Friday, January 8, 2021

Quality Should Never be a "Line Item" for the Off-Site Construction Industry

I've been hearing from modular home builders and developers about houses and projects delivered to the job site with major quality issues, some costing tens of thousands of dollars to repair.

Modular home factory owners and management seek to contain costs in the manufacturing process and there is no better cost to eliminate than the cost of poor quality. Scrap material, lost labor hours and especially service and repairs after the house is delivered and set only add to unwanted costs.

In order to best eliminate these wastes, a modular home factory must plan a strategic approach to quality improvement. And don’t make it a “Line Item”.

By following these five steps, quality can be improved and it shouldn’t cost either the factory or the builder $5,000 a house for quality to be added as a line item.

1. Work as a Team Quality won’t be substantially improved by one or two people. To really make lasting and meaningful changes in manufacturing processes, it will take a team-based approach.

One of the most important first steps is knowledge of the current process and how it got to this point. Why is the process the way it is today? There must be a reason or cause, and that reason should be considered so as not to repeat a problem of days gone by.

2. What is the Quality the Builder and Developer Expect? Too often, factories want to make a product “better” but don’t really know what better means.

Someone at the factory should serve as the builder/customer advocate. This voice can come from the sales or marketing departments. Use the builder/customers’ perspective to define what the best-in-class product would be and meet those requirements while minimizing cost.

3. Share Repair and Service Costs in the Field with Everyone at the Factory
The cost to fix a defect in the field once it reaches a customer is dramatically higher than the cost to fix the source of the problem before it is created. It is essential that the production line people be trained to understand the cost multipliers involved with warranty repair or replacement and the cost of a damaged reputation. Once the staff takes this perspective, a desire to find a root cause for problem-solving is inherently developed. It’s surprising the number of cost-saving and quality improvements come from the people that actually do the work.

I remember building some very nice homes when I was a sales rep for Champion’s Genesis Home division. Curved walls, some curved half walls with matching curved oak tops, award-winning kitchens and even factory installed Bruce flooring, finished oak staircases and ceramic. When one of the custom homes was finished by the builder at the job site, I took pictures of both the inside and outside of the home and posted them on the bulletin board of the factory lunchroom. None of the people realized what they built on the production line looked like when completed. I got a lot of people telling me they were proud of the work they did on that house.

4. Look at the Root of the Problem All too often, management tries quality improvements to fix the symptoms of failure rather than the root cause. And sometimes those improvements are just as bad as the original symptom.

If a modular factory has started a builder/customer advocate program the root cause may not appear in the production line, rather it might only show its ugly head when the house is assembled in the field and that is why the advocacy program can help identify these root causes.

5. Adherence and Discipline are the Keys to a Quality Modular Home Throughout the quality improvement process, it is essential that strong process discipline is employed.

However, there is a rather large grey area when it comes to building a custom modular home. Some of the processes and options being asked of the production line people could be new when the module comes down the line. The line worker may not know how to do it properly. These areas need to be identified before the modules hit the line and addressed with the people that will be assembling them.

This doesn’t mean that someone needs to watch over the worker’s shoulder while they are doing it. It means that the problem was identified, discussed with the people that will be doing it and letting them know if they run into a problem that others will be available to help. A guess on the production could cost thousands of dollars in repairs in the field.

These are 5 general suggestions to help ensure quality is built into every home and not have Quality become a “Line Item”.

Gary Fleisher, the Modcoach, writes Modcoach News and Modular Home Coach blogs as well as the best site for off-site consultants, Modcoach Connects

Contact Gary at

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