Fabcon Precast develops a culture of continuous improvement as it works to increase its concrete panel-setting rate.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
As the specialist in manufacturing and erecting of precast concrete, Fabcon Precast is a leader when it comes to panel setting rates. However, the company is focused on continuous field improvements to increase its numbers.
Fabcon began its journey two years ago with the goal of doubling its setting rates. “What we are looking at is trying to improve upon how many wall panels we can set per crane-hour rented,” Continuous Improvement Specialist Angela Durant says. “We set our goals based on panel numbers versus buildings, which takes out the complexity because each building is vastly different than the next.”
The company’s precast concrete panels are used in many industries, including fulfillment/distribution centers, manufacturing, community and public, food processing/storage, and retail and entertainment. “Fabcon provides unmatched design-to-installation services for the world’s lightest and strongest precast concrete wall panels,” the company says.
Fabcon set aggressive goals based on its 2014 performance rating and established goals for exponential growth through acquisitions or organically, Durant says. “We know we will have more buildings going up, so how do the field and erection crews deal with that?” she asks. “What would it take to set twice as many panels as we did in 2014?”
Because doubling its panel setting rate is a huge undertaking and requires a lot of planning, Fabcon first needed to understand its current state. “What do we do today and what can we do moving forward that will allow us to achieve that other than just adding bodies?” Durant asks. “Doubling the size of the crews is easy, but not more efficient.”
Fabcon has about 250 field employees during the summer and decreases that number to half in the winter. Its number of setting crews is about 30 with 120 employees on each crew.
Over the past year-and-a-half, Fabcon has been gathering data on its current operations and compiling it into usable formats. “We have been looking at where we are, what’s holding us up and what’s the next step to getting us to the next level of performance,” Durant explains. “We have broken it down to identify the next achievable goal.”
The ultimate goal is to double the panel setting rate, but Durant says Fabcon has set more achievable and incremental goals to work toward each year. “We were working towards 12 percent growth in setting rates in 2016, but we weren’t quite there,” Durant explains. “We set it for 2017 now that we know what we are working towards and have made some changes. The June results came in and we met that goal. It’s an awesome achievement and cause for a big celebration.”
Achieving a 12 percent increase in its panel setting rate was a big undertaking, Durant admits. “We have been doing the same thing for so long that it’s a big shift,” she says. “It’s been a ground-up operation. We have taken a step back and pretended we are a brand-new company to look at how we would do things and establish a baseline as a construction operations team.”
When Fabcon announced its initiative to double its panel setting rates, field personnel were convinced it would mean they had to work harder and faster. “It went way back beyond the field guys and it was difficult to culturally go to them and say to improve how we do this,” Durant admits. “We are focused on the safety aspect and will not put people at risk. We won’t compromise on safety.”
Fabcon started with the preplanning process to increase efficiencies and improve its rate. “We are not asking our field guys to run around, but looked further back in the process to make sure they got things they needed on time, every time and in better condition than they were used to seeing,” Durant says.
Corporate Field Manager Rick Kellar is responsible for scheduling crews on each project. To increase the panel-setting rate, he works with the foreman, superintendents and project managers during the preplanning process to review the job upstream prior to delivery.
“We put a good plan in place to execute and communicate it to our customers so they can help us as well,” Kellar explains. “The only impact to our customers is obviously better scheduling as far as them having the ability to have flexibility with the trades because will be in and out in a short amount of time. By increasing our setting rate, we can take two or three days off the schedule.”
Fabcon’s safety teams are present during the preplanning process to solidify onsite safety plans. “It’s about building a culture of trust, building up everyone and them knowing they have the power to make decisions onsite,” Durant says. “Building safety and quality into the preplanning process will replicate into the field.”
The biggest challenge, Kellar says, was communicating to the field employees how the company will go about increasing its panel setting rates. “It’s not about working harder, but working smarter,” he says. “We are looking at it from a lean standpoint, but people think we have to work harder. Instead, in the preplanning process, we eliminate the down-time between each load and crane move, for example.”
To communicate the new continuous improvement mentality, Fabcon holds quarterly foreman meetings. The outlet allows for increased communication and a place for the foremen to express their concerns. “We want their engagement because they are the end-user of that preplanning,” Kellar explains. “That education and having them have a say in the plan would also hopefully get buy-in to understand the actual goal.”
This year, Fabcon has focused on building a continuous improvement culture in the field. “They don’t realize in the field how much better their performance has been, but they actually are overachieving,” Durant notes. “They don’t feel like they are working harder or faster because they can keep working and don’t have to waste time looking for tools or support they need. They have the resources they need at any time.”
Change In Process
Fabcon’s strategic approach to doubling its panel setting rates involves the entire company, not just one department. The company will continue to fine-tune its preplanning process to ensure project managers are getting more information and equipment to each project earlier.
“Trucks, delivery and everything coming on time has a lot to do with preplanning,” Field Superintendent Jeremy Jimenez says. “Also knowing how long it takes to do each thing has helped us and got the right equipment on the job. Every time the crane wasn’t swinging we looked at why and it was because someone was waiting on this or that or not prepared ahead of time.”
The key to increasing panel setting rates is ensuring everything is at the field crews’ fingertips. “The guys thought they could never get this many done and that 28 panels was a good number, but with the same amount of guys and equipment onsite and waiting, they increased to 34 panels,” Jimenez notes.
As the cultural mindset shifts into continuous improvement, Jimenez says watching the field crews’ movement onsite looks almost synchronized. “One guy wasn’t always doing one job at the bottom,” he explains. “Everyone jumped to the spot that needed to be attended to and there wasn’t much communication required. They know what needs to be done and the crane was constantly moving. It was a fluid thing and they know each other’s positions and their time on the crane. It was smoother.”
Moving forward, Fabcon will continue to analyze its panel setting rate and set new goals. “We are going to keep working and fine tuning,” Durant says. “We have made huge strides in the past six to 12 months and got further than we thought. Right now we are just doing the little things without a massive overhaul of our process and I think we got further than anticipated.”