The narrative around industrialized construction tells you that things could be built better for less money. It says you can have more efficient workflows, you can minimize your inventory, you can reduce the number of workers you need on a jobsite and improve safety in this dangerous industry called construction.
But change is painful. Industrialized construction does not come with a recipe book or an instruction manual. Unless they have deep pockets, many companies are unsure about how or where to start.
Those who have been through the process advise there are two processes you can change:
1. Move certain activities offsite – Instead of having to invest in a full factory setup, maybe initially certain tasks can be moved under a roof offsite or even inside a large tent adjacent to the jobsite. You can gradually begin to adopt factory-type processes, one of which is elevating work to a height that reduces bending, stretching, twisting, and awkward positions when people are working. The ROI is greater safety.
Another benefit of working offsite is the improvement in efficiency. Fewer people will be struggling for space to do their part of the job. The ROI is shorter timelines and compressed schedules.
2. Enable multiple trades to work together – Whether they are in a tent or in a fabrication environment, having mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection trades working together provides the greatest return on investment. It eliminates the number of people onsite and reduces the number of trade handlers.
If you’re new to industrialized construction, it’s good to minimize the disruption to your workflow. When you make it easy for multiple stages of work to be conducted in parallel, rather than linear, you can create higher order assemblies offsite then install them as a unit on the jobsite. Small steps like this allow people to get comfortable with the process.
To be successful at industrialized construction, companies need to make a shift in mindset. The two relevant mindsets are:
1. Project economics – This dictates that everything has to pay for itself on the job. The ROI relies on positive cash flow on all portions of the project to increase its profitability.
2. Factory economics – With any factory scenario, there is an investment up front. It takes time to ramp up and get it running in an efficient manner. The ROI is realized when you maximize the throughput of finished products going out the door.
Then there are two common misconceptions to be overcome:
1. Quality problems? – This is fear generated by people who want to protect the status quo. When things are built in a controlled offsite environment, you have better opportunities to provide higher quality work.
2. Instant ROI? – Since it takes time to build up a workflow and efficiency, there is no instant gratification. The schedule savings come early; the cost savings come later. Most existing companies are better off to adopt IC in bite-sized chunks. Get good at one thing, then add another.
Sage advice from those who have been there: Be prepared for things to be different. New tools and new processes are bound to be inefficient until they are mastered.