Another perspective on the "Winds of Change": Automation of Conduit Bending

There is an evolutionary cycle of innovation and disruption: technology advances, innovation occurs, processes adapt, and perceptions shift. Innovation is not limited; it is truly boundless. A new tool or material can only improve the outcome or system performance to the extent that the system allows. Innovation creates a new path, leads to new processes, and ultimately drives the Winds of Change (NRC, 2009, Page 20).
It is being forecast that the global construction industry will be investing increasing amounts of money, training, and resources on technology, hardware, and software, as well as the training to utilize it. What Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) and Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) systems have done for manufacturing, Building Information Modeling (BIM), CNC, and robotics are now doing for construction (Step 4 in Industrialization of Construction®, Modeling, and Simulation, Book One: The Here and Now – How to Be Competitive. 2015 MCA Inc., Daneshgari, Moore).
For more than a decade now, contractors have been implementing prefabrication facilities in their shops and fabrication sites on larger jobs. The trends now are shifting. Having BIM models (Figure 1, pg. 27) available to give more insight into the layout and installation of the components, specifically the conduit runs, far in advance of shipping material to the jobsite has opened new doors for proactive and progressive contractors aiming to reduce cost and risk and significantly improve the capacity of their business beyond the constraints of labor availability. With BIM layout and installation drawings available earlier, new tools are beginning to emerge that have been designed to take advantage of this earlier and more complete information. Specifically with conduit, we are seeing a slow but steady rise in both interest and follow-through to acquire and install large scale automated conduit bending, cutting, and threading equipment to support Externalized Work® from the job site.
Through the use of BIM, positioning systems, and automatic or semi-automatic conduit bending equipment, we now see these converging technologies are supporting the Industrialization of Construction® in conduit manipulation. This innovation will encourage processes to adapt and achieve significant savings in at least the following areas:

  1. Reduced material waste
  2. Improved labor effectiveness
  3. Reduced material handling costs
  4. Improved accuracy
  5. Better design and planning
  6. Fewer pieces of equipment to manage and maintain
  7. Reduced labor costs
  8. Improved safety
  9. Better labor balancing
Despite the seemingly insurmountable cost of full scale, high-end conduit benders, cutters, and threaders, we are seeing increasingly consistent results that indicate a mid- to large-sized electrical contractors can see an ROI in less than two years, and savings in the millions each year thereafter (Figure 2).
For a contractor that is purchasing 120,000 sticks of conduit for jobsite installation, the investment of over ¾ million dollars can be offset by externalizing the roughly 54,000 bends. There should be a potential labor savings as well as the efficiency improvement. Greenlee’s 1055 bender, for example, is capable of bending conduit in as little as 1/3 the time of a manual bend, utilizing a single operator earning 70% of the hourly rate of a qualified journeymen. Altogether, this brings the ROI to less than 2 years for a contractor doing roughly $100 million annually, or a distributor that wants to set up shop in a market that supports this same level of conduit installation.