Prefabrication is gaining momentum in cable management. Here’s why.

Oct. 30, 2020
COVID-19, coupled with a crippling economy, forces designers, installers, and contractors to consider a “new normal.” But trends suggest there’s a tipping point for prefabrication for low-voltage and electrical applications.

By Mark Ross, MonoSystems Inc.

Prefabrication in various forms has been around for decades. Simply put, the process essentially offers a pre-built or pre-constructed product created in a controlled environment, instead of on a job site. The process became popular in the construction industry and has become generally accepted as an alternative to building on site in many circumstances. Prefabrication allows contractors to control labor and resources, contain costs, and meet deadlines.

Trends suggesting there’s a tipping point for prefabrication for low-voltage and electrical applications

COVID-19, coupled with a crippling economy, forces designers, installers, and contractors to consider a “new normal.” Social distancing, actual time allowed on a jobsite, a need to limit corporate liability, OSHA, have all created a backlog of projects along with the associated losses of business, profits, sales and personnel. The new normal, and the slowed economy, requires companies to seek greater control over material and labor. Project planners, designers, contractors and installers are in search for increased value wherever available and from every feasible resource. A slowed economy in and of itself forces managers to view each project in a different light. Materials and labor need to be managed more thoroughly than ever before. Add to this a global pandemic and you get a perfect storm that negatively impacts current projects, workflow, jobsites and new projects. Project disruptions, uneven workflow, the need to stagger work shifts are all affecting the ability of the contractor to complete their projects. And once stabilized, there will be a need to work through the backlog of projects, creating a daunting challenge to meet defined completion schedules.

Another trend that suggests prefabrication might gain steam is the general acceptance of remote workforces and outsourcing. Even after the country opens up following the initial social distancing and quarantining required by COVID-19, there will a greater acceptance of virtual purchasing, which means greater acceptance of materials being prefabricated off site.

How does prefabricated process impact cable tray installations?

Cable tray is generally fabricated in standard and defined lengths in accordance with project specifications. To meet each individual tray run distance the installer on site will need to measure and cut standard-length trays to fit the layout. After the tray is cut, coupling holes must be drilled, and sharp edges need to be filed. This process requires labor and space. It also requires space for a small shop on site, and work performed under challenging conditions. The quality of field-cut parts might be inconsistent, with items that don’t cleanly align. The result can be lost time associated with re-working the process, or being included on the post-installation inspection punch list. And of course there will be wasted materials, which often require added materials ordering. All of this directly impacts project completion and meeting schedules, and leaves one to question: Is this on-site fab approach the optimal use of valuable labor hours that could be applied more efficiently elsewhere?

At MonoSystems we recently began offering a service called Profab,  to simplify cable tray installations, budgeting, and quality.

So what are the true benefits of prefabricated cable trays?

There’s a defined, predictable nature to managing jobsite labor with the potential to achieve 30% to 40% labor savings. Less time on the jobsite will allow contractors and installers an opportunity to move through projects faster and in turn, allow them to catch up on projects that were initially shut down or delayed.

Having the ability to limit cutting and prep work on the jobsite means the amount of time skilled laborers spend in close proximity is greatly diminished. Anything that can help manage social distancing and limit the amount of time a worker needs to spend in close quarters will help satisfy new safety protocols being mandated.

Before COVID-19, and before the accompanying recession, there were already challenges finding skilled labor and installers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index highlights the fact that a skilled labor shortage continues to pose major challenges to the industry. A higher number of skilled electrical workers were retiring, versus a lower number of those who were entering the field. Thanks to prefabrication services, companies need not struggle as mightily finding available workers for their projects.

Finally, enough can’t be said about the fact that prefabricated cable trays allow the contractor to complete more projects faster, manage and lower labor costs, and take on more work. Because we are in a challenging business climate–a “new normal”–prefabrication of cable trays arguably allows contractors to compete better in tough times. 

Mark Ross has been with MonoSystems as Director of Marketing for over 10 years. He has been a B2B business and brand strategist for over 35 years.

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