As the construction industry continues to struggle with the challenges of a long recession, higher competition, lower profit margins, and fewer project starts, mechanical/HVAC and electrical contractors are continuing to seek a competitive edge by prefabricating more of their work. Prefabrication offers many benefits to those who can master these capabilities, including savings on labor and equipment, higher quality, improved safety conditions, and schedule improvement.

In a new survey conducted by FMI, Raleigh, N.C.-based management consulting firm for the construction industry, respondents reported that, while only 12% of their annual labor hours are currently charged to preconstruction, they would like to see that number climb to 29% in the next 5 yr.

“The potential for labor and equipment savings by increasing prefabrication work is substantial,” says Ethan Cowles, report co-author and FMI consultant. “However, in order to attain these savings, high-dollar investments need to be made, and a clear set of goals, objectives, and measurements should be considered before blindly investing company resources.”

Other observations from the report include:

  • Although 80% of respondents saved more than 5% in labor last year due to the use of prefabrication, 93% expect they could save more than 16% in labor costs in the coming years.

  • Building information modeling (BIM) is expected to play an important role in the growth and efficiency of prefabrication; however, only 18% currently see BIM as very critical for prefabrication, while 31% say it is helping a little, but they are still using other CAD systems as well.

  • Eleven percent of the companies responding plan for prefabricated assemblies in the design phase, and the majority (55%) do that planning in the preconstruction phase of the project. The remainder does not plan prefabrication work until the construction phase is under way.

Copies of the complete report, “2010 Contractor Prefabrication Survey,” can be obtained from the FMI website at http://fmistore.com/cart.php?m=product_detail&p=39.