Construction experts with innovative engineering solutions
By Rajitha Sivakumaran
When friends Joe Di Placito and Ziad Boustany completed their civil engineering degree from the University of British Columbia in 2005, they entered the job market with an enthusiasm to really learn the trade. Within two years, they made an interesting discovery that would take them down the path to entrepreneurship.
Traditionally, many engineering firms didn’t offer construction management services that sent their people directly into the field. Armed with civil engineering know-how and work experience in construction, Di Placito and Boustany decided to create a business model that would marry the two disciplines. Out of this emerged RAM Engineering Ltd in 2007, with staff that are not only knowledgeable engineers but are construction experts as well.
“We are both fairly entrepreneurial and we wanted to start something even though we didn’t know at the time exactly what services or form it would take. We wanted to create something of our own and create a culture and atmosphere that we can heavily influence,” said Di Placito.
Ten years later, this Vancouver-based company has grown impressively into a specialized design and construction management firm. Its service portfolio ranges from civil and electrical engineering to project controls. No matter what a client needs, whether it be Design, Project Management, or Construction Management; RAM has the experts to do it.
“We can offer value to clients because, whereas typical engineering firms usually focus on design, we have a real understanding of how a project is going to get built and how it’s being put together in the field,” Boustany said.
The company’s abilities have not gone unnoticed, which is why its clientele includes big players like BC Hydro, Fortis BC, JV Driver International, WorleyParsons, Fraser Transportation Group Partnership and more.
Keys to Success: People and Innovation
People go a long way towards the success of RAM. Since it was started by two friends, there is already great communication flow at the executive level. “Our friendship is a big thing,” said Di Placito. “We knew we wanted to work together. We worked together well in the past and went to school together, and it was something that we wanted to continue.”
The backbone of any company is the workforce, and both founders spoke of their employees with pride. “Our people are giving us the edge,” said Di Placito. “We’ve been able to create some great relationships with our clients, trusted relationships, where there is honest communication.”
Through these relationships, RAM has managed some of the largest P3 projects in B.C. The South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) is one such example. As an extension of Metro Vancouver’s Highway 17, this 40-km-long, four-lane expressway is a project that the company holds close to its heart, according to Boustany.
With a construction cost amounting to $700 Million, RAM’s team worked in collaboration with a number of other companies to bring their expertise in construction management and technical design (earthworks and utilities) to the table. The three-year project was completed in December, 2013, six months ahead of schedule and under budget.
Di Placito spoke of the innovation RAM provided for the project: “We were able to use new products and different methods of construction that were perhaps not done in highway construction,” he said, adding that adopting best practices from previous experiences in other industries and using them in a highway setting
allowed for successful completion.
The project is an important one for Vancouver and surrounding regions. Since the SFPR connects to various highways and the Golden Ears Bridge, it has effectively eliminated heavy truck traffic from local roads and increased access to industrial areas and trade routes. Areas within the region are also enjoying reduced travel time. The project was even certified by the Greenroads Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that develops sustainable roadway design and construction best practices. It was the first major Canadian project to receive this recognition.
RAM is currently collaborating with BC Hydro and the City of Vancouver on another major project. Working in the downtown core of Vancouver, the team is moving overhead BC Hydro electrical wires and transformers to an underground system. The project is a huge challenge, says Boustany, due to congestion in the city’s utility corridors. Di Placito adds that despite the difficult nature of the work, his staff is finding it to be a highly interesting experience.
“We are able to provide unique ideas that perhaps in an industry like civil engineering, which is thousands of years old, is slow to adopt. We are able to suggest new ideas to clients that haven’t been done before or is a variation of something that has been done in the past,” Di Placito said, adding that innovation is one of the drivers fuelling the company’s success.
The company uses innovation to ensure sustainability too. Construction by nature can be invasive, but engineering firms like RAM are incorporating best practices in regards to the environment into every project. For the SFPR project, for instance, RAM built fish ladders and retention ponds and modified existing culverts to make them fish-friendly.
Presently the company is engaged in a gas line project with WorleyParsons. With help from an environmental engineer, one of the team’s priorities is to identify ways of avoiding deleterious effects to the natural habitat. That includes using alternative construction methodologies like trenchless drilling in environmentally sensitive areas. Restoration—putting things back in an even better spot than they were in prior to construction—is another key focus at RAM.
The B.C. landscape is changing and new infrastructure trends are emerging, and Di Placito and Boustany put pride in their company’s ability to be adaptable and responsive to industry needs. Their focus right now is to continue engaging in the infrastructure development that is happening all around while simultaneously growing RAM.