The Turnkey Movement Is Here
The Turnkey Movement Is Here
Homebuilders are beginning to come full circle, and that should have every component manufacturer out there a bit excited. At BCMC this past October, Scott Stevens of MODU-TECH and I gave an education presentation, “Turnkey Is the Future of Framing,” making this very point.
Once upon a time, the builder controlled and provided the whole package: lot development, plans, materials and labor. In the 1940s and 1950s, homeownership skyrocketed and homebuilding surged; builders expanded rapidly and looked for ways to construct homes faster and more economically. That movement led to the division of responsibilities among the trades and outsourcing of materials and labor.
I would argue that wasn’t a bad thing. After all, that division encouraged specialization, which means every aspect of a building can be built by experts in their field, as opposed to generalists. The downside risk, particularly as light-frame construction has become more complex, is that inadequate communication can fragment the various trades working on a project and lead to costly mistakes and frustrating delays.
As you know first-hand, since the housing bubble burst, builders have searched for every way they can to control costs. They’ve squeezed their designers, they’ve squeezed their material suppliers, and they’ve squeezed their labor suppliers. They need to build homes profitably, or they go out of business. Due to that downward pressure, everyone in the supply chain has had to take a hard look at how to become more efficient, eliminate sources of waste and reduce the risk of costly mistakes.
While all the trades have taken their fair share of lumps over the past six years, I would argue framers are in the unenviable position of getting caught on both sides. We have to operate with a higher sense of urgency, responding to the general contractor’s (GC) needs once the site is ready for installation, while having little to no control over material quality or delivery. If either the quality (e.g., incorrect take-offs, damaged material, insufficient quantities, etc.) or the delivery time is off, we’re the first in line to hear the backlash.
More and more, GCs look to turnkey framing as a way to minimize that supply-side fragmentation and reduce waste and the potential for mistakes. Turnkey gives the builder or GC a single source to work with to get the project completed, eliminating the need for extra staff to manage coordination among various trades. For the entity providing turnkey framing, it has the ability to better control material usage and productivity loss.
In order for the turnkey approach to accomplish these goals, the entity providing the service has to coordinate the various trades in a more efficient manner. Thanks to significant advances in computer-aided design software, Building Information Modeling (BIM) makes better coordination possible. Through BIM, the turnkey provider can work through construction details and potential conflicts in virtual reality months in advance, as opposed to confronting them on the jobsite in real-time.
Using BIM, the turnkey provider can ensure electrical conduit, HVAC ductwork and plumbing are all routed and coordinated before the foundation is poured. Bearing locations, beams, connections and overall load path issues can be identified, discussed and resolved long before the first wall is erected. Web conferencing takes BIM to the next level, making it very easy and economical to bring everyone to the table to walk through the 3D building model together to discuss potential conflicts and collaborate on a solution.
In my mind, this is where componentized framing solutions, or what you are now calling “innovative framing,” (SBC Magazine, August 2014), truly shines. With componentized design, either the component manufacturer or the framer can be the turnkey provider. Designing the components, while simultaneously resolving all the issues outlined above, at the front end of the project opens the door for more creative design and more effective material usage.
Turnkey framing with components also has numerous jobsite advantages. On most jobsites, there isn’t a lot of room for material storage. Manufactured components solve that problem through just-in-time delivery. By controlling both the framing and the material delivery, onsite coordination of labor and installation equipment (e.g., cranes, forklifts, etc.) can be much more effective. Specialized bundling of componentized framing enables even more efficient installation.
Greater labor efficiency can be achieved by completing traditionally difficult framing tasks (like square and plum rough openings for doors and windows and correctly placed chase openings) in a factory-controlled environment instead of the field. Componentized framing also significantly reduces jobsite waste. For a single-family home, this may not seem like a huge deal, but on large multifamily and commercial projects, jobsite waste reduction can represent a significant cost savings.
After more than 40 years in the framing industry, I have seen our labor pool change dramatically. When I started, the framer did every aspect of the framing. Today, a lot of our labor pool specializes in only certain aspects of framing. As a result, it requires a lot more time to manage labor on a project. Potentially, the single most important advantage of componentized framing in today’s market is the reduction in skilled labor required to install it.
Currently, one of the major factors in determining whether a building gets built is whether there is enough labor available to get the job done. That makes the efficiencies of the turnkey approach with componentized framing the best solution going forward.