It hasn’t been the easiest few years for the electrical construction industry, and its recovery from the economic downturn has been comparatively slow given the productivity gains of other industry sectors in the United States.
“Electrical contractors are increasingly asked to do more for their customers with fewer resources,” said Thomas Perich, director of channel marketing, Electrical Wholesale for Lutron Electronics. “A shrinking labor market, combined with more complicated building systems requirements, can make it harder to hire qualified employees.”
Electrical contractors face more pressure than most trades-people to boost productivity and efficiency, which comes down to saving time.
Labor hours account for up to 50 percent of the money running through the industry’s balance sheets. Therefore, it is especially critical for electrical contractors to maximize efficiency and save this extremely valuable time.
Lutron, for example, specializes in lighting installations and controls, which have their place in saving contractors time.
“When it comes to lighting control installations and retrofits, customers are looking for greater functionality and more robust integration, but job details are often vague and change frequently throughout the project process," Perich said. "Contractors need solutions that allow them to be flexible and respond quickly to customer changes without added cost. Wireless lighting control products and solutions can help.”
Perich said wireless lighting components speed up project installs by 70 percent compared to the amount of time it takes to complete a typical wired job.
“This means you can do more jobs in less time with your current work force,” he said.
Let's look at how electrical contractors can do this either through the aid of an apprentice and/or through tools and methods focused on cycle time reduction (CTR).
Immediate and practical time-saving tasks
The electrical contracting world has an extremely bright future if business managers can maximize productivity per hour spent. Apprenticeships are very useful for electrical contractors as they unlock the unlimited potential of youth and, within reason, allow company-specific training and development.
“Job tasks are identified by the contractor in estimating projects to determine relevant and applicable construction specifications and associated labor requirements to complete,” said Todd Stafford, executive director at the electrical training ALLIANCE. “That said, from an estimate point of view by the contractor, raceway installations [and] conductor installation with terminations are by far the ‘larger’ time-consuming tasks associated with any building project.”
Apprentices are an investment and often time-expensive. By trying new time-saving products, you can allow proteges to take on tasks and save you time.
- Pre-wired raceways can save time, and in fact, your apprentice could finish the job in one-third of the time it would have taken to complete a traditional component raceway installation. The wiring and pre-assembly are already done and ready for the job site. The wiring is clearly labeled, wrapped and ready for implementation. Your apprentice will then position the raceway onto the wall and attach the feed wires between the raceways.
- A Cablofil wire mesh cable tray is a potential solution for time-pressured electrical contractors with apprentices. Traditional conduit is labor-intensive, and according to Legrand, Cablofil reduces time and installation costs in comparison. Also according to the company, Cablofil needs only one person to install an entire system, requires only a bolt cutter, adapts to almost every installation, allows for bends to be formed on site and has fewer parts.
“By the very nature of what construction is and by what electricians and apprentices are assigned to complete, installing all components and devices of a facility, building or communication system within a building is a physical work process,” Stafford said. “Automation is used to streamline the project and is used extensively by project managers [and] foremen to maintain an accurate ‘picture’ of the construction project as a whole.”
Pre-assembly and installation options are extremely effective and simple ways to improve electrical contracting productivity. For example, Trimble’s solutions help electrical contractors and building contractors complete projects more efficiently:
“When MEP contractors are laying hangers in a new building project, we typically have to wait until the concrete for the floors are poured,” said Chris Dysart, Building Construction Specialist and Trimble Certified Trainer for BuildingPoint Southeast. “Then we have to lay out the concrete forms and anchors on the floor below and laser them up to the ceiling. After that, one or two people have to get in a lift with a hammer drill and drill holes overhead for anchors. This takes a lot of time and is a safety hazard due to dust and the potential for back injury. With the Trimble RTS, this entire process can be laid out and installed before the concrete is poured, speeding up the mechanical, electrical and plumbing portion of the project and reducing safety hazards.”
What about electronic workflow?
CTR focuses on implementing lasting project improvements. Estimated labor hours seem to signal chronic waste when analyzing the Juran Trilogy specific to electrical contracting. This signals the criticality for development of tools and methods to reduce project hours wasted. One of the most discussed tools is through digitization.
Even the smallest of inefficiencies can damage the revenue of an electrical contractor’s business. This makes it more important than ever to explore workflow management systems to help manage time and accomplish achievements.
360e is one of the software programs developed specifically for use in the electrical construction world and works to provide the following benefits with standard client relationship managers (CRMs):
- Reduces amount of paperwork
- Promotes better communication
- Eradicates double entry
- Simplifies scheduling and time monitoring
Electrical contractors have to become savvier and more innovative given the low productivity reports in the United States. As time is the major factor on balance sheets for the industry, reducing labor hours and boosting productivity remains the main focus. Maximizing apprenticeships and investing in time-saving and user-friendly products is one way to increase efficiency and reduce costs in the long-term.
Nevertheless, as seen in CTR analyses, tools must also be developed to minimize hours wasted on projects, which can be done through the implementation of advanced, industry-specific CRMs.