Winds of Change: Industrialization of Construction

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The current symptoms of skilled labor shortage, faster-paced jobs, lower margins, and pressure from global competition are only signals of the times to come. It is not going to let up, and construction is never going to go back to what it was. So, the question is how to cope with it. We first introduced how to go about this with an article published in February 2017 in Insights, "Winds of Change and the Event Horizon" (www.ieci.org/newsroom-and-insights/winds-of-change-and-the-event-horizon). This article explains what happens when industries go through industrialization. Textiles, farming, automotive, and other skilled-trade-intensive industries have expanded significantly and kept up with increasing customer demands by following five steps which will be explained in this article.

Industrialization of Construction®

Industrialization is one of three shifts that will happen during the transformation and growth of an industry. The three shifts that are occurring simultaneously in construction are Industrialization, Disruption, and Market Shift. Industrialization can only happen through changes in the management of business operations. Factors that have driven industrialization in other industries are having the same impact on construction today. Much like changes in refinement of oil combined with improved compression ratios allowed internal combustion engines to replace steam engines; today, we see the introduction of prefabrication and enhanced computer modeling are currently impacting the construction industry. Overall, the changes that constitute industrialization include any or all of the following:

  • Management of Labor
  • Management of Work
  • Lean Operations
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Feedback From the Source

Management of Labor

The starting point for the Industrialization of an industry is management of labor. This means understanding what the skilled trade labor does to go from a hole in the ground to an energized building. Electricians are trained and enjoy making electrical systems function, and very often have to improvise to make this happen on jobsite environments. But, as Frederick Taylor (the pioneer of this first step in industrialization) said, "The labor cannot possibly DO the work and find ways to MANAGE it at the same time" (Ref. Taylor, Frederick (1911) The Principles of Scientific Measurement). Therefore, management's job is to understand what the labor is doing, so they can help manage it more effectively. An example of this is shown in Figure 1. This was a photo taken during a job walk where the foreman was explaining that the bends in the feeder conduit were not in the BIM model or drawings, and happened because the cores in the slab were poured in a way that was going too cause these offsets. This "work" was a pain for the electricians, and cost the company money due to unplanned time spent. But it would not be possible to see this without the insights of the onsite labor.

Management of Work

Management of work goes hand in hand with management of the labor, but it is not the same thing. Managing the work begins with understanding the work required, and what it looks like in fine enough detail that each person involved will now see and expect the same thing. This means that the work space, the tools, the equipment, and all the needed material are properly prepared, cleaned, and delivered to the required place at the time needed. The most important piece about understanding “Management of work” is recognizing that the work is far more than the installation; it is everything that must occur for the proper installation to happen safely, efficiently, and timely.

Management of work begins with management of information about the work. Details relating to the work to be performed; how the work is to be completed; and who does what, when, and where are all critical aspects of well-managed pro