ORLANDO, FL — If you are a mechanical contractor, have you ever taken the time to estimatetruejobsite productivity? Did it ever occur to you that your workers engage in nonproductive (ineffective) activities at least 25% of the time? Is there a way to reduce indirect operations on the jobsite? These were some of the questions posed to Construction Con-tractors Alliance (CCA) members at its recent meeting here. The person posing the questions (and giving answers) was Kerry O’Brien, B.E., P. Eng., and owner of K.E. O’Brien & Associates Inc., Toronto, ON, Canada, a construction productivity consultant. O’Brien titled his presentation “Jobsite Productivity Management.” He showed CCA members some facts and figures from his three-year study on productivity measurement. The study used this work sampling technique on a total of nine different commercial/institutional projects:

15 people;

32 rounds per day;

10 days of observations (4,800 total observations); and

22 studies over a three-year period.

The studies produced results which were broken down into five separate categories:1.Direct installation, e.g., actualdirect installation;

2. Indirect operations, e.g., job setup, reading drawings, setting up tools;

3. Materials handling, e.g., unloading truck, moving materials to installation area;

4. Ineffective activities, e.g., late start/early finish, coffee breaks, early lunch/late return; and

5. Miscellaneous, e.g., getting coffee for the crew, unknown absence. O’Brien set out to attack three categories, which he said are “under the contractor’s direct control.” Those categories included indirect operations, materials handling, and miscellaneous. He noted that ineffective activities can also be reduced, but the percentage decrease is not as dramatic as the other categories. The ultimate goal is to increase direct installation.

The “Before Picture”

The study showed the following percentages:
  • Direct installation – 32%
  • Ineffective activities – 26%
  • Materials handling – 20%
  • Indirect operations – 15%
  • Miscellaneous – 7%
  • O’Brien noted that the last three categories comprised 42% of the total activities and he set out to show contractors how they could decrease that percentage.

    Attendee Bill Jones, of Raven Mechanical Inc., said, “Materials handling and preplanning are the key to improving direct installation.”

    O’Brien added that there were some highs and lows in the direct installation category. “We observed one project with a direct installation rate of 16% and another at 44%.”

    Materials Handling Is The “Wedge”

    He said that the key “wedge” to improving productivity is in materials handling, which can sometimes take up as much as 42% of a journeyman’s day.

    “The point of the wedge should be materials handling,” O’Brien said. “But we are not trying to come up with some new techniques for doing this — this is improving on things we already do.

    “I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Construction sites are pathetic and getting worse. And accessibility to materials at the jobsite is very important.”

    O’Brien cited easier access to loading areas, usage of forklifts, and pallet movers as solutions to moving materials more efficiently.

    He recommended the following checklist for site layout and materials handling:

  • Site access;
  • Truck unloading;
  • Hoisting;
  • Distribution;
  • Installation areas;
  • Housekeeping;
  • Site facilities; and
  • Just-in-time delivery.
  • “Materials handling should be a no-brainer to the guys in the field,” he said.

    After recommending solutions to contractors regarding materials handling, indirect operations, and miscellaneous operations, O’Brien’s customers achieved the following jobsite improvements.

  • Direct installation – 52%
  • Ineffective activities – 23%
  • Materials handling – 12%
  • Indirect operations – 10%
  • Miscellaneous – 3%
  • One of the conclusions reached by O’Brien was “productivity has really gone nowhere in my 28 years in the business. If we do nothing about it, maybe we’ll get lucky and things will improve.”

    Sidebar: CCA Surveys Members For ‘Hot Topics’

    ORLANDO, FL — During the CCA meeting, attendees were asked to list some of the “hot topics” facing their businesses and the industry. The following list includes the 12 most frequent responses, listed in descending order:

    1. Materials handling.

    2. Foreman training.

    3. Field incentives.

    4. Expanding operations/diversifying.

    5. Marketing and business development.

    6. Communications.

    7. Labor productivity.

    8. How to set up operating branches.

    9. Training.

    10. Group buying.

    11. Tax avoidance/minimization.

    12. E-commerce and contracting.

    Other responses received included: relationships with general contractors, new tools, CCA programs, computers, indoor air quality, and drug programs.

    The group had one surprising response. Only one person said they were concerned about retaining key employees during slow times.

    Publication date: 03/19/2001