where you want to effectively draw the line between your central (working) vision, and the more peripheral (useless, for our purposes) portion.

Now combine both motions, both turning your head and swiveling your eyes, not further than the limits you just set for yourself, for both.  This is your horizontal arc in which all important monitor information needs to be placed in order to be useful to you.

Monitor size

As you may have guessed, your correct monitor size is now one which, when placed next to your other monitors to create this rough semi-circle at the proper working distance, falls within your horizontal arc.  Experience has taught me that screen area which falls outside this area is almost useless to me; I cannot force myself to put important information in these areas, since my mind and body don’t want to look there.  As you might imagine, very large screens become difficult to fit into the horizontal arc, unless you are blessed with extraordinary eyesight and prefer a very large working distance – and have an enormously deep and wide desk surface to work with!

When shopping for monitors, look for the physical width of the screen you are considering purchasing; many monitors have a thick band (bezel) around the screen which adds bulk and takes up some of your horizontal arc. Also, realize that the listed size of a monitor is a diagonal dimension, measured from corner-to-corner.  Even with thick bezels, a 28” monitor might only take up 25” actual width.

Conclusion

To summarize, we have distanced ourselves from our screens as much as is comfortable, settled on a maximum horizontal “zone” in which we feel comfortable working, and divided up this zone into “segments” which each represent the maximum monitor size we can purchase.  For myself, I have found that two 32” monitors, with an additional 27-28” screen, maximizes my horizontal arc.  As you might imagine, the monitor I dedicate to plan reading is a 4k monitor, my layout monitor is WQXGA, and my Engineering monitor is HD, with the added bonus of touchscreen functionality.  So far this has been the most satisfactory combination of the many I’ve experimented with, and I would recommend it to anyone who had similar preferences.

The 4k resolution has been a worthy purchase – but with a few caveats, and in the final installment of this series, we will examine some monitor-related issues which should be thought through prior to purchasing a 4k monitor, a word about mouse movements, and some budget ideas for how cash-strapped design departments can cheaply outfit old PCs with a third monitor.

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Stay tuned for Part 4, the final article in this series.

Has this brought to mind some new considerations for your desktop setup? Please leave your comments below.

4k Monitors – Are they a Necessity for Truss/Panel Designers? (Part 2)


4k Monitors – Are they a Necessity for Truss/Panel Designers? (Part 2)

Last week we explained details and definitions of 4k monitors and introduced the idea for their use in component design. Before reading this week’s article, please click here to review Part 1 in this series so that you can follow along in this article coherently.

monitor

Fact or Fiction?

One might infer that more information is always better than less, and that therefore the highest resolution possible should be used at all times. This is true in the abstract, but 3 (three) practical considerations cause us to reconsider:

  1. First, the human eye is only capable of capturing a certain level of detail. You’ve become aware of your natural limitations at an eye checkup, right? You know the one where the optometrist challenged you to read successively smaller lines of type on a distant wall. At a certain point you gave up; your eyes simply couldn’t resolve the optical detail of the tiny letters, so far away.
  2. Second, you only have one pair of eyes. Their health should be the deciding factor in the choice. Until you know the status of their health from a professional, the monitor choice should NOT be made. If your eyesight fails, you will be looking for a new line of work.
  3. Third, cost should not be the deciding factor. Can you put a monetary value on your eyesight? The deciding factor should be based around what is best for your eyesight.

A word from your optometrist

The place for any designer to start is actually with their eyesight. What good is a fine-pitched monitor if you can’t make out the details?  You may not have considered it lately, but when were your eyes last checked?  The American Optometric Association recommends that adults between the age of 19-60 get an examination every two years, and annually past age 61.

Your eyes are constantly changing, and each eye changes independent of the other. Since one eye is normally stronger than the other, constant and heavy workloads in front of a computer will not stress them both equally unless you have a proper prescription.

Once you are satisfied that your prescription is correct, or that your eyesight is satisfactory, I would highly encourage you to invest in quality eyewear, and to keep your glasses scrupulously clean and free from scratches.  If you wear contact lenses like some do, read the manufacturer’s instructions on your contact lens fluid and follow them to the letter.  Remember #2 above!

Contrary to common practice, you do not “clean” your contacts by simply storing them in saline! It is amazing how complacent some people are in this area. Buy high-quality name brand cleansing fluid and scrub/de-protein your lenses daily for the recommended amount of time.  Rinse them very thoroughly.  If you suffer from slightly red eyes at the end of the day, it may be time to re-examine your contact lens hygiene. You will find that “new lens” clarity of vision lasts a lot longer with each pair.

Task Categories that Factor in the Final Decision

For truss and panel designers, we have (3) fairly discrete categories of tasks which are best looked at individually:

1. Plan reading

Back in the “day”, some of us had the dubious honor of working off ARCH “D” sized building plans. These were commonly printed on a substance called “paper”, and in special cases of quasi-religious significance, on a vaguely disturbing substance called “vellum” which may or may not have involved the harming animals in manufacture.

These paper plans were not only large, they were sharp and easy to read. These were plotted at 300 dots per inch resolution.  If “dots” sounds like “pixels” to you, it should.  The entire architectural drafting industry was based off this size, and all modern CAD standards such as text size and scale of leader arrows are based off 24 x 36” drawings.  So in the interest of understanding the scope of the issue, let’s look at the effective resolution of a 24×36” sheet of paper:

24” x 36” x 300 dpi = 77,760,000 pixels

Yes, you read that right. 77.8 million pixels!  Let that sink in for a second.  The next time your nephew goes on excitedly about his new gaming “high definition monitor” at 2.1 million pixels, patiently explain to him that those old blueprints in the rack, the one with the rubber band around them, has his monitor beat by a multiplying factor of thirty-seven.

Of course times have changed, nobody wants to roll out a large set of plans, or turn the pages (how annoying was that?), not to mention store them.  What we want, what we need, is a monitor up to the task of replacing these plans and doing the same job, preferably better, because, well, technology demands it, right?

If you took a sneak peek back at the first chart showing monitor resolutions, you may have been a little disheartened.  Because truthfully, nothing will ever compete with a good plotted set of plans for communicating written information.  They simply are the best.  But it should be clear that for plan reading purposes, a monitor should be the highest resolution you can possibly afford, and that your graphics card can handle without physically melting.

2. Layout

Whatever your choice of truss software, a truss or panel layout can become a very complex drawing, with lots of detail to keep an eye on (pardon the pun). As a proportion of a 24×36” set of plans, I estimate that a proper commercial-scale truss layout might incorporate perhaps half the detail of a dense, 1/8” = 1-0” architectural drawing.  After some experimentation, I believe that at double the resolution of HD, a solid QHD or WQXGA monitor at 2560 x 1440 or 2560 x 1600 resolution is probably your best bet for this task (see note about Mouse Velocity in Part 3).

3. Engineering

Under the current MiTek regime, the truss design software package is pretty well optimized for an HD resolution monitor.  There is a tiny fraction of information presented by the Engineering software, compared with the detail on an architectural plan.  Unless you change the display settings to display dimensions at insanely small size, there is probably no need for a resolution higher than HD.  If the option is available, I would highly recommend the slight upgrade to 1920 x 1200 which affords a little more vertical height but can be resolved by most commonly available (inexpensive) graphics cards.  In fact, you may find that your speed may actually be hindered by an unnecessarily high-resolution monitor in this application, for reasons which we will explore next time in Part 3.

When we publish Part 3 next week, we will give you things to consider from a totally different viewpoint.

Read Part 1 here.

Please leave your comments below.

4k Monitors – Are they a Necessity for Truss/Panel Designers? (Part 1)


4k Monitors – Are they a Necessity for Truss/Panel Designers? (Part 1)

Overview

The last five years have been very, very good times for anyone interested in flat-screen computer monitors. If you are a truss designer interested in gaining maximum, military-general style visibility into all the inner workings of your computer, exploiting the potential of your graphics hardware to the maximum and pumping as many LED-generated, pixel-popping light waves into your sore and bloodshot eyes, this has truly been a good time to be alive!

Here is why:

  1. The size of available monitors has increased. Not too long ago, Apple was astonishing the world with very expensive, beautiful 30” (!) monitors which exceeded the budget of most non-graphics-oriented professionals by probably a factor of 4x. For PC users, 27’-28” was essentially the maximum screen size available. These days, 30” and 32” monitors are pretty common, with hybrid TV and computer-monitor models available in 40”, 50” and even 60” neighborhood for those interested in upgrading their cubicle footprint to the area of a small aircraft hanger.
  2. The variety of large-sized monitors has exploded. From cheap, gray-market Korean makers like Crossover and Achieva, to high-end makers Samsung and NEC, there is a wide and smoothly segregated set of price points for each size of monitor larger than the (formerly standard) 24” screen size. 28” is no longer considered a “specialty” size by most makers; 30” and 32” is now fairly standard as a top-tier diagonal dimension and most every major maker has models (or even several models) in these categories: each offers units meant for gamers, casual users, business professionals, and expensive color calibrated screens targeted toward photographers and video editors. No longer is a buyer stuck with an “all or nothing” option – we can all pick our price vs. quality point.
  3. Panel technologies have diversified. In former days large-scale monitors were only offered in a very basic “TN” technology which offered quite flat color, boring low contrast and limited viewing angles. Today, you can walk out of any well-equipped electronics store with a huge monitor in your choice of TN, VA, MVA, S-PVA, or any one of several high-dollar IPS flavors, depending on your taste in color quality and on the heat of your wallet.
  4. The features and color quality of large flat-screens have improved drastically. It wasn’t long ago that CRT monitors were the gold-standard in color fidelity and ability to reproduce close to full Adobe RGB color space. No longer. The newest panels, especially the MVA, PLS, AHVA and IPS designs, have incredibly wide color range and impressively dense black/white contrast ratios. They are engaging to look at and make the old CRT technology seem impossibly dated, even for critical applications like photography. Also, the old “faded edges” of large screens, where the brightness varied significantly across the expanse of the monitor, has disappeared, as manufacturers seemed to have worked out all those kinks.
  5. Lastly, and most importantly for this article, the resolution of monitors has increased. For many years we bumped against the limits of so-called “HD” resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, with some business-class monitors at the slightly taller 1920 x 1200 resolution. Today HD is still the standard resolution, but within the last two years there has been a huge increase in availability of the following resolutions which should interest design professionals the most:

4k-monitor

As a truss/panel designer, what size & resolution monitor should I buy?

What a great question! With so many choices, I’ll share my approach to choosing a size & resolution combination, because this is the critical question.  Realize that monitors of a certain resolution which work well for a certain task, at a given monitor size, may not work as well in a smaller/larger scale.  With this in mind, there is a proper approach, which is to start by establishing the task, find the proper resolution for that task, and then choose a screen size which is appropriate for that resolution.

Choose task -> Match with resolution -> Establish distance -> Select screen size

Finally, a little background definition of terms and concepts:

  • Pixels are individual points of light on a screen which can render any number of colors
  • Resolution is the actual number of pixels (width x height) the monitor is made with.

The “visual information” a monitor is capable of conveying to the user is directly related to the resolution (pixel count). This directly affect the quality of the picture and the stress on your eyesight.

When we publish Part 2 next week, we will give you specific things to consider from the truss/panel design (and your doctor’s) standpoint. See you next week!

Please leave your comments below.

Temporary vs. Permanent Bracing: What You Need To Know


Temporary vs. Permanent Bracing: What You Need To Know

Unfortunately, we have witnessed some collapsed buildings lately. As usual, the cause was improper bracing. Does the builder simply not understand that the bracing is keeping the building together while construction is going on? Protecting it against wind loads? Solidifying the structure to make engineered components work as a whole system? Is it hard to know where and how to brace a building? Is it not understood that trusses ONLY work as a system, not as individual entities?

Perhaps we should start by the definition:

brac·ing (brāsiNG): “(of a support) serving to brace a structure

So far pretty simple, right? There are 2 types of bracing, Permanent & Temporary, so why is this so confusing? Does not a Building Component Safety Information (BCSI) document from the Structural Building Components Association (SBCA) accompany each and every truss package? Why then are we omitting some bracing on new structures?

Let’s take a look and see the differences between the two bracing types:

  • Temporary Bracing: Bracing used to hold framework in a safe condition during construction until enough permanent construction has been put in place to provide complete stability.

temporary-truss-bracing

  • Permanent Bracing: Bracing must be provided to enable the roof, wall and floor framework to resist the horizontal forces. An appropriate connection is needed to transfer these forces through the framework and sub-floor structure to the building’s foundation. When required, bracing within the building is to be constructed into walls or sub-floor supports and distributed evenly throughout. This bracing is normally in vertical planes. Where buildings are more than one story in height, wall bracing has to be designed for each story.

permanent-truss-bracing

Consider this: If so much bracing is required for simply a roof, can you imagine when you add the walls and floor bracing too! To make sure your building is properly braced, you must:

  • Check local and national building codes where your structure is being erected
  • Review and understand component supplier’s bracing notes
  • Comply with the project engineer’s notes & recommendations
  • Use your own common sense and past experience

Failure to do so can have tremendous consequences that could resemble something like this:

proper-truss-bracing

Adequate bracing not only makes sure your building can resist the forces of:

  • Horizontal loads
  • Vertical loads
  • Seismic loads
  • Wind forces

Proper bracing also ensures that (just to name a few):

  • Your connections are square
  • Protects worker present on the job site
  • Will ensure a better end product

Bracing is NOT a suggestion, it’s the rule. It is truly disheartening to see how many folks out there truly understand the necessity of bracing and end up walking out to this on the jobsite:

improper-truss-bracing

Is bracing as simple as you thought? Share your thoughts and comments below.

Remember to “brace” yourself for what happens should you not fully adhere to this simple, yet widely misunderstood requirement!

Professional Development – Truss Design: A Trick My Day Job Never Taught Me – Part 20


Professional Development – Truss Design: A Trick My Day Job Never Taught Me – Part 20

With almost 24 years truss design experience, I felt I had become pretty confident in my field. From designing large custom homes, to commercial jobs to multi-family, you learn a few tricks but can also fall into a rut or a way that is comfortable to us until shown something else. At that point, one can become open-minded and attempt that new approach or become closed-minded and continue on as if nothing ever happened.

Since joining Gould Design, Inc. (GDI) earlier this year, I have found a company that takes training and mentoring each team member very seriously, because your success is their success.

truss-success

I want to share a few that stand out that GDI does that a lot of jobs may or may not teach you.

Open mindedness and Teach-ability: In a number of conversations with Christopher Gould, President of Gould Design Inc., he has stated “The key to your success with GDI is twofold, 1. An open mind, 2. Teach-ability. With these two traits, the sky is the limit! We are designing components, but we are building entrepreneurs.” This speaks to me of attitude. As many of us have probably heard “Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude.” And this falls into many areas. Easy to talk about but harder to practice.

Finding out my strengths: Using the Clifton Strengths Finder test, GDI wanted to know and focus on my strengths, not my weaknesses. This was encouraging because no company that I have ever worked for had done this! They might have known about a strength I had but chose to use me in another area and left me frustrated. GDI’s goal is to build on these strengths and use them to the fullest.

clifton-strengths-finder

Mentorship: With every phase of GDI’s Professional Development program that I have been exposed to, a mentor has been assigned to me, whose main role is to shadow and assist. It may not be someone who has more experience, but it certainly will be an individual who has expertise in an area I know nothing or very little about in the day-to-day operations of the company. But it can easily turn into a two-way street, as I was working on a specific job during my PD, when I heard my mentor say, “Hey, how did you do that? I’ve never seen that before” and I was able to share some of my expertise at that moment. This mentoring program has been very valuable to me, as it has helped to build camaraderie, a thing not always encouraged in a job environment.

Learning to become more efficient: Sure, I can have a state of the art computer with a fast processor, m/b and lots of RAM, but if I don’t know how to use shortcuts in the software or other little tricks, how efficient am I? 5 key strokes suddenly become 20, multiply that by x and time adds up. At GDI, a lot of tools are available at our fingertips and sometimes it’s as simple as putting a question out on Skype and then watching as team members come forward to share their expertise and knowledge. One word – Invaluable.

Has stepping into the Professional Development program always been easy? No it has not! Yet I have learned that as long as I am willing to learn, I can still be taught a thing or two and even get better. Is that your story? Give us your feedback please. Tell us your story.

You can read Part 1 in this series here.

You can read Part 2 in this series here.

You can read Part 3 in this series here.

You can read Part 4 in this series here.

You can read Part 5 in this series here.

You can read Part 6 in this series here.

You can read Part 7 in this series here.

You can read Part 8 in this series here.

You can read Part 9 in this series here.

You can read Part 10 in this series here.

You can read Part 11 in this series here.

You can read Part 12 in this series here.

You can read Part 13 in this series here.

You can read Part 14 in this series here.

You can read Part 15 in this series here.

You can read Part 16 in this series here.

You can read Part 17 in this series here.

You can read Part 18 in this series here.

You can read Part 19 in this series here.

Stay tuned for Part 21.

Harold Isaac

Design Professional

How Much Revenue Are You Wasting Due to Inefficiency?


How Much Revenue Are You Wasting Due to Inefficiency?

Perhaps we have heard about classic cars and their incredible price ranges. Some would say vintage car owners are crazy for paying or asking for such amount of money for an antique vehicle. Others can see it as a bargain, as something they can justify. The issue here is the balance between price and value. To have something of real value, there is a cost involved, right?

classic-car

The Science of Economics has discussed broadly how prices are constructed, yet there still is not a conclusive concept. One aspect is how buyers build their perception of “price according the value they give to the asset” (of course there are a lot of other issues to take into account but we are not going to tackle on them on this article).

So the first perception could be: Is this situation/opportunity representing to me an asset or a liability? Author Robert Kiyosaki has a radical concept of asset: Is all that is used to generate an income. So under this idea a house or a car could be a passive while it is not used for some kind of business. This is not – in my opinion – definitive, because the house we live has a value not only in the books but for us.

Where am I going with all this? Why, trusses of course!

You see, I was once one of those designers that was just “plopped” into the seat and told to figure it out. I was given almost no information to work with for a starting point. Had I not had shop and field experience, I may have failed. I am grateful this was not the case. But I certainly did have my times of looking like the hamster on the wheel and mistakes that were costly along the way. All of this could have been avoided if there was some place for me to turn and learn how to do things the right way from the beginning!

Consider this:

There is much to consider when weighing out your assets. They should always outweigh your liabilities! The value of training and professional development for truss/component design could be undermined if we see it in a traditional way:

  • What is the cost of it?
  • In what amount of time will my company recover (ROI) that money?
  • Do I really need this?
  • What are my competitors doing?

This is what you really should be asking:

  • What is the cost of NOT training your staff? (Mistakes, backcharges, inefficiency)
  • Is there an ROI on lost revenue? (Dissatisfied or lost customers/opportunities)
  • How will you meet demand without competent, qualified staff? (Technical staff does not grow on trees)
  • Are you your competitor, or your own entity? (Companies with a vision must act on that vision)

The real question then becomes: Can you afford not to train your staff to reach their potential?

There are also other factors you have to ponder:

  • What part will your veteran designers play while working with trainees?
  • Can your company carry this load internally?
  • What percentage of productivity loss can be sustained?
  • Has your company considered or measured how much in potential revenue that is lost?
  • Is the sales team eager or reluctant to secure additional workload?
  • Have you thought of the value of having an efficiently trained staff in the proper version of the software?

The tough questions are all that is left:

  • When was the last time your company planned a training session? (Minimum of 10% of every designer’s time should be for growth)
  • Is there a training protocol? (If you don’t think you have the time to write one, you have no idea how much this has already and will continue to cost you)
  • Do you have every employee doing things the same way? (Making 5% on one and 10% on another just doesn’t make any sense)
  • What is the morale like in the office? (Some folks may be afraid of training themselves out of a job)
  • What is the engagement like in the office? (The mindset of “I am only doing this because I was told” will rub off on anyone learning or being taught anything due to minimal effort expended)

After thinking deeply on the questions above, management can be as radical as Kiyosaki: Are we getting any income of this right away? No? Then this action is leading to a passive.

And sure it could be expensive and with no warranty of returning your investment right away. But has your company considered or measured factual numbers? Simply put, it is impossible to measure what you don’t track! So if you are like most companies, you have no clue how much you are wasting in inefficiency each year. There is little balance.

balance

What’s the solution?

At this point we are painting a picture of balance between “Value” and “Price”. What is the value of a well-trained employee? Does it outweigh the price? Or are you willing to repeatedly keep spending enormous amounts more, year after year, than if you had just made the investment to begin with?

With over a decade of experience, Gould Design, Inc. (GDI) can measure and point out these numbers for you. With a proven, detailed methodology, GDI can lead you to factual numbers, not someone’s best guess. This will allow you to see what you could have overlooked and measure part of the potential earnings you have not accessed yet because of a lack of properly trained staff. You will also have the exact numbers to decide how many trainees you can handle, for how long and where the boundaries are with performance measurement.

And most importantly: Reducing the amount of load to your veteran staff plays in developing others so that they can continue working and producing what your company needs to profitably thrive.

Using a series of assessments, GDI first measures a candidate in the following 12 categories:

  • Background
  • Basic math skills
  • 3D skills & spatial recognition
  • Plan reading ability
  • Truss math
  • Visualization ability
  • Personality strengths
  • Personality type
  • Willingness to learn
  • Ability to follow directions
  • Decision making ability
  • Detail comprehension

In a short period of time, with properly screened candidates, your company could be utilizing properly trained designers so you can have projects efficiently analyzed. This helps the Sales Staff (morale) and the Shop (engagement), reducing the response time to clients and making things easier in the shop (even preventing accidents).

Also, you can receive periodical reports of each trainee to be aware of their development, knowing the potential for each one on an individual basis. You will also know the limitations the moment the reach that “line in the sand” (boundaries) so you can establish a probable route of developing for each one and how they can help your business to grow.

What’s the value?

GDI can help you to put in balance the value and the costs associated on an individual basis. These proven-over-time results will be reported so decisions at your company can work on a timeline. In a short period, you will know the risks and the benefits for each particular case.

info-plus-action

Information plus action neutralizes the fear that may be caused from past experience. Our goal is to research each potential candidate proactively so we can give you the most accurate prediction and a plan of action. Technology allows us to do it remotely so you won´t have unfamiliar faces walking around your facilities or disturbing your team.

As you know, technology has transformed the business of trusses and you probably have already taken advantage of it in your production facility. But have you done so in your design department? If the answer is no, then why not?

Are your technical people not the highest paid on staff? Why is it so easy to spend $300,000.00 on a piece of equipment, but not a fraction of that amount on an efficient employee? It just doesn’t make any sense. Maybe if you had 5 efficient designers, you would not need to hire 2 more! Those same 5 efficient designers would be capable of keeping that $300,000.00 on a piece of equipment running all day!

Conclusion

Communication about needs and wants is very simple, yet hard to grasp. All the planning in the world is meaningless without action. But you have heard this all before! What are you going to do about it? Why re-write the book on your own and invest from a standpoint of trial and error? Why not allow yourself to save the hassle and the expense and reach out to a proven method from a company that has already done that?

The facts are this: we get what we pay for. We become what we think about. We can’t measure what we don’t track. We can’t take inventory on something we don’t have or are not aware that we have. We cannot estimate value until we have a lock on price. We can’t improve efficiency unless we make time in our schedule and PLAN for it.

How much more are value are you willing to lose until you pay the price? Contact us today for a custom-made value versus price solution.

This article has helped you to think about the value of training. In which ways has training transformed your business? In which ways has it hurt your business? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Training is Contingent upon the Mentor’s Expertise


Training is Contingent upon the Mentor’s Expertise

mentor

Anyone who has been employed has undertaken some form of training for that job. It may have been training as simple as carry those blocks from point A to point B, dig that ditch from here to there, or a detailed, comprehensive program to bring the new employee up to speed on how the company wants things done.  No matter the training, there was someone administering and supervising the training to some degree.

Problem

In my experiences on jobs, I have seen many different types of mentors. Some have taken the responsibility to train or teach someone else as a task that they would rather not take on.  As a result the trainee was short-changed and was never really able to contribute fully to the company nor live up to their fullest potential in that career.

I recall one such situation when I was working on a particular residential job site. An HVAC contractor had sent a crew out to the jobsite to rough in the structure so the county inspection could be done.  The crew leader was not only given the task of installing all of the necessary duct work for the job but also to train and help a new employee who had not been with the company very long.  The crew leader chose to ignore the new employee’s questions, did not take time to show him the how or the why things were being done the way they were, nor try to help him learn in any way.  Not long after that job, I saw the same HVAC crew leader on another job and asked about the progress of that new employee and he responded by say that he was let go because he did not know how to do the job. Really?

I have seen others who have been given the task to train someone and are very willing to take that responsibility serious. Although they have taken this responsibility seriously they are hard-headed about the way they approach the task.  They are not willing to look at things differently, learn more as they go and relay that information to the trainee, nor accept anything different that the way that they know.  I know this type of trainer very well because at one time I was one.  I took the job very seriously, but was only willing to teach what I knew about the job.  In retrospect, I realized that I short-changed the person that I was training and made them one-sided in the process.

Solution

Then there are those mentors who not only take the job seriously, but also are willing to do whatever it takes to make the new trainee the best that they can be. They not only try to teach what they know but are constantly trying to learn new things and new ways not only to benefit themselves but also the trainee.  This in turn benefits the company in which they work.

This type of mentor also takes the time and puts forth the effort to try to understand the person in which they are training. Which way they learn the best, what their strong suits are, and what interests they have that will benefit the company.  This is the type of mentor that makes a company strong. This type of mentoring allows the opportunity for each individual mentee to achieve their fullest potential.

Conclusion

When given the task of training someone, we must make a decision on what type of mentor we are going to be. I believe we need to understand that the way we train someone will not only affect the company, but it could also affect the trainee.  Whether that affect is positive or negative could be dependent upon the training that they receive.  In short, training is contingent upon the mentor’s expertise!

What is your experience as a mentor? As a mentee?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

When prospective future homeowners set out to design and build their own home, the first thing they do is come up with a concept and seek out qualified professionals to help them accomplish the goal: an affordable, structurally sound building. After all, they have saved their hard-earned money and are looking to engage in the “American Dream”, right?

So they bring their idea to an architect who draws the plans. The plans are taken to a homebuilder, etc., etc. You know the drill here. All along they are trusting that each party is qualified, competent and reliable enough to perform the tasks as agreed. Seems like a reasonable enough thing to expect, does it not?

After all, we have a permitting process. We have experienced home builders. We even have jobsite inspectors to verify the work performed. But is that enough?

I have been on numerous jobsites in my career and have seen some pretty strange and questionable things. The purpose of this article is not to highlight those. It is for you to look and find it for yourself.

For similar articles, please view:

It’s not always the truss company’s fault

Building Codes and Inspectors: Their Seldom Appreciated Value and Importance

I was on a jobsite recently and saw some things that raised some concern. I now challenge you, the reader, to see if you can see what I saw and leave your comments below.

A 3-ply LVL beam carrying lower roof, upper roof and wall:

cripple-studs

Another 3-ply LVL beam carrying lower roof, upper roof and wall:

lvl-beam

A floor truss condition where the upper wall and lower wall does not stack:

floor-truss

A floor truss strongback application:

strongback

A hip set assembled on the ground:

hip-set

Now, hopefully the inspectors will flag those items so the homeowner can have a sound structure. I drove by a few days later and the job was up and sheathed, so I am not so sure. It is too early in the game to tell (as of the writing of this article).

As I was driving by that day, I noticed trusses still on the ground that were not installed. Ummmmm, really? Truss companies simply DO NOT provide “extra” trusses. If there were trusses left over, that should raise a GIANT red flag. It will be interesting to see how this job develops as time goes on!

What kinds of things have you seen over the years? Leave your comments in the section below.

Benefits of Multiple Screens for Truss and Panel Design


Benefits of Multiple Screens for Truss and Panel Design

If you started truss and building design in the early 90’s, you remember that everyone was using a single monitor to design. There wasn’t multiple output on graphic card, and monitors were pretty expensive. It did the job, but we had to go back and forth to see all the detail that were pertinent to what we were trying to achieve.

Do you remember the floppy disk?

floppy-disc

These days, a dual screen setup is the norm. Prices have come down, and graphic cards are more powerful, with multiple outputs for display. It really help in seeing more details, run more software and save time, as you didn’t have to close any software, and could relay the information from 3 different sources into the drawing being worked on. It even allows some space for email hosting!

Getting the answers to questions while drawing was a real time-saver, therefore more production done by the end of the day is the end result. Dual screens really help production and accuracy, as they allow more options to see the details.

dual-monitors

Today, as the product got even more affordable, consider a quad screen setup. With this system, you can have all the advantage of the dual system and have the actual plan, pictures, and other information right in the front of you!

I suggest having a screen dedicated to email, Skype and all the networking tools needed. They used are not only to display stuff anymore, as you will now have the room to work on them.

Additionally, having multiple screens for designs makes it very quick and efficient to:

  • Verify work
  • Locate data
  • Coordinate the process
  • Input information
  • Viewing architectural plans
  • Supplementing other software used on a daily basis

Now, don’t get me wrong. Having multiple screens will not do the work for me, but it will allow me to customize what I want, therefore making me more confident. Most software is designed for multiple screens, as they will work as good window size or full screen.

I would suggest even using more than one monitor for a single application, like when you need to see a large area. It is possible to make multiple monitors work as one entity. And be sure to have your icons separated across your screens, so that you have no more 50 icons in the middle of one screen, grouped together. This will prevent you from searching for the one you need.

quad-monitors

By now, with all the time saved, the screens have paid for themselves! Suggest this to your manager. It will help you become more reliable, quick, organized and efficient. Every day you will get faster.

How does your current monitor setup affect you? Is your department/company on the technology boat? I just can’t wait to see what it does to the component design industry in the next 20 years.

The DoL Investigation: Is Your Qualified Plan Prepared for it?


The DoL Investigation: Is Your Qualified Plan Prepared for it?

The letter reads that there will be a visitor from the Department of Labor coming to your business in roughly four or five weeks. The reason for the visit: they have determined they want to investigate your retirement plan(s).

Instantly, you begin to wonder what triggered this audit? Did an unhappy former employee call the Department of Labor?  Was your last Form 5500 done properly or did it contain an error you may have overlooked?  It could be either of these or it simply might have been some time since the Department of Labor had sent a team of investigators within your geography.  Whatever the reason, you have some time to prepare.  What should you pay attention to in this prep time and what could the results be of an investigation like this?

Well, here are some statistics to ponder:

  • Audits have increased by more than 25% in the past few years
  • 1,000 new enforcement agents have been hired in the past year
  • 3 of 4 audits result in a fine or penalty or both
  • The average fine has increased in recent years by $150,000 to an average of $600,000
  • In years 2010-2013, an average of 80-100 individuals were indicted each year for offenses related to plans PERSONALLY
  • In the 2013 audit year, 3,566 audits were performed and more than $2.7 billion in fines and penalties were levied

It’s a new world in this area and now is not the time to think “this won’t happen to us or our plan”.

The investigation letter will typically include a checklist of documents and other information the DoL would like you to accumulate for them prior to the appointment. It may look like a laundry list, but it will contain clues as to what may have triggered your investigation.  There will also be certain areas that will contain multiple years of information requests.  In recent investigations, the new provisions from the Dodd-Frank Act and the Pension Protection Act of 2006 with regard to disclosure and transparency have been added as well as fiduciary requirements that most plan sponsors aren’t usually prepared for.  It may be a good time to outsource this potential situation to a fiduciary consultant or ERISA tax attorney to help coach you through an investigation situation so you will be prepared for what the DoL is looking for when they come.

A fiduciary consultant is different from your investment manager/recordkeeper, your TPA, or your investment adviser. They work independently and don’t replace any of the aforementioned professionals.  None of the aforementioned groups will typically act as a plan fiduciary and when confronted about the position, they should tell you if they won’t do that role.  Be very careful when any of your service providers or “plan parties in interest” (attorney, CPA, etc.), tell you that you don’t have anything to worry about and you should be able to handle any fiduciary role or responsibility on your own with their “help”.  This is exactly the answer you don’t want.

ERISA specifically states that these processes, procedures, and compliance should be handled by “prudent experts”. If you are like most plan sponsors, you already have a full-time job working a role within your company or firm and the 401k plan and its operation is an add-on you or others perform in addition to your other company functions.  Many plan sponsors today are outsourcing this role to others.  It can be done for the entire plan (Section 402 named fiduciary) or can be done in components (Administration-3(16) fiduciary, Plan Investments Responsibility-3(38) fiduciary, and Participant Communication and Education-3(21) fiduciary).  But for the time being, you have the DoL coming in a few weeks.  What should you be preparing for?

Several areas can cause problems for you as a plan fiduciary and for your plan’s overall preparedness for an audit or investigation. Let’s list areas that are most vulnerable with plan sponsors and their plans.

  1. Lack of an Investment Policy Statement or not following provisions of a current one– Approximately 70% of plans today do not have an Investment Policy Statement. Those plans that do have one seldom follow the instructions the statement provides. The IPS is the guideline for how the plan assets will be invested. It reveals the standards that are to be upheld in selecting, de-selecting, and evaluating plan investments. While it is not required by law to have one, it’s hard to prove to the DoL that you have a process or procedure with which to follow if you don’t have one.
  2. Failure to keep plan documents up to date or failure to follow document provisions– This would appear to be a simple example to work with, but plan sponsors typically don’t realize how often laws change. Since ERISA came out in 1974, pension law has changed often and substantially. Plan documents and amendments are issued or re-issued every 5-7 years and it critical to have the current plan documents and amendments available for the DoL upon audit.
  3. Failure to contribute participant contributions in a timely manner– there is a common mis-conception about the deposit of participant deferrals into the plan. The common interpretation of “timely” has typically been by the 15th day of the following month. The DoL has given a tighter definition to be “as soon as possible”. While this isn’t definitive, these elective deferrals should be deposited within the plan 3 to 7 days of being withheld from paychecks or certainly before the next payroll cycle.
  4. Paying particular attention to the Form 5500– while many plans don’t file a 5500 at all or don’t file it in a timely manner, the plans that do typically take too much for granted about how the form is populated by their respective service providers. To assume the 5500 is correct and “signature ready” from the record keeper, CPA, or TPA, is incorrect. All levels of pension servicing organizations make mistakes, and those mistakes could trigger an audit.
  5. Participant loan and distribution mistakes– because loans and other distributions mean participant dollars are leaving the plan, this is a particular area of interest for the DoL. Once again, plan sponsors assume that their record keeper and/or TPA handle these situations properly and without issues. Loan terms, re-payment methods, number of loans outstanding, and proper qualifying events for hardship withdrawals are all areas that create mistakes and areas of scrutiny by the DoL.

Other areas that can create issues with an audit include: not going out to the marketplace for competitive analysis of plan service providers, not having all plan fiduciaries acknowledge their status in writing, not reviewing the investment lineup for more competitive and efficient investment options, benchmarking plan services, and monitoring all parties receiving compensation within the plan structure and making sure the compensation level is competitive and proper. A new area of notice involves plans that offer funds and other investments from one service provider exclusively or that contain a requirement for a certain number of proprietary options from a particular record keeper or investment manager.

It’s doubtful that this approach could pass muster in a well-crafted investment policy statement, nor is it likely that it is feasible that one investment group could offer an entire diverse menu of investments across multiple asset classes that could pass the due diligence of a process that accounted for well researched qualitative and quantitative measurements.  It may be convenient and easy to follow this course of action, but it doesn’t necessarily follow the due care and due loyalty that a plan fiduciary owes the plan participants.

Some plan sponsors get around this issue by allowing a “brokerage window” within the plan for participants that allows them to place money into any investment they deem appropriate for investment in their account. Two issues that arise from this approach are: 1) do the participants have enough investment education to take part in certain types of investments like ETF’s, stocks, and bonds or 2) if the participant is receiving investment advice from an outside party with respect to this brokerage account within the plan, is that person or entity being disclosed as a plan fiduciary or if they are receiving compensation for this advice, is it being disclosed as well?

Because plans grow over time and plan sponsors “fall asleep at the switch”, plan services and compensation can become dated and stale for the level of pan assets. The DoL takes this area very seriously today and investment advisers are paying back excessive commissions and fees to plans and participants and plan sponsors are being fined in the process as well for being complicit in the situation.  When this happens, plan fiduciaries are penalized PERSONALLY (ERISA Section 409), not in their corporate position.  Plan surety bonds, fiduciary liability coverage (normally found as a provision in your Director & Officers policy), and any “fiduciary warranty” typically don’t cover these situations fully and should be reviewed and monitored annually to make sure their provisions are adequate, properly worded, and understood.

If you are concerned about these issues and your plan’s compliance to them, you can have a private fiduciary audit performed by a fiduciary consultant or ERISA tax attorney to see how you may fare. Many practitioners in this area can be engaged to act as your plan’s oversight professional for just such a scenario.  The fee for this on an annual basis would be very small compared to the average fee the DoL issues for non-compliance (now up to $600,000) in just a single audit.  Certainly in this realm, an ounce of prevention is worth several pounds of cure.

Charles B. Blanton, Jr., CLU, ChFC, AIF, RF, GFS

Managing Partner

ECM Group, LLC

904-955-0853

buck@ecm-group.com

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Truss Bracing: A Framers Perspective


Truss Bracing: A Framers Perspective

What is truss bracing? If you have been staying up to date on our blog articles you should have a pretty solid understanding of what truss bracing is and what it does from the perspective of the designer. But if you haven’t, here is a quick recap: Truss bracing is additional, field installed, bracing that is specified by the design software to reinforce specific webs that need extra support to meet the loading and design requirements of the job.

What we are referring to are web braces which are typically displayed as the symbol shown below:

web-brace

A system of trusses may also require additional “bracing” specified by the EOR (Engineer of Record) such as gable bracing like this:

gable-end-brace

These details are typically found in the structural plans, and as a framer these are the easiest details to find and install, since they are related to nailing requirements and necessary hardware and clips that should be installed in order to satisfy shear transfer and drag loads. These are also the easiest pieces of reference for the building inspector to identify.

Bright, shiny clips and straps have a way of standing out against wood on a job site. Much more so than additional wood on top of the many directions of webs in a truss system like this:

i-brace

These pesky braces tend to be the most misunderstood and overlooked part of installing a truss system when it comes to completing a job, especially if the crew doing the work and the building inspector don’t know what they are looking for. When the trusses are delivered they leave behind a packet of paper that can be hundreds of pages with a layout on top. The layout is often peeled off and used for proper placement of the various trusses, but the rest of the packet showing the truss profiles and required web bracing is tossed aside and possibly not looked at again.

Alternative Solution

After all, who wants to shuffle through a couple hundred pages of paper looking for a few bracing symbols when you are trying to complete a job? Most of the time not every truss requires web bracing. One method I use is to spend the time sorting through the packet provided for the truss package in the comfort of my office and highlighting the truss bracing on every truss that needs web bracing. I also highlight the trusses on the layout that bracing must be applied to.

Only the highlighted layout and the truss profiles that require bracing are copied and sent to the job foreman as a supplemental packet to the entire bundle that is delivered to the job. This way my foreman has streamlined information that I have called specific attention to. With work on tract subdivision work I only have to do this once to make a master copy, I keep it in a binder along with other important information I want the foreman to be aware of and send it every time we build that plan and elevation. I understand how critical the truss bracing is and by doing this I have found that it actually get applied in the field!!!

Now as a framer, there tends to be a bias that once the truss design is complete and the truss calc package makes it to your hands it is set in stone, unless there is an error or repair necessary. However I like to review the truss calcs and work with the truss designer to eliminate as much bracing as possible to minimize missing bracing in the field.

Many times flipping a web or upgrading the web lumber can eliminate many of the braces that are specified through system default design without the designer spending much time on it. Revisions can be resubmitted to the EOR or city so everyone has the correct information. Often times just being able to provide a copy of the revised truss to the inspector on the job is enough.

Many times when bidding on a job, the approved truss supplier has not completed the truss design yet, so it is difficult to bid out truss bracing when I have no idea how many/what type are required. So paying attention to the total footage of lumber needed to complete the roof is very critical to being in budget. If the truss design is calling for hundreds of feet of bracing more than I have budgeted, you better believe the designers are going to be spending some time on the phone.

At the end of the day, primary goal in every design is to provide cost conscious solution to the customer, while providing a “framer friendly” solution to the end-user.

What are some of the ways you ensure your team understands and installs bracing correctly?

Utilizing an RFI in Truss Design


Utilizing an RFI in Truss Design

In April we posted an article discussing the importance of a designer being proactive in creating a Quality Assurance (QA) methodology that is integrated into their personal design process. This should help the designer make fewer mistakes, become more productive, and more valuable to his employer.

In considering the QA process how should we handle the gray areas that we come across in drawings? Let’s face it, many plans have less than the ideal amount of detail; differing wall heights aren’t called out, heel heights are left to the imagination, sometimes roof pitches aren’t indicated, load paths are not thought through, etc.

While a “Request for Information” (RFI) may be in order, we need to consider some other steps:

  • Slow down, step back, and re-engage
  • Ask another designer or your design manager
  • Consider the viability of a design based on the amount of solid evidence used in design decisions
  • Use “Verify” notes to point to any assumptions made
  • Send off the RFI for clarification/confirmation

An RFI form need not be complicated. A sample could resemble this:

rfi-form

Slowing down and even stepping away from the plans (maybe dropping and doing some push ups) before re-engaging with the plans, may allow you to catch that piece of information that you missed the first couple of times.

Ask for help

Often pride and an unwillingness to interrupt our coworkers can deter us from reaching out. Pride says figure it out on your own. Consider though, that even world-class athletes have coaches and you’ll realize that we all need help at times.

Those that reach out will progress. Concern over interrupting our co-workers is legitimate but we can also mitigate this concern by getting a list of questions together before asking for help. This will minimize interrupting their workflow.

Consider the evidence

I know, I know you went into truss design, not law, right? But you need to be able to ask yourself, am I making this design decision based on information that is verifiable from the plans or a reliable source? Or am I making this up based on what I think the architect wants?

The greater amount of decisions based on reliable sources, the more secure the design. You can even think of it in building terms. Evidence equals a foundation. No evidence equals a building without a foundation. Assumptions may or may not land upon a foundation. Building without a foundation can result in costly and time-consuming mistakes.

Is the job bid or production? If a bid, then there is greater leeway in the design, with less need to send an RFI for the less glaring or minor issues. Chances are the customer just wants to get a ballpark on cost before fine tuning their design. Here we can utilize “Verify” notes on the gray areas or conflicting information from the plans. Here is an example from a previous project, like so:

rfi-truss

This was a tough design to slog through because of the sheer amount of issues discovered. However, working through the plan thoroughly in the bid phase allows our client to work with their customers to resolve these issues so that a production quality design becomes viable.

Conclusion

After we have exhausted these options (or if this is a production design) then we need to send in the RFI. Sometimes a plan just won’t work as drawn. Or perhaps there is so much conflicting and/or missing information that the design could go divergent ways, in that case we need to reach out to the customer and bring them into the design decisions. For production we just don’t want to guess. If I interpret the plans one way, and the builder interprets it another we will end up with trusses that don’t fit the structure. This is a situation that no one wants.

What methodology do you all use in your design? How do you deal with those grey areas in plans? Let us know in the comments below.

Tim Hoke – Design Professional

Gould Design, Inc.

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