Chapter Corner

FABRICATION: The Productivity Advantage

Posted in: Features, September/October 2018

Building on the jobsite has always had productivity challenges. Clash, material mismanagement, adverse weather conditions, injuries, wasted motion, and many other factors lead to inefficiencies that cost you time and money. And as a result, generally speaking, less than 50 percent of time on the jobsite is productive. That means less than half your employees’ time is spent contributing to a job’s profit margin.
 
The answer to the productivity puzzle is to remove as much work from the jobsite as possible. As costs increase, it will become more and more crucial for you to realize productivity gains. We’ve all heard of “prefabrication,” the growing solution to increasing margins and reducing jobsite inefficiencies.
 
I refer to it as fabrication instead of prefabrication because there is nothing “pre” about it. It is performing the work in a controlled environment. But no matter what you call it, this manufacturing method helps optimize productivity
by avoiding uncontrollable factors, saving time, lowering the risk of injuries, minimizing material waste, and more.
 
CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT
 
Every jobsite is an uncontrollable environment. Contractors face inefficiencies caused by labor shortages, inclement weather, accidents or injuries, incorrect or broken materials, absenteeism, and other factors. There is no limit to the things that can go wrong on a job site. 
 
A fabrication facility, on the other hand, is a controlled environment with built-in efficiencies, such as established workstations and safer working conditions. This controlled environment minimizes uncontrollable factors by helping your employees know exactly what to expect, where to report, and what to do every day. Workers have all the resources they need within a few paces or an arm’s reach. Because the same employees are performing the
same jobs in a fabrication shop, it is easier to maintain consistent quality and expertise throughout various jobs.
 
DECREASE WASTE IN MOTION
 
Fabrication increases efficiency by decreasing waste in motion. When tools, equipment, restrooms, and drinking water are in close proximity to an employee, there’s less time traveling to needed items and a lower risk of injury because there’s less motion. Cutting back on unproductive labor has a substantial effect on your bottom line; after all, labor management is the biggest factor in whether a job is a profit or a loss. Profit margins double when labor is reduced by just 10 percent.
 
Let’s use a $40/hour labor rate as our example. If a worker must go up and down a ladder to measure and bend conduit, they may make 25 eight-second trips in an hour. If a crew has 50 employees that make these trips every workday, it adds up to 5,555 labor hours per year, or a cost of $222,222. That’s an annual cost of $222,222 spent just on climbing up and down ladders. The time spent going up and down a ladder is valueless time that could be spent more productively.
 
When you think about other wasted motion, such as bending to the floor, walking to tools, etc., you realize how much labor is squandered on the jobsite. By optimizing workstations and ensuring necessary tools and daily supplies are within easy reach, a fabrication shop removes this labor inefficiency.
 
TOOLS AFFECT LABOR
 
Another key to boosting labor  productivity is to invest in quality ergonomic tools. The right tools keep people working more safely. Because workers who use ergonomic tools are generally less prone to injury, they can complete full shifts and work their entire careers, if they so desire. Ergonomically designed tools have a direct result on productivity and workers’ health.
 
Many electrical workers experience joint problems, tendinitis, carpal tunnel, torn rotator cuffs, and other injuries caused by performing repetitive tasks, both in fabrication shops and on jobsites. This physical toll adds up over time and can result in time away from work, workers’ compensation claims, and other costs.
 
There is a solution. Equipment that is designed from an ergonomics standpoint allows the electrician to work in an upright position, reduces force, and virtually eliminates repetitive motion. Battery-powered equipment – especially battery-powered hydraulic equipment – allows workers to generate a tremendous amount of crimping force in seconds, just by pulling a trigger (Figure 1).
 
There will always be occasional needs for manual tools, but battery-powered tools with an ergonomic design are a safe alternative for workers who perform the repetitive tasks often found in fabrication shops. These battery-powered tools are portable, self-contained, prevent injury, and save time by exerting force efficiently.
 
SAFETY

Ergonomic tools aren’t the only way to mitigate the risk of injuries. By simply avoiding the jobsite, workers stay safer. Injuries are a major productivity threat that fabrication shops help combat through substantial safety advantages.
 
Because the fabrication environment is controlled, there is less exposure to factors that cause injuries. Generally speaking, workers are in a manufacturing facility without slip hazards, poor lighting, adverse weather
conditions, or other safety issues.
 
Thanks to their innate productivity, fabrication shops need fewer employees. This lower head count translates to fewer workers’ compensation claims.
 
And because they fabricate components efficiently, workers don’t need to spend as much time on the jobsite. Your crew’s risk of injury is further reduced because their time on the jobsite is shortened.
 
Fewer injuries also mean an improved Experience Modification Rate (EMR). The EMR takes your business’ past cost of injuries into account when measuring future chances of risk. The lower your EMR, the lower your insurance premiums. An EMR that’s too high results in elevated insurance costs and may exclude you from bidding on jobs. By avoiding jobsite dangers and working in a fabrication shop, you minimize injury risk and can lower your EMR.
 
MATERIAL MANAGEMENT
 
Conduit waste is one of the biggest misuses of material and labor rework on the jobsite. When bending, the first piece is a “test” piece that usually becomes scrap. This is generally accepted in the trade, but with the advent of Building Information Modeling (BIM), there’s no longer a need for the wasted time and material. By using BIM software that models conduit runs and calculates bends, you can avoid substantial material loss. Bending software ensures that the first piece of conduit is usable by measuring and cutting correctly.
 
It typically takes a worker 24 minutes to calculate, measure, mark, and manually make a bend. A bender takes about two minutes to perform these steps. Think of a three-point saddle bend: this is a complex bend and it can take a few attempts to get the height and angle right, resulting in a lot of waste. A bender utilizing a BIM
file can do it more quickly and without errors to save material, time, and labor.
 
An intelligent bender uses the information in a BIM file to bend the conduit in any simple or complex bends that the user selects. This BIM file has information about the project, conduit type and size, and the right bender. Most importantly, it contains pre-calculated mark values and angles. By no longer manually measuring, marking, or making the bend, non-value added work and capacity for human error are eliminated.
 
AVOID CLASH
 
BIM software not only reduces material waste and saves labor time, it also prevents jobsite delays caused by clash.
 
Clash is an ongoing headache on the jobsite. When electrical space needs are underestimated, there isn’t room to run conduit around ductwork. Engineers are forced to redesign the space, resulting in downtime when nothing gets done. This results in delayed completion dates and profit loss.
 
BIM software that supports the electrical industry allows contractors to perform a clash detection simulation to troubleshoot conduit runs before ductwork is even installed. When a problem is detected, it’s more efficient
to alter a model than it is to redo work on the jobsite. This added efficiency results in quicker project completions. 
 
BIM’s available built-in error checking also creates more trust in the fabrication shop. The universal BIM reader program, Navisworks®, maximizes productivity by fostering communication among architects, designers, modelers, jobsite foremen, fabrication teams, contractors, and BIM coordinators. With a properly implemented BIM process, contractors finish the job efficiently and maximize profit by minimizing material loss while saving time.
 
EMBRACE THE PROCESS
 
Fabrication is your solution to productivity challenges. This manufacturing method reduces jobsite inefficiencies while growing healthy profit margins. By moving as many tasks as you can from the jobsite to your fabrication facility, you keep your business competitive, sustainable, and prepared for whatever challenges come your way next.
 
Joel Smith is the Director of Strategic Contractor Relations for Greenlee. During his nearly 23 years with Greenlee, Joel has toured more than 100 fabrication shops in the U.S. and Canada. Learn more about Greenlee by visiting www.greenlee.com.