“They have to believe in it,” he said. “To even get into prefab,
project managers have to decide this will be their new mindset.”
A well-organized operation will bring foremen and project
managers together at the onset of each job to evaluate the work,
determine the prefabrication opportunities and build those
expectations in the project-planning phase.
This can be done with such software and tools as computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM)
to help with drawing and coordination for the installation.
A prefab shop ensures construction work doesn’t entirely
shut down when weather conditions interfere.
“Employees can still come in and
work,” Elles said.
It also enables on-the-job training for four-year apprenticeships, so
workers can learn on the job while
still in the warehouse.
For contractors with long transportation issues, prefab shops are
being set up in 18-wheeler units on-site, which may cost extra money
initially but will still save money in
the long run by keeping equipment fabrication moving.
“You can prefab anything,” Elles said. “Here in Houston, I’ve
seen contractors install prefabbed duct banks.”
The duct bank work was done in-house; a crane lifted them
from a truck and dropped them directly into the trench. Elles
said that a transformer has about 45 parts in it, and that work
can be done at the warehouse and sent out to the job site where
it can be quickly installed.
Elles said it typically takes his contractor clients about two
weeks to get a warehouse area in operation, which is the case
for any size contractor. Then, each job must start with preplanning, agreement on what will be prefabbed, and encouragement
to the foreman on the job site to work closely with the prefab
shop throughout the project.
If something goes wrong in the prefab shop, getting the first
pieces out quickly helps identify the problem before it snowballs.
Small companies with $5 million in annual revenue can gain,
too, with a smaller prefab shop and two electricians on-site
rather than a half dozen or more as the larger contractors tend
to have. Elles said he’s seen businesses set up a 25-by-25-foot
area with a single electrician and still save a significant amount
of money on a project.
Anything that’s done in repetition—nine times or more—is a
candidate for in-house prefab work, said Bill Heilner, vice president of field operations at Romanoff Electric Co., Toledo, Ohio.
The company’s warehouse has a full prefab operation with six
or seven electricians on-site working in the modularization of
each project’s individual pieces.
Romanoff uses its prefab operation for every project, and
about 40–60 percent of the material on each job site has been
prefabbed. The company assembles
everything from electrical boxes to
lighting fixtures and moves the goods
on a timed basis to the job site, reduc-
ing the amount of staging inventory
on-site by making it as needed and
transporting it accordingly.
Moving prefab goods can be one
of the greater challenges contrac-
tors face, and it grows exponentially
more difficult if the distance from
the prefab shop to the job site is long.
Unless the company wants to set up
a prefab operation on-site—which most don’t—transportation
cost has to be considered, as does moving a variety of uniquely
shaped goods in a container or on the back of a truck. Romanoff
manufactures its own pallets that are specialized to transport
specific items for each job.
“One of the biggest issues as far as shipping is making sure
nothing gets damaged,” Heilner said.
The pallets are designed with this in mind, making the items
as easy to load and stack as possible. In addition, they have to
be easy to unpack. That means including the necessary offload-ing equipment, such as a forklift, to get the goods off the truck,
unpacked and ready for installation.
“We make sure that, once it hits the job site, it will be easy
to install,” he said.
The company can also use standard shipping containers for
a large percentage of its work.
Even with transportation costs factored in, “we’re still looking at a cost savings,” Heilner said.
That’s in part because prefabbing the material cuts down
on on-site manpower. However, it does not reduce jobs for the
A well-organized operation will
bring foremen and project managers
together at the onset of each job to
evaluate the work, determine the
prefabrication opportunities and
build those expectations in
the project-planning phase.