48 ELECTRICALCONTRACTOR | APR. 16 | WWW.ECMAG.COM
> FOCUS KEEPING IT IN-HOUSE
company’s electricians. Instead, they
secure more projects by using this
methodology, increasing staff overall
which includes the employees working at the prefab shop.
The transition for electricians has
been hardest for veterans who tend
to resist change, so adjusting them to a different culture takes
some time. Getting communication and documentation to
ensure the work is being done properly is another major factor.
“I think, in the beginning, there was a real learning curve to
it, but over the last 1½– 2 years it’s been going pretty smooth,”
Other subcontractors, such as sprinkler installers, had been
doing prefab work even before electricians got in on the action.
“The biggest thing for us is we can meet an accelerated
schedule with less risk of injuries and less congestion on the
work site,” he said.
O’Connell Electric, Victor, N. Y., started looking into offering a prefab option to customers a few years ago, said Victor
Salerno, CEO. He said O’Connell was dabbling in it even though
no customer had specifically asked for prefab services.
Salerno said he saw it as a strategic advantage. Although
prefab services are still somewhat new to the area’s construction industry, they are becoming more common.
“We don’t have any choice,” Salerno said. “We have to be as
competitive as possible.”
Last year, O’Connell won the Great Meadows Correctional
Facility renovation project in Comstock, N. Y. It was the oppor-
tunity to put its new prefab operations to the test.
Undertaking construction work in an active, maximum
security facility includes tight security checks and clearance
requirements for each electrician, making it time-consuming
to get workers in and out of the site. By implementing the prefab process and working closely with the client, much of the
work can be performed off-site, yet still meet expectations and
reduce the need to move many electricians through that security process.
“Two-way communication and an understanding of the
entire prefab process from project award to completion is the
key,” Salerno said.
As the design and fabrication manager, Dave Wiegand
joined O’Connell Electric two years ago to help launch the
prefab operation. He already had experience developing and
managing prefabrication with another local contractor. His
role includes facilitating all facets of design and construction
within the prefab process, such as CAD and virtual design,
coordination, estimating, materials and man-hour scheduling,
and assisting project managers within the team.
Wiegand said the Great Meadows Prison project, which is
running on time, consists of upgrading 624 cells by March 2017.
The company delivered its first 74 cells in January—prefabbed
in-house—and is moving forward
The company is also using the prefab model for a railroad swing bridge
project over the Maumee River in
Toledo. In this case, the project team
spent two days on-site and identified
every opportunity to fabricate an assembly in its prefab facility that can be shipped out in containers to the job site for
Prefab companies offer the other alternative to contractors
that don’t want to make the investment of space, equipment
and time to build their own prefab shop. Thompson Brown
Inc. of Murfreesboro, Tenn., typically serves midsized contractors with 60–100 electricians. Owner Michael Brown is
a journeyman himself. He was tired of watching contractors
buy products of lower quality instead of building their own
Instead, he pays electricians to build out equipment for
clients. Although Thompson Brown only began operations in
January 2015, it has enough customers to operate about a half-million dollars’ worth of tooling in a 15,000-square-foot area.
The electricians in the Thompson Brown shop have the
experience needed to ensure the products are high quality
without a higher cost.
“You can’t build electrical products without having someone
with field experience building them,” Brown said.
He was inspired to open the company after seeing that some
contractors he worked for were buying shoddy products from
prefab suppliers. His aim is to bring high-quality products to
contractors and help them be more efficient.
“My goal is to take a 60-man job and turn it into a 40-man
job,” Brown said. “That way, the contractor can be competi-
tive enough to get 10 more jobs like it and put 400 men back
Thompson Brown is already in negotiations with an elec-
trical products manufacturer to be a direct distributor. His
operation is also undertaking other projects focused on build-
ing a talent pool, such as bringing high school students into the
shop a couple of hours each week to offer some training, filter
out the most promising students and help get them in touch
with apprenticeship programs.
The company has eight men working on-site regularly, but
Brown expects that number to increase.
“We’ve been producing since mid-June ,” he said.
It’s been almost a year since the business got underway, and
he’s been very happy with the response.
S WEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The transition for electricians has
been hardest for veterans who
tend to resist change, so adjusting
them to a different culture
takes some time.