Impact of Prefabrication on Industrial Construction Work

impact.gifWhen it comes to prefabrication (prefab) for electrical construction work, there are three types of attitude and answers that can be heard from the electricians:

  1. We can only prefab for standard items, and a maximum of 3-5 percent of the job can be prefabbed.
  2. Prefab is only for commercial and residential work and won’t work for industrial.
  3. Prefab takes our work away.

The reality is much different than that. Companies that have adopted the prefabrication philosophy have had to change their culture from the traditional skilled trade model to the Industrialized Construction model. The question is no longer, “what can we prefab?” but rather “what is it that we can’t prefab?”

Prefabrication is no longer a standalone approach to construction decided only by the “shop foreman” or “our prefab catalog.” It is no longer being identified by just the electricians and field people; it is a way of doing business. It follows the Industrialized Construction model by the application of Segregation and Externalizing Work®. When the challenge is looked at in this light, it is much easier to see the application in all types of work, especially industrial construction. Segregation of work starts by identifying what has to be done to complete the work on the job. The best method for this is Work Breakdown Structure (see Insights article “How to Manage Your Job Using Work Breakdown Structure,” September/October 2014). Once the work is made visible, it is possible to see hundreds of opportunities for externalizing it through prefabrication or use of other resources such as material and equipment suppliers. In addition, once the work is visible, it can be studied, modeled, and utilized to enhance the current building information models (BIM) with a dimension beyond just the physical building or built environment. Electrical contractors can maximize their productivity in the physical environment by planning and modeling what can be done where, by whom, and when.

This article focuses on the application of prefabrication for industrial work, by first answering the motivation for prefabbing, then explaining how to go about it on industrial projects, and finally how to go beyond prefab on one project to a full prefab process to support industrial and any other type of construction.


For any type of construction, the question has to be answered “Why should we prefab?” Typical answers include: Saving hours, saving labor cost, lowering the estimate to win the job, or because the material is cheaper. Prefab can have impact on all of these; however, none of them are the primary motivators. Prefab is about reducing risk, and industrial work often involves more risk than other types of work. For example, industrial work typically has higher technical requirements, more stringent safety regulations and protocols, tighter time constraints, and more complicated working conditions. Figure 1 shows benefits of using prefab. None of these have to do with hours, the estimate, etc.

Consider the following reasons to prefab:

  • Eliminates the negative impacts of weather and other trades if you:
    • Plan
    • Measure it
    • Make it visible
    • Fix issues
    • Learn
  • Provides an avenue for quicker learning
  • Stabilizes man-loading on projects
    • Labor can go from prefab (planning phase) to the jobsite
    • Provides a buffer for the “peaks and valleys of work” that impact the labor pool
  • Creates ownership in the job early on
  • Reduces mistakes and rework
  • Allows for correct billing