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Lean Building Practices and the Future of Construction at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2014: Notes and Slides

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014



How Lean Building Practices Represent the Future of Success in the Construction Industry

The construction industry swarmed to Las Vegas this week for CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2014.

In case you missed it, Steve Jones (McGraw Hill Construction) moderated a panel discussion on Tuesday March 4th, which focused on Lean construction methods, challenges, and the future of the construction industry. The panelists were:


Lean Works: Exempla St. Joseph Hospital Team Collaborates on Prefabrication to Improve Schedule

Thursday, February 20th, 2014


McGraw Hill Construction, the Lean Construction Institute and Dassault Systèmes teamed up recently to produce a research report on Lean Construction. The following is an excerpt from the report, illustrating how one construction team has benefited directly from Lean practices.

CASE STUDY: Collaborating on Prefabrication to Improve Schedule

Exempla Saint Joseph Replacement Hospital
Denver, Colorado
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Faced with a daunting state-imposed deadline, the new Exempla Saint Joseph replacement hospital project in Denver needed to be on an extremely fast-track path.

To meet the challenge, the project team devised a highly collaborative strategy that leverages multi-trade prefabrication and modularization to shave schedule.

The plan would enable the team, led by Mortenson Construction, to deliver the 831,000-sq-ft facility in 30 months—five months ahead of an estimated traditional schedule.

“Prefabrication had to be a significant part of this strategy,” says Bill Gregor, construction executive for Mortenson. “It was the only way to meet the schedule restrictions.”

Gregor says the team needed to fast-track both interior and exterior elements to keep everything moving ahead quickly. The team focused its efforts on four main elements for prefabrication—exterior wall panels, multi-trade corridor racks, bathroom pods and headwalls. By accelerating the exterior panels, crews could enclose the facility quickly and help the team maintain pace with prefabricated interior elements.

That process was enabled, in part, by the contractual framework. Although the project uses traditional contracting methods, integrated project delivery concepts were implemented. Stakeholders committed to a collaboration agreement, which includes incentives, as well as a BIM execution plan to map out the process.

Collaboration proved critical. To accelerate the schedule, designers and contractors worked together in the schematic phase—or earlier—to minimize redrawing.

“Early on we had prefabrication charrettes,” Gregor says. “There were brainstorming sessions with a lot of the players involved to work through all of the ideas of what we could accomplish.”

Prefabrication and Modularization

For the enclosure system, Gregor says a joint venture of two local contractors were brought in during the design development process, allowing the design team’s work to be informed by the prefabrication process. “[The design team] drew it knowing how we would fabricate [the panels] so they could create modules in their drawings.”

Contractors prefabricated 346 exterior panels—most of which measure 30 ft. by 15 ft.—at a warehouse within five miles of the project site. Five to six panels could be brought in per truck for just-in-time delivery. Each panel was picked directly from the truck, lifted and installed. “On our best day, we placed 26 panels,” Gregor adds.

To help expedite the hospital’s 640 bathrooms, the team decided to create 440 of them as modular pods. The original design included 75 different bathroom configurations, but the team was able to rework it to establish 15 standardized pods. The custom pods were designed to a schematic level and then handed off to the manufacturer. “The manufacturer drew it, designed it in the model and transmitted it back to the design team as an element to insert into [the design] model,” Gregor explains.

Multi-Trade Prefabrication

One of the more unique aspects of the team’s overall approach is the use of multi-trade corridor racks. Only a few hospital projects had used this technique prior to the Saint Joseph’s job, but Gregor says Mortenson saw significant potential given that schedule was a primary driver. The 166 corridor racks, which measure roughly 25 ft. long, were constructed in a rented warehouse close to the site. Although each rack contained unique elements, the team worked to standardize and streamline the design as much as possible to improve efficiency.

Mechanical and plumbing contractor U.S. Engineering took the lead, first building the steel structure, then adding ductwork, piping and related elements. The racks were on wheels, enabling crews to move them from station-to-station within the warehouse. After U.S. Engineering’s work was done, the rack was moved over to the electrical crews from Encore Electric to add their work. From there, insulation, drywall and framing were also added.

Dan Strait, vice president of project development at U.S. Engineering, says that compared with traditional methods, the multi-trade racks required significantly higher levels of collaboration and coordination, particularly in terms of logistics and constructability. “How do you, from a constructability standpoint, connect a rack to the lower wall sections?” Strait says. “From a logistics standpoint, how does that workflow go? Is it a benefit or not? There are a lot more conversations like that.”

Strait said the trades created digital models for coordination and fabrication. U.S. Engineering could also generate a bill of materials for each rack as well as a set of instructions for crews from its models.

The team also created a production schedule that allowed for a steady flow of racks. Strait says crews created the racks slightly ahead of construction, storing up to two weeks of racks in the warehouse. By using this method, Strait says contractors could maintain steady manpower needs, avoiding peaks and valleys. By allowing some limited storage, the team could accommodate for fluctuations in field installation.

Once shipped to the field, crews could install up to five units per day, creating roughly 125 feet of corridor space.

For the final piece of Mortenson’s strategy, the team is creating 376 multi-trade headwalls, which include piping for medical gases, electrical, framing, drywall and finishes.”


The project, which topped out in April 2013 and is scheduled to be completed in late 2014, is ongoing and Mortenson does not have final metrics in place, but clear benefits are emerging.

As of October 2013, the project was a month ahead of schedule, five months ahead of a traditional schedule. Gregor also notes that, with so much prefabrication being done in warehouses at ground level, the work is exposed to much less risk. There were no recordable incidents on the prefabricated work, as of October 2013. Gregor notes that in some ways elements, such as the multi-trade racks can cost more in terms of direct costs, but that it is made up in other ways, such as reduced overall schedule. “We’ve been able to identify that it is cost-neutral,” he says.

Strait says he also sees significant benefits to the schedule. U.S. Engineering and Encore Electric partnered on multi-trade rack corridors for another project in Denver that completed this year, and they were able to build upon their collaboration in this project and work together effectively. He says that the team was able to install corridors on that project in one third of the time it would take for a traditional job.

“It’s a great concept,” he says. “The collaboration is a benefit in itself. It brings the team closer from both a cost and construction standpoint. You get just as good quality, if not better, and it’s leaner construction in terms of workflow.”

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Tweet: Hospital uses prefab to get 5 months ahead of schedule [Case Study] #Leanconstruction #AEC @Dassault3DS


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SOURCE: McGraw Hill Construction SmartMarket Report, “Lean Construction: Leveraging Collaboration and Advanced Practices to Increase Project Efficiency”


Dassault Systèms’ Lean Construction 3DEXPERIENCE® Solution
Lean Construction Institute
McGraw Hill Construction

A Deep Dive into the Benefits of Lean: General Contractors Share Direct Experiences

Thursday, February 13th, 2014


Lean Construction Benefits Reported by Lean PractitionersMcGraw Hill Construction, the Lean Construction Institute and Dassault Systèmes teamed up recently to produce an in-depth report on Lean Construction.

One of the main takeaways from the research is that “education about Lean and the need for and benefits of increasing efficiency must be a major priority for the industry at large.”

To that end, we’d like to share a portion of the report detailing the benefits of Lean practices.

The following is an excerpt of the SmartMarket Report, “Lean Construction: Leveraging Collaboration and Advanced Practices to Increase Project Efficiency.” 

In-Depth Interview Findings

Benefits of Adopting Lean Techniques

Firms that adopt Lean construction techniques at their respective firms realize a wide-ranging set of benefits. Most strikingly, experts in Lean construction believe that use of these techniques drives their success and their ability to compete in a challenging market. 

The greatest benefits reported by the Lean experts in the in-depth interviews include the improved ability to compete in a challenging market and higher levels of employee engagement.
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One expert says that Lean has been a contributing factor in the company’s overall financial success in recent years. “I can point to jobs we’ve won because of our experience with Lean,” he said. “We’ve gotten work with repeat clients where we implemented Lean, and they were absolutely thrilled with the results, and they just handed us work. There are examples where trade contractors who have worked with us, have had a better experience on our jobs and as a result we get better pricing.” Another contractor states that “if we didn’t do [Lean], we would have struggled [finding] work.” Because they made that commitment, though, he was able to state definitively, “We didn’t have a downturn.”

Others note that Lean construction promotes a higher level of engagement by staff and project partners. “The biggest reward is that people get more engaged in their work,” one expert said. “They get more excited about coming in and doing things everyday.That turns into higher quality, better safety and the things that are tough to quantify.” Another impact that is hard to quantify but noted by a trade contractor is that the adoption of Lean practices “keeps the culture of innovation [at their company] active and prospering.”

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Benefits Achieved

All of the experts interviewed have realized significant benefits by using Lean construction techniques, and there is strong consensus among them that all of the following benefits are achieved from the use of Lean.


GCs all agree that project costs could be reduced by cutting waste. For example, through better detailing, less materials could be used. Similarly, better modeling could lead to reduced rework. Notably, GCs say this does not necessarily translate to greater profitability, particularly those who operate under guaranteed maximum price contracts. “If there’s a savings on the job, it goes to the owner,” said one contractor.

Several trade contractors also agree that they see project costs reduced, but not all, and not consistently on every project. One advanced trade contractor, though, finds that, even if the profit margins are not frequently higher on Lean projects, they are more certain: “Our margins have improved to expectation, so instead of taking a job at 4 or 5%, and being lucky to get 3%, we’re taking the job at 4 or 5%, and we’re making 4 or 5%—maybe getting a little extra, but not going below that.” 


Numerous Lean techniques can contribute to safer worksites, including more predictable workflow, cleaner sites, improved ergonomics and better material handling. In particular, contractors note that prefabrication and modularization could improve safety by removing work from the field and executing it in a controlled environment. In fact, half of the trade contractors find improved safety to be one of the top two benefits from undertaking a Lean approach.


Better planning and greater predictability can lead to fewer conflicts in the field, freeing up staff for other activities. A GC reports, “Previously to [adopting Lean techniques], 90% of the [field staff’s] day was spent resolving conflicts and clashes between trades… That has been virtually eliminated… Now they focus on production planning, smoother workflow, how to get the project completed on time and working with the workers.”

And a trade contractor concurs, “We have probably found a 60% increase in [a supervisor’s] ability to directly manage the labor force,” which he attributes to prefabrication and the ability to automate tasks like material takeoffs, ordering and logistics.


Some GCs note that by reducing rework, teams increase the likelihood that construction quality can be improved. Others note better design and preconstruction collaboration within an integrated team reduces or eliminates the need for value engineering.

Prefabricating in a controlled environment also promotes higher quality, according to both general and trade contractors.

One trade contractor considers improved quality one of the top benefits of Lean because the processes they have put in place help them to “deliver exactly what the customer wants—no more, no less.”


This benefit carries greater weight with GCs than with trade contractors since half of the GCs interviewed say that customer satisfaction is the most significant benefit of Lean construction, a trend not found among the experts from trade firms. Customers may see some but not all the same benefits as contractors, such as lower costs, reduced schedules and higher quality.

Notably, many GCs also report that customer influence was a driver in adopting Lean techniques on projects. As such, successfully delivering a Lean project to a customer who requests it, naturally leads to customer satisfaction.

However, most trade contractors do see this as a benefit they achieve on projects, due to reliable outcomes, better adherence to schedule and higher quality.


Through improved planning, some experts say that schedules are more reliable on Lean projects. As noted above, one trade contractor considers this to be the true outcome of Lean, rather than increased profitability. Another trade contractor notes that the reliability of outcome due to their Lean practices has changed from about 20% to about 80 to 85%. Other factors, such as better detailing, fabrication and preassemblies contribute to delivering a more reliable product.


Improved planning at both the project and craft levels, can lead to shorter construction schedules. “The first project I worked on… the superintendent thought it would take seven to eight months and he told the owner it would be done in six,” said one expert. “We did it in 4.5 months without any overtime.”


In the spirit of cutting waste, firms are actively pursuing ways to remove obstacles and help workers be more efficient. For example, several note that use of the Last Planner System helped improve productivity in the field by creating more predictable workflow.

However, some note that Last Planner, which requires more upfront and detailed planning on projects, could also increase the workload of project management staff. This may be due to a lack of expertise with that system and could be less of an issue as users become proficient with the system.


There are a multitude of risks on projects, and many can be addressed through Lean. Several of the benefits listed here can contribute to improved risk management, including better safety, greater reliability and higher quality. A couple of trade contractors consider this the most significant benefit of Lean.

Click to access the full report
Click to Tweet
Tweet: In-depth interview findings on how #LeanConstruction is a game changer for #AEC @Dassault3DS @mhconstruction

Download the full report.

SOURCE: McGraw Hill Construction SmartMarket Report, “Lean Construction: Leveraging Collaboration and Advanced Practices to Increase Project Efficiency”


Dassault Systèms’ Lean Construction 3DEXPERIENCE® Solution
Lean Construction Institute
McGraw Hill Construction

7 Reasons for Lean: A summary of the benefits and challenges of Lean construction as reported by McGraw Hill

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Lean construction offers an attractive alternative to the inefficiencies of “business as usual” in the construction industry, so why are so few AEC professionals adopting it?

Lean Construction SmartMarket Report

McGraw Hill Construction (MHC) recently published Lean Construction: Leveraging Collaboration and Advanced Practices to Increase Project Efficiency (download the full report here) to explore the benefits, obstacles and technologies related to the practice of Lean.

As part of a series of BIM research reports, MHC has proven that a collaborative approach improves productivity and profitability, and that Lean (including the use of BIM and prefabrication) makes firms more competitive and yields strong business benefits.

According to the report – and Dassault’s own observations of global trends – it’s time for the US construction industry to become better informed about the inefficiencies in current construction processes. We should also be focusing more on the opportunities to improve projects and keep clients satisfied by a Lean approach.


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