The importance of making changes for Offsite Manufacturing
By Ben Hershey
Solutions Provider & CEO
4Ward Solutions Group
For some it seems like this past year, 2020, has been either a waste or was put on pause. There have been numerous challenges in our businesses, politics, the economy, our homes, and many more all disrupted by the Covid pandemic that has affected the US and the world’s economy. Would you ever have thought entire businesses would be shut down and the population told to isolate in their homes?
I talked last month about management drift and how this past year has been a challenge for managers in keeping their teams focused. Along the way, there have been companies who have simply lost focus on their goals, or the changes taking place in offsite manufacturing.
Offsite Manufacturing – yes, there is a lot of press about it and there are even people who keep trying to change the name of this process in an attempt to influence it, such as calling it “industrialized manufacturing” instead. What the name misses are the many methods for providing an offsite solution to the field. Truss components have been around for a long time, but just supplying a component to the field is not going to solve the issues we have today in construction. Panelized walls have also been around for a long time – when I was young and learning everything in the plant in the 1970’s, panels were being used in our Chicago market. But panels alone, again, do not address the trend and issues in the field.
It is no secret to anyone reading this that labor has been a problem – in the lumber yard, component plant, millwork operation, field framing, building design, etc. But most of all, the problem has been the lack of skilled labor in the field trades. Because of this, we have quality issues, loss of cycle time, etc. in the field, which adds up to higher costs for building a structure. It is this labor shortage and the need to increase the speed at which we deliver a structure that is driving Offsite/Industrialized manufacturing. Our need as an industry, lumber dealer, building material distributor, component manufacturer, or modular manufacturer requires us to constantly look at the ways in which prefabricated building components are used.
One way to look at this is something you may have heard me say; “are we going to continue to deliver 2D parts (bunk of lumber, singular window, door, roof truss, floor truss, wall panel) or deliver 3D solutions like floor cassettes, roof panelized sections, panelized wall systems (including closed wall), modular/volumetric sections, etc. of the building structure”. If you are going to stay in the 2D, you are going to find yourself out of market share in the very near future because it is those companies who grasp delivering panelized/modular to the field who are going to succeed.
So where has your focus been in 2020? Are you making the steps to migrate to this market delivery and planning for how you are going to move in this direction in 2021? Or are you on the sidelines like so many who babble about offsite and make no concrete changes?
To understand offsite, let’s first clear up something: what works in one market does not necessarily work in another. And how I deliver the offsite solution to custom/spec homes, production homes, multi-tenant, etc. is not necessarily the same. One of 4Ward’s clients is trying to find the fastest and cheapest way to deliver affordable housing and another delivering semi-closed wall systems in a labor market experiencing severe shortages with electricians, plumbers, etc. Each solution for a given customer is different, and these are only two of the examples of 4Ward customers.
To provide some context of how offsite can be several things, here is a partial list:
- Floor cassettes (panelized floors, etc.): sections of the floor system are assembled in the plant, generally in 8’ width sections, and then delivered in the field using a crane. In some cases but not all, we are also installing some of the MEP items.
- Roof panelized sections: where parts of the roof system are joined together with the sheathing to form a section that can be set in one lift of the crane.
- Panelized wall sections: Now here is where it really changes by the market. First, if you are not contemplating wall panels, you really need to. Lumber dealers want to hold onto the simple delivery of a bunk of lumber to the field, but there is material waste and shrink that occur. I can deliver the wall pieces that are cut and marked for each wall section, I can deliver wall panels without any additions, I can deliver the rough openings (partial wall sections) for windows and doors, I can deliver full panel sections that include windows and/or doors, I can deliver a semi-closed wall system that includes some or all of the MEP installations, and I can deliver an insulated and closed the wall section. Out of breath?
- Modular/volumetric: this too can vary based on what I want to deliver to the field. Our customer base includes those who rough-in the modular section all the way to those who finish with the installation of cabinets and fixtures, etc.
Coordinating the building supply pieces with any one of these items is also a feature of offsite where all of the items needed at a step of the field construction process are delivered as a package. Manufacturing the foundation or any section that is part of the building is part of offsite. Every case is different because of what the need is in the field. Talk to your builders, talk to the other suppliers of products, and you will find a way to provide an offsite solution that is not just delivering a “2D” part to the field and expecting the field to then piecemeal the building together.
2021 is upon us – as I said, I hear a lot of talk around this issue, but not many moving in this direction. 4Ward is part of the offsite solution and you can be too. Refocus your management team, your associates, your goals, etc. and find the solution that works best for your market. Let’s make 2021 a banner year for the offsite manufacturing industry. If the team at 4Ward Solutions Group can be of assistance to you, please contact us; we would be honored to work with you towards your success!
As a close to 2020, let’s not forget those who are in need and those who have suffered this year as we celebrate the holidays. Whether you are with family or friends, we are blessed as an industry and have much to be thankful for. From all of us at 4Ward Solutions Group, we wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!
Ben Hershey is CEO of 4Ward Solutions Group including Consulting, Labor, Offsite, Design, Software Programming, and Back Office Solutions. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward team with more than 150 years of experience. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Solutions to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past ten years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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