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Paul F. Findlay

As was pointed out in the opening column, change is required for survival. In the construction world, one of those changes is an increase in the use of modularization, which is the design or production of something in separate sections. The use of accurate 3D models, the current shortage of skilled labor and owners’ increasing demands for zero incident jobsites in conjunction with shorter schedules, has changed modularization from a luxury on many large projects to a necessity. There are numerous benefits to modularization for both the contractor and the end user, including:

  • Improved safety
  • Improved quality
  • Shorter overall construction schedule
  • Cost reduction
  • Staffing benefits
IMPROVED SAFETY & QUALITY

Many owners and contractors demand incident free jobsites and expend significant resources to achieve this goal. Modularization can improve safety through the benefits of operating in a more controlled environment. For small modular projects, this could be the confines of a climate controlled fabrication facility. For larger modular projects, it could be an off-site assembly yard, free from hazards posed by other activity on the site. In either case, construction sites are full of potential hazards, and work completed off-site, in a controlled environment, has exposure to fewer hazards – thereby reducing the potential for incidents and injuries.

Schedule

With today’s typical project lifecycles, projects are usually already behind on the day notice-to-proceed is given. Technology has increased the ability of A/E/C companies to provide shorter project durations, thus increasing the expectations of most owners. Schedule acceleration is another tremendous advantage of modularization. Take a simple pipe rack module for example, which can be fully assembled before the foundation work is ever completed. In this simple example, the project could realize months of savings in the event that soil stabilization or deep foundations are required.

Cost

Cost is usually a concern; modularization can be cost effective and actually save money. In some cases, the money saved through productivity increases and potentially lower wages in a given area can more than offset the shipping cost for the modules. In other cases, where the supporting structure is required to be substantially increased, the cost of modularization can be a premium, but the benefit to the schedule makes up for that premium through a reduction in time to market.

Staffing

Modularization can also alleviate staffing issues, which are currently plaguing nearly all contractors. The benefits of modularization with regard to staffing are twofold. First, the number of workers required is generally less due to the increase in productivity from working in a controlled environment. Second, many areas of the country are faced with more severe labor shortages than other areas. Utilizing modules allows a significant portion of the work to be completed away from the project site.

While modularization was once analogous with a pre-piped pump skid, today it is much more. A little pre-planning and some out-ofthe- box thinking have resulted in gargantuan modules assembled and shipped by Robinson Construction and others. These behemoths, like the ones featured below, no doubt create a sense of awe from even the least mechanically-minded passerby who happens to see one of them being transported.The time-lapse below features construction of a few pipe rack modules and a 650,000 lb process module that measured 56 ft x 54 ft x 45 ft tall. If you have a project that you think might be a good fit for modularization, give us a call! We are happy to answer any questions you may have.

 

 

This post first appeared in our quarterly publication, Robinson Report (Volume 15, Issue 4, 2017). View the full issue here.

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Cross-training (being trained in more than one role within an organization) has been a staple of the manufacturing industry for a long time. The benefits of cross-training include employee engagement, flexibility, succession planning, and appreciation for other departments. Cross-training also exists in the construction industry. In smaller companies, cross-training is a necessity as most employees wear many hats. Even at Robinson’s current size, some cross-training exists. Many of our field supervisors are skilled in a variety of trades, and nearly all our new graduate employees are exposed to several departments within the company before finding their career. Yet, for those of us who have been around for a while (but not long enough to remember the days when the office staff consisted of a handful of people), and have been in one department for a significant amount of time, cross-training is generally thought to be impractical. Yet, it may be this group that could benefit the most and have the most benefit to the company. I would venture a guess that Robinson is not alone in this mentality.

In my current role, I work solely within the “get work” function of the company. I have little direct involvement with the “do work” side; however, a few small projects came up at our facility. The project management staff was taxed with managing client projects, so I volunteered to be the project manager, or should I say, project mangler, for these small projects. Since the projects were at our facility, I also acted as superintendent. While I didn’t set the world on fire in either role, and won’t be putting in a request to HR to move departments any time soon, I did find the experience to be very rewarding. Having worked for the company for a long time, I am aware of what these individuals do at a high level, but I have definitely gained an appreciation for the small things necessary to keep a job moving and the challenges they face on a daily basis.

In a recent Forbes.com article titled Cross-Training: Your Best Defense Against Indispensable Employees, Chris Cancialosi points out several benefits to cross-training managerial level employees including:

  • Durability
  • Agility
  • Flexibility
  • Efficiency
  • Teamwork

Durability, having employees able to take over for other employees in the event of their departure, is definitely a top reason to cross-train employees in a business of any size. As a matter of sustainability, no business should ever be solely reliant on any one individual. Many CEO’s fall into this trap. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review titled Avoid the Traps that can Destroy Family Businesses, this is why approximately 70 percent of family businesses fail or are sold before the second generation takes over.

While this concept to ensure simple survival is paramount, the value of teamwork cannot be overstated. In large companies, especially companies that operate with a functional organizational structure, it can be easy to become departmentalized. This results in the needs of the department getting put over the needs of the company and the responsibilities of the other departments being underestimated. Cross-training, at least in my limited experience, fosters a deeper appreciation for other departments.

As discussed in the Forbes article, a true cross-training program for managers requires commitment. For some employees, being considered indispensable is a badge of honor and they will thus resist the program. Most employees, and likely their managers, will consider themselves too busy. Successful cross-training is not easy, but for those companies that can pull it off, the benefits include risk-mitigation for the company and happier, more team-oriented employees.

This post first appeared in our quarterly publication, Robinson Report (Volume 15, Issue 3, 2017). View the full issue here.

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