Monday, December 21, 2020

Ideas in Off-Site Construction are Plentiful, Implementation is Meager

Back in the good old days, a production line worker would see an easier or better way to do something, share it with their supervisor who would ask the Production Manager if it could be implemented. 

In almost all instances, implementing the idea involved very little capital investment and would be implemented by the very people it would benefit, the production line worker. 

An example of this happened in 1957 when my brother was in the US Air Force working on F-100 jet fighters. The landing gear on the planes needed to be refurbished and repainted by hand after a certain number of landings and it was a tedious job. He suggested a better way of doing it using a drill fitted with a brush that was already being used for the job. He got a certificate for his idea and $10 from the base commander when his idea was implemented. It shaved about an hour off the job.

Today, ideas for the off-site construction industry seem to come from every high-tech company and consultant on a daily basis. There are lots of apps and programs being hailed as the next big thing in construction. Some have been implemented and have proven successful while others have failed during implementation. However, most of today’s new ideas are trotted out on podcasts, blogs, press releases and at company meetings where they get their 15 minutes of fame and then die on the vine.

Here are some reasons why the vast majority of new ideas for the off-site construction industry never get past the “Trumpet Blowing” stage:

The Idea is too complicated

The old saying “Keep it Simple, Stupid” has never been so clear as in today’s high-tech world. For an idea to catch on, first it has to be easily understood. If the idea requires massive amounts of involvement by management, look for it to be quietly and quickly nipped in the bud. It’s not that management is lazy, it's that their days are already slammed with current problems and finding time to learn a new technology is not high on their agenda. 

If the idea is either something the production people never asked for or is too complicated to implement at the production line, look for the production line worker to fight it. What they have been doing has worked quite well so far and implementing someone’s idea that has never stepped foot inside their factory is reason enough for them to make sure it fails.

The idea is too expensive

The idea of automating the modular home factory is one of today’s hot topics with many experts and consultants working hard to get factory management to begin installing it. But the modular factory is not the same as an automotive assembly line where the cars are not built piece by piece on the assembly line like they are in an off-site construction factory. The auto assembly line gets modules such as dashboard assemblies, engines, transmissions and other pieces delivered from off-site factories and put together with the use of human workers and automation.

Doing that in today’s modular housing industry would cost a factory millions of dollars and probably wouldn’t save enough time or labor expense to repay that investment...ever.

BIM is a good example of a great idea that has been adopted by many companies in the off-site construction industry, yet it is still a tough sell in many companies because of the upfront work needed to get it implemented and the high cost of the tech support each factory would need to fund year after year.

The slim margins many modular and off-site factories make on their products doesn’t leave much room for experimenting with an idea that isn’t being used successfully everywhere.

The idea is not needed

Just because someone has an idea they think is the next big thing for off-site construction doesn’t mean anyone actually needs it. Two years ago I met a consultant that had developed a program tracking individual modular factory production line worker’s daily routines and making them more productive. When I asked how many modular factories he had actually visited, he said he had only visited a manufactured home factory near him and saw lots of problems that he could help correct. He has yet to implement his idea in a single factory.

Recently I heard from a modular factory GM that the owners paid a consultant $20,000 for an idea he was peddling for total automation of a modular factory. Good thing the consultant got paid in advance as his idea would have cost millions and millions of dollars to implement and also require an IT overhaul and the hiring of a robotics repair team. I was told they showed him the door after just 10 hours.

The idea is not welcomed by management

For this one, I’ll simply use this Dilbert cartoon as an example of bosses not wanting to hear about anything that would force them to actually change what they are currently doing.

Gary Fleisher, the Modcoach, publishes the Modcoach News blog for the modular industry professional and Modcoach Connects for construction consultants

1 comment:

Kevin said...

The government and many small businesses have suffered from "WE have ALWAYS done it this way" as the norm in running an operation. In government it is mere laziness, in small businesses the issue is more centered around those operations not investing in themselves in terms of networking, education and a lack of funding to employ research and development.

Building science develop best practices and speak for themselves, business policies however are not created to be drafted and left as an ELF on a shelf and fluid procedures are best left to those that practice them rather than chowder heads, respectfully, in the home office.

Regardless of the industry, and HELLO Modular Home Industry, operating like the government with absentee and narcissistic management practices will impact quality and innovation by rank and file to a point of low morale where turnover impacts institutional knowledge, and going above and beyond will cease as it is replaced with a "I don't care" team performing the minimum because no one else does as well. In the Military they say all things FLOW DOWN HILL, well bad practices and mindset do as well.

Just perhaps too much consolidation and concentration on stock value have replaced the independent minded thinkers and doers looking to make a difference in the industry. Financial wizards of industry, engineers and architects have a place at the table just don't forget that rank and file tenure does as well.

One persons opinion, thank you for allowing me to comment.