Pushing the Boundaries of Innovation
Merit Electrical, Inc. is a privately held corporation, and a leader in specialty instrumentation and electrical contracting, undertaking various projects across the United States. Merit has been established since 1990.
Merit serves customers in industries such as refining, petrochemical, power generation, manufacturing, and pulp & paper, as well as mining. Customers such as Shell Refining, TPCO America, Santee Cooper, and Holcim come to rely on Merit Electrical for its electrical, instrumentation, technical services, and system integration.
“We were acquired by a very diverse company that ranks among ENR’s Top 400 Contractors securing multi-million dollar projects,” explained Senior Vice President Tracy Hollier. “This added to our financial strength in bonding capacity and share resources, in addition to allowing Merit Electrical access to cutting-edge technology and systems.”
These efforts have been validated by numerous awards including a recent Technology Award at Viewpoint’s 2017 Collaborate User Conference. “We are thrilled to honor these tech-savvy, forward-thinking companies,” said Manolis Kotzabasakis, CEO Viewpoint. “These clients are shining examples of Viewpoint’s mission to transform the construction industry with integrated processes and technology across office, team and field.”
Significant investments have been made to set Merit Electrical apart from its competition. Merit recently launched a quick response code (QR code) system for training certifications. This was in response to clients consistently feeling like they are not getting a workforce that is skilled and certified to perform their assigned task. In 2017, the company and its affiliates received an innovation award from construction industry magazine ENR Midwest for its QR code initiative, which acknowledged the transparency that it provides to the company and clients alike.
“Each employee is issued their own QR code. They have stickers on their hard hats that enable the quick scan from any smartphone to show the certifications the employee has. Even authorized clients can walk up to one of our employees and verify their skills, training and certifications,” said Hollier. Efforts like these are paying off greatly for Merit Electrical.
Additional investments have been made in training to reinforce standards of safety, quality and reliability. The safety culture at Merit Electrical is impressive. It has in-house Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outreach trainers, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) instructors, and scheduled weekly safety inspections, as well as having safe practices built into its operations.
“Merit is a certified NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research) training facility. Not only do we train our employees, but we verify each employee’s skill level and work on specific gaps to get them to the next level. Travelling craft often lack the opportunity to complete their certifications as they move from project to project and cannot attend classes in a traditional setting. Merit is attacking this problem head on in two ways: a mobile training facility and Project Managers that are NCCER certified trainers to conduct training after work hours on the jobsite. Offering the opportunity to attend classes in the mobile facility proves to be very attractive to employees during recruitment. For many, certifications can be completed concurrently with Merit Electrical’s projects. Currently 57 percent of Merit’s project managers are NCCER Certified Trainers in their field.
However, Merit’s focus is “not just on craft training, but an even deeper commitment and investment in our supervisors,” explained Hollier.
She admits that there are challenges in securing skilled labor. “The craft is there, but they want to work for a good supervisor that treats them fair and shows genuine leadership. Our supervisors are the key to recruiting but also retaining the craft. If you don’t have a good supervisor, then the employee will not follow him/her, and they will inevitably leave the organization.”
Merit Electrical focuses on training its supervisors in the technical aspects of the job as well as the human facets of leadership and management. Supervisors can attend construction management classes, PM Boot Camp, and also attend Yates University. Yates University is offered for high potential employees and includes three days per month for nine months building their skills with other project managers across the company.
“Having the ability to confer with other project managers throughout the company is a tremendous opportunity for me. In addition, Yates Construction’s CEO, William Yates, participates in many of the classes I attend. I have been in the industry for 19 years and I have never been associated with a company that has such strong commitment to helping their employees grow,” said Brandon White, Merit Electrical Project Manager.
“We see that a lot of investment is actually working, so it’s exciting to see such a strong [return on investment] on the effectiveness of it,” Hollier explained.
Not resting on its laurels, the goal for Merit Electrical in 2018 will be to improve the company’s understanding of the industry and the technological advancements that are affecting operations, to improve service in a way that will better address the needs of its customers. It will focus on continuous advancement through investments in artificial intelligence (AI), training and communication systems.
“We’ve got new technology centered on AI data and machine data. Our manufacturing plants are going into high-tech modes to track their efficiencies, and that actually puts in place a prescribed or prescriptive maintenance approach for them. So as our clients are getting more data, we need to be able to understand that data and offer responsive solutions to them as it relates to their electrical and instrumentation in the prescribed maintenance methodology,” explained Hollier.
In 2018, Merit Electrical will be assisting Tianjin Pipe (Group) Corporation through TPCO America with constructing a $1 billion dollar state-of-the-art seamless steel pipe manufacturing facility on a 253-acre site east of Gregory, Texas. When completed, the TPCO America facility will be the largest single investment by a Chinese company in a U.S. manufacturing facility.
Other impressive projects Merit Electrical will be performing this coming year are centered on anticipated regulatory changes associated with the coal fire power industry.
“We’ve got a really big push right now in power generation with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations,” Hollier noted.
Many power generators are already evaluating converting to dry bottom ash systems, assuming that EPA will rule coal ash non-hazardous. Plants still using ponds to store ash by-product have important choices to make as they look to replace wet systems with dry alternatives. Merit is assisting clients currently in South Carolina with making these tremendous upgrades as well as associated construction to assist with water-redirect and water treatment as a method of discontinuing using ash ponds.
Certainly, the future for Merit Electrical is rich with possibility. As Hollier said, “To remain stagnant and not evolve with our clients would be the greatest failure. It is our mission to ensure we are progressing with technology. It’s really about focusing on where we want to go with our business, where we want to be in twenty years and what that would look like.”