Smarter materials management is especially beneficial in electrical service work. Service electricians are constantly confronted with the challenge of obtaining materials while striving to minimize the amount of lost time, back-and-forth travel and rush charges that inevitably follow.
Anything that can be done to promote efficiency in materials selection, ordering and delivery for service work will produce a huge payback. What better place could there be to begin the search for solutions to such problems than in the materials requisition process? That was the question that two guys—an electrician with years of field experience and a building information modeling (BIM) coordinator with an architectural background—teamed up to answer.
With support from Dan Streicher and Ed Schuler, owners of Schuler-Haas Electric Corp., Rochester, N.Y., Kevin Rickett and Greg Cummins combined their talents to create Orange & Black contractor field management software (CFMS), a subscription-based system for ECs seeking a solution to the perennial problem of materials management. We stopped for coffee with Schuler, Rickett and Cummins to hear their story. For more on Orange & Black CFMS, visit www.orangeandblackcfms.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed, you worked for a large national electrical distributor. How did that experience help shape your philosophy on the importance of materials management in electrical contracting?
Schuler: Back in those days, computing and communications technology was not what it is today. I got to see firsthand what I call the “—ings” of material management: ordering, waiting, locating, distributing, receiving, returning, crediting, invoicing, reordering and replacing of an order. Today, as owners of a contracting business, Dan Streicher and I truly appreciate the advancements in technology that now reduce the cost of all those “—ings.”
There are many obvious benefits to using a software solution (such as Orange & Black CFMS). But, in our first glance at its capabilities, the advantages that seem the most obvious are speed and accuracy.
Rickett: Yes, and let me introduce a productivity measurement that you have probably never considered before: We have drastically increased the efficiency of procuring material. As an example, we have reduced the average time it takes to create a 10-item requisition from 22 minutes to 7 minutes.
Cummins: We want our foremen and electricians to be able to focus on production, not paperwork. That’s what they prefer, too.
Schuler: We knew there had to be a better way to streamline the process and update it with advancing technology. Through the development of our software, we have created the means of communication that eliminates inefficiencies of paperwork that range from placing material orders, to creating work orders, to submitting T&M [time and material] tickets.
Arriving on-site, a service electrician typically has to size up the requirements of getting the job done and gather everything needed to do it. How does Orange & Black CFMS make this process as easy and efficient as you describe?
Rickett: Using Orange & Black, service electricians can create a digital record of what has to be done. Via the simplicity of our online store, they can put together a bill of material and place an accurate order with either an in-house purchaser or an outside vendor. Accurate orders minimize mistakes. They cut down on wait-time otherwise wasted at the will-call desk of a supply house. They reduce returns.
When the job is complete, Orange & Black generates an electronic T&M ticket that can be signed on-the-spot by the customer’s representative.
We often stress the benefits of standardization in how work is done. Even if the problems are different from one job to the next, there is some commonality among the possible solutions.
Cummins: Every job requires material. The Orange & Black CFMS brings standardization to the material requisition process. It can pay big dividends in many ways: in universally improved communications with outside vendors, with a contractor’s own prefabrication shop, and with their BIM department. Our goal is to bridge the gap between virtual construction and actual construction.
Orange & Black is a distinctive brand name for your software products. What is its origin?
Schuler: Orange & Black recalls the company colors for Schuler-Haas and, incidentally, the name of my fantasy football team a while ago. Meantime, names of other popular fruits like “apple” were already taken!