Fit For Purpose In Major Industrial Projects

There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the phrase ‘Fit for Purpose’ and how it applies to in major industrial projects.  This article will help the reader understand ‘Fit for Purpose’, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and how it is achieved on industrial projects. 

Fit For Purpose Principle

The term ‘fit for purpose’ describes the central tenant of quality, which is to design and build an output that meets the needs of the owner/receiver.  In manufacturing, provided what is sold has the advertised characteristics and performs as represented, it is up to the consumer to determine if something is fit for purpose.  This is different from industrial projects where the output must be defined by the owner (production level, maintenance strategy, level of automation, facility life, etc.) and engineered (construction drawings and specifications developed) in advance of being built.  

Fit For Purpose in Construction Projects

In industrial projects, the Owner defines the ‘Purpose’ of the project in a business case.  Industrial facilities are constructed to generate profit for their owners.  The completed facility must meet the business case requirements to ensure profit.  Business cases include forecasts of annual production, facility lifetime, profit, and a host of other targets.  It is prepared and approved by the Owner prior to releasing funds for the project.  The completed project must meet the owner business targets to be considered successful. 

The Engineer–Procure–Construct (EPC) process is used to support the Owners in their efforts to meet these targets.  The Owner-defined targets are typically supplemented by owner-provided design criteria and standards given to the Engineering team developing the design. 

Fit For Purpose in Construction

Fit For Purpose – Engineering

The engineering team develops a design that meets the owner’s business targets (owner requirements).  The engineered design is the definition of ‘Fit for Purpose’ for the project.  It must meet all owner criteria without exceeding any specific criteria by a significant amount.  Equipment and materials are evaluated and selected based on their alignment with the design.  There is typically construction input into the design during the engineering phase.  This helps the design support a streamlined construction effort.

Fit For Purpose – Suppliers (Procurement)

Equipment suppliers must deliver equipment that meets the engineering requirements, often defined in a data sheet that accompanies the purchase order/contract. Substitutions and deviations must be approved by the engineer responsible for the purchase. Failure to obtain approval can result in supplied materials and equipment that do not support the engineered design being incorporated into the project. Equipment with unapproved substitutions or deviations may not be ‘fit for use’. This can impact the project and also have post-project implications.

Fit For Purpose – Construction

Constructors must build the engineered design (allowing for Engineering-approved improvements) for their construction to be considered ‘Fit for Purpose’.  Experienced construction personnel are often able to deviate from the design requirements and achieve something that appears to be the same as what is required.  They may believe the work is ‘fit for purpose’.  It is not.  It is a non-conformance.  Fit for purpose is defined in the design documents and deviations must be approved prior to being implemented.  Only the engineer understands the implications of a deviation on the overall design and post-project operations.

If the constructors identify modifications to the design that would add value to the project (typically by decreasing cost or advancing the schedule), then they must alert Field Engineering personnel.  The Field Engineering team is obliged to review the suggestion and determine if it adds value and supports the existing ‘Fit for Purpose’ design.  They will involve the engineer of record when needed.  If the suggestion is approved, it is validated as ‘Fit for Purpose’ and will become part of the completed project.  If it is not approved for whatever reason, it is not ‘Fit for Purpose’.  Unapproved changes are not permitted and can result in rework.

Fit for Purpose – Quality Control

Quality Control (QC) does not define or modify ‘Fit for Purpose’ – in fact, their role is not impacted by it.  The QC inspector’s role is to compare the completed construction to the drawings and specifications and complete records of the inspection.  If the work is not aligned with the drawings or specifications, there must be an approval from the engineers for the deviation.  If there is no approval, the work must be redone.  There is no line in the inspection record where the QC inspector can say ‘Not as required but this will likely be good enough….’ or ‘Not as required but Fit for Purpose’. 

What is the definition of ‘Fit for Purpose’? 

In projects, it means that the project output is aligned with the business requirements and will perform as expected. It does not mean ‘good enough’ or ‘it should work because I have seen this done before.’

What is an example of ‘Fit for Purpose’? 

When a vehicle is purchased to tow a large boat, the vehicle has the towing capacity and weight to safely move the boat but is not capable of safely towing a significantly larger one.

What is ‘Fit for Purpose’ for a material supplier when there are no specifications?

A competent supplier will determine what the material is being used for. Based on their knowledge of standard practices, they should provide material that is an industry-standard grade for that application. For example, when concrete is ordered for a driveway, it should have the characteristics that are most often requested by technically competent customers.

If QC does not notice an issue, is it ‘Fit for Purpose’?

No, substitutions and deviations from requirements without prior approval are non-conformances and must be evaluated by the engineer of record to determine if they can be accepted.

What does it mean when something is ‘Not Fit for Purpose’? 

Not fit for purpose typically means that the equipment or material being used is incapable of meeting its intended purpose for safety, longevity, productivity, or other reasons.


Fit for purpose is fundamental to quality in projects and implementing a robust quality management system is the best way to ensure it is achieved consistently. It is monitored by the quality control and quality assurance teams. When equipment, materials, or a construction process is not fit for purpose, it should be evaluated using risk management to determine if it poses a significant hazard. The results of the risk review should guide the engineer in determining how to address the issue.

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