Using Technology for Maximum Benefit[by AllenFrinfrock]
We once were explaining our process to a customer—showing him the lasers in our building, the software on the computers, the technology we use in the field—and at the end of it all he said, “Are you guys a technology company or a construction company?”
That was a good question. It made us look in the mirror and realize that we’re both.
Going back about 15 years or so, we recognized the right way to manufacture the structural components for a building was to start with a design process that we provide information that we couldn’t provide with two-dimensional drawings, the way everyone was essentially doing it back then. The tools available were not fitting what we wanted to do, so we began developing our own tools to improve the efficiency of the design, manufacture and construction of our operation.
Transforming the Delivery System
Our solution was StructureWorks, our own 3D software that is custom developed for the precast concrete manufacturing industry. All of our buildings are made out of precast concrete: We pour our concrete pieces here at our plant and assemble them out in the field. We actually sell the software to other precast manufacturers around the world, so it is not only used internally.
Rather than handing out drawings to people to tell them how to do their work, this program allows us to provide 3D project information. We have lasers mounted on the ceiling of our manufacturing facility, and the lasers project down to the forms and tell the workers exactly where to place every component in the process. Instead of using a tape measure and a drawing, while trying to figure out how all these parts fit together, the lasers show step-by-step where to place each part. It gives someone very clear directions of placement and order, so it is a far more efficient way to manufacture precast concrete pieces.
Piece Tracker is another piece of software that essentially tracks the status of every piece of concrete we make. We know when each piece is designed, manufactured, quality control checked, stored, shipped to the job site and when it gets put into the building. There are thousands and thousands of custom made precast concrete pieces, and we know the status of every piece of every project.
The Client’s Advantage
Here is our rational. Let’s say you are going to buy a car the way the construction industry typically works: You would hire a designer to design your car, and then you would take that design to a manufacturer and ask for a price. That’s kind of a ridiculous way to buy a car.
We turn the typical process around. We deliver turn-key design-manufacture-construct buildings. Because we control the entire process—we’re the architect, the engineer, the contractor, and the manufacturer—we self-perform a huge portion of the building, and we can use technology to simplify and streamline that process to finish projects of all sizes. Conflicts are easily located and solved. By easily rectifying the conflict, we take risk away from the client.
We do some preliminary 3D models early on in the process, which allows us to price our projects very quickly. The model does not include everything but is a pretty good approximation of the building. We’re showing a price with very little design time. This is another aspect that takes risk away from the owner. Rather than spending money to get partway through the process, only to find out they’re over budget, we’re able to spend far less time and give a price early on. It also gives the owner a way to preview the building.
In the manufacturing operation here, a lot of the components are actually put right into the precast, such as the mechanical, plumbing and electrical components. When we go out to the field and build the building, you don’t have to figure out where the sink goes—the plumbing is already there. This is another way we speed up the process.
One key to this process is having patience. Creating technology that best suits your company is not something that happens overnight. To begin to solve your problems, you need first to optimize what you can find in the market. You’re not going to find something out there that can solve it all, so figure out how much you buy from the market and how much you self-perform in-house. Establish that optimum blend.
Allen Finfrock is CEO of FINFROCK which uses a unique design-manufacture-construct process that provides rapid delivery of cost-effective multi-story buildings. For more information, visit FINFROCK.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.