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 Interview With Tom Thistleton – COO of Pioneer Cladding & Glazing

Greetings!

In the September 2013 Newsletter, I was able to explore the burgeoning trend of Prefabrication, a practice that unites the formerly disparate worlds of manufacturing and construction into a single hybrid industry. Although last issue’s article provided an idealistic argument as to the numerous benefits behind this activity, this month I was able to interview Tom Thistleton – COO of Pioneer Cladding & Glazing LLC – to garner a more realistic take on the benefits, challenges, and future trends surrounding this industry. Below is a transcription of his thoughts:

Benefits of Industrial Engineering & Lean Practices in Pre-Fab

At our heart, we are a construction company, so the idea of pre-fabrication involves turning a portion of a construction project into a manufacturing endeavor. We move things formerly built on-site to an off-site manufacturing environment in order to positively impact schedule, quality and cost.

Schedule

We are able to begin our "construction" work off-site in a manufacturing facility in parallel with the work of other trades that we would traditionally have been dependent on. Because this work is off-site with no interference, we’re also better able to build a schedule and manage to it. Then, when we arrive on-site, all that’s left is to install.

Quality/Control

By moving production activities into a controlled environment, we alleviate many external factors that can negatively affect quality. We can also establish quality metrics so that the process becomes manageable and repeatable to some degree.

Cost

In our shop, we are non-union (vs. union in the field); by moving the work indoors, we minimize high cost labor, achieve better productivity, and allow our highly-skilled field labor force to focus on the critical task of installation.

Challenges in the Industry

Since the tough economic climate of 2008, Construction industry timelines have been compressed and budgets squeezed. Although the industry is rebounding, this has become the new reality – these changed assumptions still hold. The abilities to operate efficiently and manage cost effectively are more important than it has ever been.

In regards to Prefabrication specifically, there are three key issues:

  1. Building around a structure’s design specifications instead of the actual structure. 
        - Though they may be close, they are rarely exact. We must compensate for that.
  2. Coordinating with other trades whose work may interfere with ours. 
        - Being off-site, these conflicts become harder and more complex to resolve.
  3. Logistical challenges of handling completely assembled units. 
       - Transportation and material handling become much more important when dealing with a fully constructed glass curtain wall unit and not a bunch of piece parts to construct on-site.

Industry Trends

The biggest trend is Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) work.

Instead of having an architect draw up plans and then bringing in a general contractor/subcontractors down the line as needed – you assemble all the key players early and focus on holistic design. This provides subcontractors like Pioneer the ability to influence the final design, potentially making manufacturing and installation easier on themselves. This also helps unearth potential interdisciplinary conflicts early, so that they are resolved in the planning stages instead of out in the field. Again, this practice reduces both schedule variability and cost while increasing project quality; however, now that subcontractors will be tasked with providing value engineering ideas, they may need new skillsets.

In a macro sense, Pre-Fab work is clearly on the rise. As time progresses, Construction sites will become more about installation while all other activities will move off-site into more controlled environments. It is an exciting time to be in the industry, and I eagerly look forward to all the benefits and challenges that tomorrow brings.

- Sammy Geroulis is a guest essayist and Project Manager for AMEND Consulting, LLC. For further inquiry, he can be reached at Geroulis@amendllc.com.

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