Faces of the Industry: Joseph Maez


Faces of the Industry: Joseph Maez

Meet Joseph Maez at Katerra in Phoenix, Arizona.

Katerra is a new company with an ambitious goal. “We’re trying to take the average 30-month timeline of a construction project and cut it down to 15,” explains Katerra Operations Manager Joseph Maez, one of the newest additions to the SBCA Board of Directors.

“We’re still in the infant stages – we’re probably about a year and half old,” Joseph says, adding that Katerra is “a conglomerate of two worlds”: the manufacturing technology world of software, robotics and digital devices, and the building construction world of specialty products, skilled trades and tight deadlines.

“What we’re trying to create is the all-in-one, from-start-to-finish” building service, says Joseph. Instead of hiring an architect at the beginning of a project and then hiring a builder who hires a general contractor who in turn hires a small army of skilled trades people, “what Katerra’s trying to do is centralize that and control our own destiny. If we control that, we control the time. We don’t depend on any trade–we are the trade! And we can maximize the field time.”

Katerra is looking to shake up that process by going through a phased development of their own wall panel product. To the basic, framed panel (phase one) they’ll add exterior zip sheathing (phase two); electrical boxes, media boxes, plumbing runs and windows (phase three); and, eventually, closed wall finishing like drywall and installation. The problem Katerra is looking to overcome from the technology side is partially an issue of software, Joseph explains. Current offerings simply let designers create walls– there’s not enough value-addition in the process. Katerra, he says, is “getting creative.”

“What we’re learning is that the equipment that’s out there for wall panels – it just creates walls.” What Katerra is attempting to do would be a significant increase in complexity (like getting “from level three to level ten,” says Joseph). He points out that there simply isn’t a machine on the market that will install windows and electrical boxes into a wall panel. “There’s no system for that.”

“What we do is we bring in the specialized trades,” says Joseph. “They are part our team.” That means everyone who typically works around each other on a jobsite works together at Katerra in controlled conditions where they can fully coordinate their requirements and timelines as well as efforts to standardize and automate the process as much as possible. “We go and get the experts and bring them into our company from every facet,” Joseph says. From architects and engineers to framers and electricians, Katerra is bringing everyone to the table to offer customers a complete building package.

It’s a lofty vision, and a lot of work. “It’s quite busy,” Joseph observes, but the concept behind Katerra presents some significant advantages. Notably when it comes to component production, says Joseph, “we are the end customer.” Instead of waiting for a framer to place an order and accept delivery, Katerra creates its own demand. “All the framers out on site are ours.” Because Katerra is handling much more of the building process than just the component design, production and delivery, they can coordinate their projects and make adjustments over a much bigger project scope and timeline.

Of course, there are also drawbacks to such an ambitious undertaking. “It takes a lot of resources!” says Joseph. It’s not just the factory that he’s running that’s necessary to make the Katerra vision a reality. There’s also the office staff, the quality control people and processes, and everyone out in the field. Getting Katerra off the ground is an enormous project.

“My favorite part and why I jumped on board is the challenge,” says Joseph. He’s been in the industry and building wall panels for over 20 years, and he hasn’t seen anything like this before. “We’re blazing the way for the rest of the industry so we can speed up the whole building process for the nation.”

“My father, he was my first truss plant manager,” Joseph says. “So I’ve grown up around trusses, since I was a little kid. I started building trusses in 1995 – I was a down stacker.” It was supposed to just be a job to get him through high school, Joseph remembers. “My goal was to get my architectural degree. I got my computer drafting degree in 1998,” he says, but he discovered that he enjoyed designing more than drafting. When he had the chance to go from working on the production floor to designing in the office, he took the opportunity. “And I spent the next 10 to 12 years designing.”

Along the way, he started getting involved with SBCA. “I’d heard about SBCA and knew the leadership involved through the local market.” As the Arizona chapter revived after the recession and local leaders started looking for “younger blood” to join the association, Joseph was invited “to take on the presidency of the Arizona chapter.” As chapter president, he started attending quarterly meetings of the national association and supporting initiatives like the SBCA Emerging Leaders Committee.

He says he’s starting to see things come full circle with the Arizona chapter. “We hope, this year, to address a lot of the issues that are in our market and, I think, nationally as well.” Those issues include “trying to find the next generation of leaders, the millennials”; providing training for inspectors, building designers and others in the industry who need to know more about components; “and going to community colleges and trying to spark some interest in our industry.”

Outreach is critical, Joseph emphasizes. “I think a lot of people don’t know about us, don’t know that we exist. They don’t know what truss manufacturing is.”

The search for new people is happening everywhere, Joseph notes, and while finding a new generation of leaders who “are going to take over from those who are retiring soon” is an important effort, the national and leadership levels are not the only places the industry needs to address turnover. It’s a project that has to be happening at the local and lower levels of the industry, too. “We need to bring that next group in,” says Joseph. “We have to identify who, within our companies, are going to be the next leaders. Who’s going to be the next operations manager? The next design leader? The next designer?”

Joseph’s guess is that success in finding people will be less about figuring out where to find them than it is about figuring out what they’re looking for. “Whether we find them in college or in high school, we need to get our name out there. I think the software’s going to be the draw. The software that we have out nowadays is CAD based and allows for 3D modeling. They like technology, and that’s what’s going to grab the attention of the next generation: showing them what the software can do. It’s not just swinging a hammer and putting on plates – we can find a lot of future, skilled employees who want to get into this trade and get into this business.”

Joseph adds that it’s critical to find a way to reach people who aren’t like him – that is, those who don’t have a family connection to the industry. The future rests, he says, on those who are entering the industry really looking for careers; it’s all about dreaming big – which is exactly what Katerra is doing and encouraging.

“It’s very fulfilling to see everybody’s expression when we give factory tours,” Joseph says. The high-tech facility he runs is clearly intriguing, and Joseph delights in visitors’ curiosity. He’s certainly excited to be part of an evolving industry. “We really haven’t changed construction methodology in so many years,” he notes. “We need to figure out how we’re going to get to the next level of automation. How we’re going to the next level of accuracy, the way other manufacturers have.”

The ability to put out a high-quality product more quickly and more efficiently is a goal that’s always just over the horizon, because something new is always shifting the landscape and moving the industry forward, says Joseph. “We’ve got tables that set themselves up now,” along with increasingly sophisticated software and ever more automated equipment. “We’ve got to take advantage of the tools that are out there.”

Exploring those new tools and looking to the future is what keeps Joseph interested in his work. What he enjoys more than anything else, he says, is “the challenge of figuring out something new.” After so many years in truss plants, building floors and roofs and now wall panels, he says his job still intrigues him. “It’s fun. My days are never boring or dull. They go by quickly – which is not saying it’s easy! It’s tough. But when you reach the next milestone, it’s worth it.”

Take a video tour of the Phoenix facility.

When you’re not thinking about trusses, what keeps you busy?

“I’m a sports junkie! I’m a Cardinals fan, and I’m a season ticket holder – so that’s were where I spend a lot of my Sundays,” says Joseph. Hunting and getting outdoors are also priorities, including finding the time to escape the Arizona warmth to “go up north and play in the snow!”