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Bang for the Buck

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Bang for the Buck

Manufacturers continue to expand their prefab product/service offerings in an effort to differentiate themselves and add value.

 

Designed to help contractors save money and reduce labor requirements, especially in light of current skilled labor shortages nationwide, pre-fabrication activities remain a popular strategy that’s enabling manufacturers and channel members to add value to new construction and upgrade projects alike.  Following, two manufacturers share ways in which they’ve expanded their prefab offerings and why these activities represent a win-win for all players involved.

A Growing Trend

At California-based Orbit Industries (www.orbitelectric.com), marketing manager Navid Nikayin confirmed that demand for prefabricated products and services has definitely increased for a number of reasons. First and foremost, “construction spending is at a record high and there’s a decline in skilled trade workers entering the field, which has driven contractors to look outside their organization for assistance in meeting deadlines and completing jobs faster,” he said.

With the construction industry facing productivity challenges, “pre-built products are accelerating project productivity in important ways,” agreed Shane Semple, manager of PRE-formance™ commercial products at Eaton (www.eaton.com).  He indicated that prefabricated and modular products are helping to address labor shortages by closing the capacity gap, improving project scheduling, and reducing overall project costs, installation time, and inventory requirements.

According to Semple, “electrical systems are often a critical barrier for large construction projects.  For example, many power distribution assemblies can be so big that the walls of the building are built around them, or they need to be installed and energized in order to power a building before setting up other building systems.”  For this reason, he confirmed, “meeting project timelines and budgets can hinge on fast and efficient delivery and installation of power system components.  Prefabricated solutions can help achieve those objectives.”

Meeting the Need

Orbit and Eaton are among a rapidly-expanding pool of manufacturers which have implemented proactive strategies to respond to and capitalize on the growing market for prefab products.

“For years, we’ve worked with contractors to build base assemblies and kit them per contractors’ specifications because it makes receiving and handling material for end users a lot more efficient,” explained Orbit’s Nikayin. “Examples of base assemblies include attaching brackets with boxes and rings and punching custom knockouts in NEMA enclosures.”

More recently, however, “we’ve expanded our services to engineer complete electrical systems and now accept job drawings, design the project, and build out the electrical for it,” Nikayin said.  “Once built, material will be packaged per end user specification.”

At Eaton, where construction accounts for a big part of the company’s business, “we have a long history of delivering prefabricated products and a wide range of solutions to support electrical contractors and distributors,” Semple shared.  “We’re leveraging our intelligent and connected solutions to automate the configuration and commissioning of large electrical assemblies, reducing lead times. For example, we can use our intelligent products to remotely configure initial or custom settings through the cloud to large assemblies on project sites, streamlining device configuration. We’re also able to test customers’ settings earlier in the process in our manufacturing facilities, reducing the risk of unexpected issues and delays onsite.”

According to Semple, Eaton’s Crouse-Hinds line of PRE-formance electrical assemblies for branch wiring can increase worker productivity from 20 to 30 percent through reductions in material handling on the job site and rough-in time. “Earlier this year, we increased production capacity for our PRE-formance products by adding a production line at our manufacturing facility in Texas,” Semple said. “This additional manufacturing location supplements our Pennsylvania-based production center and provides faster lead times for assemblies in the West and Gulf regions,” he explained, noting that the company has also added more project management and quotation support for PRE-formance assemblies.

Bryant Bilal, product marketing manager for Eaton’s HALO line of recessed lights, said that prefab activities involving HALO products have long been saving contractors and customers time and money during installation while helping distributors reduce the number of products they need to stock. “For instance, our LED downlights have E26/Edison socket retrofit adapters, so they can be installed in LED or non-LED cans,” Bilal said. “And prefabricated products are also making it easier and faster to deploy intelligent solutions by integrating accessories and components into a single package.”

Demand for prefab has similarly grown so much at Orbit Industries that the company recently introduced its new ‘PROFAB’ division, dedicated to manufacturing complete electrical systems.  “Operated by former electricians, Orbit’s PROFAB division will break down project drawings, use CAD to lay out detailed installation points, build assemblies, and work with project supervisors to coordinate product kitting and just-in-time delivery,” Nikayin said. “In addition to offering such services and products as bending pipe, underground duct banks, and ready-to-install switchgear packages, we’ve also dedicated over 50,000 square feet between two distribution centers to build UL-listed assemblies.”

Looking Ahead

“Overall, prefabricated electrical solutions are helping distributors and electrical contractors alike realize dramatic savings in construction projects, both in terms of project schedules and costs, by making it easier to select, configure, and install products,” Eaton’s Semple said.

“Prefab is a major part of our business,” Orbit’s Nikayin confirmed. “We’ve always worked closely with contractors to develop cutting-edge products designed to increase their efficiency in their shops or in the field and we’re now able to take that to the next step and assemble those components for them.”

Brian Rooney, branch manager at Crescent Electric Supply in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, agreed that prefab opportunities are a great tool for distributors to employ or offer to their customers. “Distributors should want to take as much of the monotony and pain away from our partners as possible and help them get the job done in a quality, timely fashion,” Rooney explained. “Everything we do is geared towards labor savings for contractors and prefab activities represent a great way to add value in that regard.” That being said, he noted, “it’s important that we listen to our contractor and union partners to understand what they really value and want from us as partners and that the whole industry understands the standards around how to assemble and present prefab opportunities to contractor partners.”

Ultimately, Rooney concluded, “everyone is looking for the next great way to provide more value and prefab services will only continue to grow in popularity to meet that need.”

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Susan Bloom  is a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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