Construction Best Practices

Tracking Prefabrication Productivity

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Construction Worker Building New Materials
Many electrical and mechanical contractors today utilize prefabrication shops to build out project materials in a controlled environment rather than on the jobsite.

Why Controlled Construction Environments are More Important than Ever and How Contractors are Using Technology to Gain Efficiency

Prefabrication of materials used in construction is not a new concept. For years, specialty contractors like electrical, mechanical and plumbing firms have operated workshops where materials can be assembled and readied for easy installation on projects out in the field. In recent years, however, more and more general, heavy highway and civil contractors have also embraced the idea of prefabrication and modular design facilities.

Today, as the construction industry as a whole is faced with the potential of a new reality spurred by COVID-19, the benefits of these prefabrication and modular design facilities might be even more important than ever for contractors. Those newer to the concept of prefabrication can look to both the successes that specialty contractors have had and the technologies being used to streamline these processes.

The Case for Prefabrication

Construction Workers Working On-Site
More and more general contractors are using prefabrication techniques to build modular pieces of buildings - installing them later as whole pieces on the jobsite.

Prefabrication allows contractors more control by implementing uniform processes to parts of the project that can be standardized, like assembling parts of materials in a warehouse rather than on a rainy jobsite.

The modular and prefabricated strategy mitigates on-site variables of weather, traffic, terrain, theft and more while moving the work into a controlled environment connected to technology, material sourcing and project data. As modularization continues to advance, this is another area ripe for future technology innovation and application.

These prefabrication processes have typically boosted overall project productivity and deliverability. And they’ve allowed project managers and other key stakeholders a (generally) single location to oversee progress, quickly spot design flaws or errors before they affect the larger project, and ensure tighter control over labor hours, material usage and waste, equipment and machinery performance and much more.

All of the above are ingredients in the prefabrication recipe ensure crews remain more productive, but contractors still have to measure productivity. That’s why many are leaning on integrated, cloud-based construction management solutions to track work done not just on the jobsites — but in pre-fabrication shops as well.

Real-world Examples

Western Allied Mechanical Works on Piping
A welder with Western Allied Mechanical works on piping at the company's sheet metal and piping shop.

Western Allied Mechanical is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s leading mechanical contractors. As its business grew, it relied on Viewpoint’s cloud-based Spectrum ERP solution, part of the integrated ViewpointOne suite, to connect its office and field teams with real-time data intelligence, powerful construction and service management workflows and detailed job and productivity tracking across the organization and its many projects.

In the company’s machine shop, across the street from its corporate headquarters, the company employees union pipefitters and sheet metal workers to conduct a lot of the company’s prefabrication work. These teams work on creating and assembling everything from heavy duct work to boilers to intricate piping systems so they are ready to install once they arrive at jobsites.

Worker on an Electrical Production Line at Pieper Houston
A worker on an electrical production line at Pieper Houston's on-site facility.

Another Spectrum user, Pieper Houston Electric, is one of the largest electrical contractors in the Houston metropolitan area. Paula Hansen, Pieper Houston’s CFO, said that company has relied on Spectrum to help it grow from the beginning. “We do all of our accounting, our project management and run our service company with work orders through Spectrum.”

When Pieper Houston started its own prefabrication facility for assembling a lot of its electrical materials, it relied on Spectrum to help track productivity and progress as well.

Additionally, the company uses Spectrum’s inventory functionality and applies item codes to its purchased materials for better financial and job cost tracking. “We’re able to track items, the cost of the items, and the frequency with which we buy them. We’re also able to track which project they are going to using phase codes. These are really important to us with material and labor,” said Aaron Thomas, the company’s accounting assistant.

Posted By

Andy is Marketing Content & PR Manager at Viewpoint. He has worked in the construction software arena since 2011. Previously, he netted multiple awards as a newspaper and trade media editor.