For contractors, the job clock is always ticking. Driving jobsite efficiency and productivity gains is essential to profitability in a more competitive market.
Prefab has emerged as a key answer in that quest. Many contractors are using varying degrees of prefabrication to improve productivity and reduce install time on the jobsite, but many more have yet to start adopting prefabrication best practices in a way that meaningfully and positively impacts their workflow and productivity.
Regardless of where they are on their prefab journey, contractors do agree that adopting Building Information Modeling or BIM is a critical accelerator for their prefab strategy.
The promise is great, but with so many unknowns, getting started can be an uphill battle. Here are the key steps we’ve learned from working with contractors who have figured out the prefab and BIM puzzle.
- Hire an experienced BIM manager.
Find someone who has experience with Revit and preferably fabrication even if he or she is not from the electrical side of the business. The industry can be less important because while conduit assemblies are essential to master in prefab, at the end of the day, pipe is just another tube-like conduit.
By hiring an experienced resource to help you onboard BIM, you’ll find someone who has lived through the hard part and achieved prefab success.
- Hire a good BIM detailer
After hiring a BIM manager, the next step is implementation, and you’ll need a BIM detailer. So should you hire a CAD expert and teach them the discipline or hire someone with field expertise and teach them CAD?
For many contractors, what works best is hiring someone who has worked as an installer in the field, someone who may have an interest in computers or gaming, and bringing them into the office to learn Revit. Field individuals already know from experience what is constructible and what isn’t, so they won’t be wasting time modeling what may work virtually, but will not actually be constructible or installable in the real world.
Another talent pool for detailers is retired contractors or individuals no longer able to work in the field. Regardless, once you have the seats filled, your new BIM manager can train them in-house on live, revenue-producing projects and start building your company’s talent.
- Find a good, preloaded Revit template file (an RTF file)
In the early days, adopting Revit meant creating your own content, schedules, views, formulas, filters and more. These days you can download free Revit template files from Autodesk University Online classes or from training partners. Procuring a pre-loaded Revit template file not only reduces your time, effort and errors, but allows you to modify the template author’s work and discover new elements and techniques in Revit.
- Visiting other electrical contractors
Successful companies aren’t afraid to benchmark. To build an excellent team, it never hurts to reach out to the contractor community for more help and advice. Reach out to an electrical contractor outside of your market, who isn’t a competitor, and ask how they’re doing prefab.
After you’ve become an expert in prefab, you can even turn your knowledge into a business model. One company we know charges a set fee per day for outside contractor teams to come and visit their prefab operations and learn their best practices.
- Becoming part of or developing a peer group
Building on the previous step, the more you can learn from peers who have already gone through the trial and error of prefab, the more success you’ll enjoy. Typically companies in a peer group are non-competitor businesses who have like-minded BIM and prefabrication values and goals.
These peer groups are rarely publicized, so you’ll have to do some asking around to find one. Or you can solicit your buddies, peers and contemporaries in the industry to form your own peer group. Peer groups will help members solve problems, talk about their mistakes, share new ideas and more.
- Outsource what you need
If you’ve decided that prefab and BIM are the next steps for your company, but are hitting obstacles, you have one other option: outsource.
Depending on your needs, BIM detailing and assembly prefabrication can now be outsourced with a high level of reliability, especially if you outsource the project within the country.
There are several shops now dedicated only to providing prefab assemblies for other subcontractors. Or you can purchase prefabricated assemblies from many well-known manufacturers who create made-to-order solutions in their own prefab shops.
Our last bit of advice for contractors is: Don’t give up. Challenges and setbacks happen when any business adopts new technologies and new ways of doing things. It’s helpful to keep in mind that most contractors are still figuring out how to use new digital tools to improve their business. It doesn’t matter if the first efforts didn’t pan out the way they hoped. Digital transformation is a journey with many steps.