6 Minute Read
December 17, 2019
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.
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.
Western Allied Mechanical is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s leading mechanical contractors. As its business grew, it relied on Trimble Viewpoint’s cloud-based Spectrum ERP solution, part of the connected Trimble Construction One suite of solutions, 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.
Randy Frietas, the company’s sheet metal superintendent, noted that Western Allied uses Spectrum to manage productivity tracking across its prefabrication operations. “We’re looking at things like how many pounds per hour, square feet per hour or how many pieces per hour,” he said. “I can go onto Spectrum, get the full inventory of what was charged to each job and I can check them against the hours — how many hours were spent for each task.”
This level of in-house tracking lets the company easily adjust tasks, workflows or materials to meet demands, and identify areas where processes need to be improved. The real-time data that Spectrum provides helps the company keep work moving at all times and able to meet extended project needs on the jobsites.
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.
Working in controlled environments and utilizing leading-edge software to streamline workflows and closely track progress has helped many contractors smartly grow their operations. When the current downturn passes, more and more contractors will likely be looking to add their own prefabrication processes.
When that happens, Viewpoint is here to help. Find out how the Trimble Construction One suite automates processes, provides better project data and makes work easier for all construction roles. For your exclusive look, contact us today!