Prefabrication Can Be Key in Reducing Labor Shortage Risks

By Ashley Colburn, Director of SmartBuild

We recently experienced a labor challenge on one of our job sites, not an unusual occurrence in the current economic climate. We were struggling to stay on schedule because we were having a hard time finding enough people to work.

During a site visit, we recognized an opportunity to improve the installation of some overhead conduit run. The bonus was it would actually reduce the number of people needed to finish the job!

Working overhead reduces productivity by about 60 percent. But we knew if the conduit run could be prefabricated at waist level, then the quality of the work and worker productivity would increase drastically. Not to mention that by eliminating the need for a lift, the opportunity for a safety incident decreased, and the need for a labor assistant and equipment rental were eliminated.This was a great example of a team identifying one of lean construction’s eight types of waste, in this case motion or the unnecessary movement of people. Within a week work started on rack prefabrication in a warehouse. The following week, it was on site.

It was such a positive experience that our trade partner has been pursuing prefabrication opportunities across all their projects. Plus, in this tight labor market, they forecasted a 75 percent labor savings with the prefabricated work.

We learned a lot through this process.

  1. Trade Partner selection is critical. They were completely on board with lean construction principles and made this idea a reality in two weeks!
  2. We need to continually look for waste. Labor constraints have been a bottleneck in our industry for the past 30 years. In lieu of asking for more workers, we should continuously look for ways to eliminate wasteful steps and inefficient work methods.
  3. Prefabrication can be a key component in reducing onsite safety and labor risks.
  4. Prefabrication planning should occur during the preconstruction phase, as opportunities to shift are often more limited during the construction phase.

The best part is another team heard this story and formed a prefab action team including partners from key trades: mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire systems. The group took a morning to discuss prefab options and are now implementing those on a project just coming out of the ground.