In construction, as in warfare, success hinges on logistics. Project Managers need to juggle not only people and supplies, but also the needs of independent contractors and clients. Add in layers of compliance and safety checks, plus the wildcard of weather, and suddenly “lean methodology” seems downright abstract when it butts heads with on-site realities.
Today, we’re taking a break from theory and talking about a lean tactic that works. Prefabrication is an elegantly simple answer applied to an age-old problem: how to streamline on-site construction of necessary components.
Here are the basics:
You’re building a walk-up apartment building. Each unit requires plumbing, ventilation, and a host of other “behind the scenes” work. The plumbing for each unit is also approximately the same.
Traditionally, bringing the plumbers out for however many trips were needed was an extra layer of coordination and expense. They had to bring out the materials, go back for more, liaison with other trades, etc.
So why not centralize? Having all the materials in one place means less time wasted travelling and buzzing around a crowded construction site.
Being able to do most of the work ahead of time means that the drywallers aren’t twiddling their thumbs and waiting. When the units are ready to be plumbed, the units are brought over, secured, and onto the next step.
We do our best, but even the most controlled worksite is a gauntlet of objective hazards. Every additional variable we introduce, including the parade of independent contractors with their own timelines and agendas, complicates safety.
Prefab happens in controlled environments. In a warehouse, there’s far less falling debris, or random nails, or rainstorms than on-site.
Improving safety is one of the leanest things a construction firm can do. Besides the obvious improvement to worker well-being and morale, it notches down insurance costs and elevates your company’s reputation, which leads to smoother hiring.
Being environmentally friendly isn’t a feel-good exercise. Kaizen’s central tenant is reducing waste. Saving waste = less energy consumption, fewer materials, and ultimately fewer dollars flushed away.
Prefabbing doesn’t rely on ad-hoc solutions thrown together on-site. It allows for the deeper planning required to utilize more energy-efficient and recycled materials. The higher initial cost of these materials is rapidly offset by your ability to add long-term value to your project with them (not to mention increase your business’ “green” reputation overall).
Prefabrication is neither fad nor theory. Popularized out of necessity after the 2009/10 recession, it’s become standard practise for savvy firms hustling to get ahead. Like all innovations that are absorbed into an industry, it’s quickly moving from “bonus” to “mandatory” in order to maintain solid profitability.
Fortunately for you, by now, the kinks of prefabbing have been worked out. There are ample best practices for firms who are new to prefabrication to follow (or brush up on). When done strategically, it’s a tactic that works in a big way.
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
– Winston Churchill