Construction Manufacturing, specifically mechanical and sheet-metal fabrication, keeps buildings running and daily life enjoyable. The bottom line is that fabrication and fabrication shops are essential in modern construction practices. Learn ten ways that you – Our much appreciated and valued Fabricator, can improve your Fabrication Shop.
It is important to state, before we get to the list, that term prefabrication or fabrication is evolving into construction manufacturing and industrialized construction. This is due to a greater focus on repeatability of design and a focus on Design for Manufacturing (DfMA). The closer fabrication gets to productization and repeatable processes, the more efficient it will become.
1. Embrace Change in Manufacturing
As with anything in life, you need to evolve to be successful, and manufacturing is about embracing change. One method of Lean Manufacturing is leveraging Kaizen for continuous improvement. Continuous improvement involves taking small steps forward, fostering employee participation, and tracking metrics to measure incremental changes’ efficacy. This is the golden path by which employees and companies alike thrive, no matter what they produce.
As with any commercial industry, the status quo spreads like a disease in most environments, and construction manufacturing is no exception — creativity, innovation, and improvement often hit a dead end.
Companies need to promote a culture of change, building on the skills and knowledge of experienced personnel. This includes encouraging employees to discover self-improvement, getting them excited about new technologies, and experiencing the benefits — social, financial, and occupational — of buying into sharing a positive vision and mission. A optimistic outlook and a sharing in the success of a firm’s results can achieve greatness.
2. Adopt New Technology
The best examples of continuous improvement involve better quality and less waste in production. A starting point of this Kaizen exercise is talking to your experts and technology partners that understand the Fabrication Shop landscape. These are people who have lived it, done it, and brought a proven solution and best practice for improving companies.
FAB by MSUITE increases visibility, productivity, and accuracy in your facility to manage production and materials logistics as they move from drawing approval through site receiving. By automating production tracking, Fab can mitigate schedule risk by predicting whether “due dates” are realistic the moment work is loaded.
3.Vertically Integrate Your Shop
For many construction companies, their customers prefer the economies of scale and scope convenience for their construction logistics needs. They partner with firms that can provide the full-scope of services under one roof. It can involve DfMA, material sourcing, fabricating, paint, logistics management and delivery, install, controls, test and balance, and commissioning. That’s complete vertical integration of MEP and very rare to find. While there is debatable value of a fully integrated partner and likely a diminishing return, it’s important to look at each area of the manufacturing process to determine where vertical integration is possible. Modularization is a growing trend in construction and is hyper-focused on vertical integration of construction areas such as bathroom pods, multi-family housing, and more.
Single-sourcing manufacturing is a powerful business practice in many industries, including construction. The procurement process is simplified and reduces product lead times. It strengthens relationships and multi-stakeholder collaboration and increase product improvements and cost reductions.
Successful fabrication shops embrace vertical integration as a core business practice and a key predictor of success. They have learned to become masters of production technologies. This means that future construction manufacturing companies will offer modularization, racking, pod creation, and continually improving approaches to integrating people, processes, and materials–Bringing cost-effective and on-time delivery of high quality products.
4. Increase Fabrication Uptime
Fabrication Shops across North America are frequently asked to produce small orders with minimal lead times. This means setup and changeover times are becoming a larger factor in the “how much does this thing cost to fabricate?” equation.
Your ability to set up a job in minutes rather than hours varies depending on the type of tooling, materials workflow, and software or systems used. Reducing set up time should be a top technical hurdle for all fabrication shops to strive to overcome. The same applies to virtually any other machine and tool on the Shop Floor. If it takes more than a few minutes to transition from one work package to another, you are losing valuable uptime. Lastly, offline programming and simulation software eliminates hours of machine downtime but this requires heavy investment and planning. The ability to handle multiple jobs per day or even per hour is crucial for scaling your business.
Continuous improvement efforts involve as much organizational change as technical implementation. Sometimes old-fashioned workflows are not so efficient and stacking a new process, machine, or software program will not solve the inherent issue. It’s essential to recognize that there are plenty of steps that should be mapped out that you can take to reduce setup times and make throughput more predictable and do so without spending a dime.
Much of this comes down to organization. Take a look at your tooling. Is everything in its assigned place? Look at the tooling in the crib and the tooling that’s actually in the machinery or sitting about on the shop floor. Are they in good working order? How about your fabrication cut sheets? The work instructions? Do your employees spend time deciphering their work instruction before they can begin building?
5. Maintenance of Tools and Machinery
Routine maintenance of tooling and machinery is crucial and can be costly if you don’t follow “best practices” to keep everything in excellent shape. Below are just a few:
- Disassemble, inspect and clean all tools for damage after use or on a schedule. Replace stripper plates, brushes, pads, washers, worn springs, etc.
- To avoid corrosion to metal surfaces, apply small amounts of lubricant or rust preventative.
- Require a torque wrench to tighten things down.
- Replace air, hydraulic fluid, and oil filters frequently.
- Regularly check back gauges and ram surfaces for parallelism and squareness.
- Frequently inspect electrical connections and other fasteners for tightness using OSHA–approved procedures.
- Machines are to be inspected annually by a factory-certified machine tool technician.
- To ensure predictable manufacturing processes, clean, lubricate and properly store tools. Assign punches, dies and other tooling to a specific machine (if possible).
- It is recommended by most experts to replace tooling every few years, depending on how much usage. Metal fatigue can cause problems with part accuracy and tool life.
6. Advocate/Promote Manufacturing Careers
Ask any Construction Firm or Fabrication Shop owner to describe their biggest obstacle to company growth, and finding qualified employees ranks high on the list. Construction and Manufacturing have been hard hit with a negative reputation despite the increasing demand, better technology, and higher wages.
Today, manufacturing is a good-paying, rewarding career that lets you make cool things, build amazing structures, use robots, and much more. There is a broad range of technical and non-technical vocations such as programming, machine-tool, tool and die design, engineering, equipment sales, and much more.
The manufacturing industry is expanding with prefabrication and modular construction and the need for faster procurement and better local quality. The fact it’s high-tech, safer, fast-paced, and a lucrative profession should be driving new generations of construction workers to the trades.
7. Get Employees Certified
Shops need to promote employees attending vocational schools and alternative education programs to bridge the skilled labor gap. It’s a great alternative to going the traditional college route. Take a page out of Corporate America and encourage these programs to your employees.
According to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the average manufacturing worker earns more than $77,000 annually. The National Association of Manufacturers also reports that 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed over the next decade, which means this is the perfect time to find a prospering career opportunity. The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry have been teaching pipe spooling for years throughout the US and Canada.
Aside from vocational-technical schools, several online classes exist to help the manufacturing industry:
- The Society of Manufacturing Engineers has a Tooling-U SME series of training materials.
- The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association offers its Precision Sheet Metal Operator certification.
- The American Welding Society offers accreditation.
- SolidWorks offers the “Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional Advanced Sheet Metal“.
- Autodesk offers its ACP certification.
8. Promote a Safe Shop Floor
The shop floor can be dangerous, especially for those not paying attention to what you are doing. Below are some important safety recommendations:
- Always wear your safety glasses. If you’re grinding, wear a face shield.
- Never look at bright light created by an arc welder. Always wear top-notch welding goggles, and shield your eyes.
- Wear steel-toed boots when lifting heavy workpieces and die sets.
- Wear gloves for welding and other sheet-metal activities but don’t wear gloves while operating a milling or other rotating machinery.
- Wear sleeves rolled up; place long hair in a ponytail or wear a black mesh hairnet.
- Always wear ear protection around metalworking machinery.
- Equip your compressed air guns with noise-reducing nozzles.
9. Keep Your Fabrication Shop in Order
Shop cleanliness is about good business and employee safety. Fabricating shops can be dirty with scrap metal, grinding dust surrounding the welding area, or hydraulic fluids leaking on the floor. Expensive machine tools and replacing filters, axis wear need to be high priorities to keep replacement costs at bay. The shop and employee areas need to be continually cleaned to mitigate risks and hazards. The Lean Manufacturing principles of 5s are great for keeping a shop clean and organized. They are Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.
The Shop floor being clear of sharp workpieces, trash, and other waste is more than appearances. Air quality is also a concern with welding and cutting gasses requiring mitigation at all times. Also, powder and coating dust should be properly evacuated to protect employees. The shop should also be at a consistent temperature year-round, if possible.
10. The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that successful manufacturing companies embrace employee safety, continual improvement, cleanliness, air quality and promote a pleasant shop environment for employees. Equipment lasts longer. Employee morale is improved. Visiting customers will be impressed by a clean shop that produces high quality products, helping you generate new business.