You’ve heard the phrase “time is money,” and that arguably couldn’t be truer among concrete contractors. For instance, contractors bid jobs very competitively, so profit margins tend to be low. This forces contractors to assess other ways that they can increase job profits, which makes on-the-job (and even in-office) productivity so vital to success.
Productivity isn’t so much defined by dollars as it is by hours, which makes efficiency so crucial. If a crew can complete certain job hours–perhaps even days–ahead of what was initially projected, that’s more money back into their pockets when it’s all said and done. But at the same time, it’s important not to cut corners for the sake of finishing ahead of schedule.
Each year, World of Concrete gathers the leading companies and disruptors to discuss and showcase how to improve efficiency, and in turn profits, in the sector. Jim Adrian, a Bradley University professor in civil engineering and construction, and a regular speaker on productivity at World of Concrete says that a concrete contractor’s profits and losses are made in the field. “The difference between a good job and a bad job when it comes to concrete is still a field operation,” he told Concrete Construction.
So just how can contractors increase profits in a traditional low-margin field of work?
This year, World of Concrete takes place January 22-25 in Las Vegas. The event promises to once again bring together the latest innovations in the concrete space to help builders increase their returns. If you’re attending and looking to make the most of your time at the show, below, we’ve identified six tools and strategies you should keep an eye out to maximize your profits. But whether you’re attending World of Concrete or not, keeping the below tactics in mind will help all concrete specialty contractors increase productivity where it matters the most–the field.
1. Fix the Root of Rework With Improved Communication
A streamlined, efficient workflow is ideal for concrete contractors, but it’s not always the reality. Rework, for instance, is commonplace due to a lack of communication and collaboration among subcontractors, general contractors and design teams. Some estimates state that rework costs can add up to as much as 5% of the total contract value on a project. Obviously minimizing–or eliminating–rework will help concrete contractors make more money. Even for the rework that does occur, communication still needs to be effective, clear and concise. Few tools that can help streamline such communication to reduce and minimize the impact of expensive rework:
Mobile (and cloud-based) document management
It’s common for contractors, general contractors and designers to go back and forth on plan changes. When these documents and communications are paper-based or rely on outdated systems like Excel and email exclusively, missed information and mistakes are likely to occur.
Today, concrete contractors need the support of mobile and cloud-based document management to help streamline changes and design updates. Cloud tools are also ideal during requests for information, or RFIs. The big value of making sure such tools and devices are mobile-friendly is that they allow the respective parties to make their markups and changes from the field on their phones or tablets. In turn, this will enable alterations to be made faster and keeps field teams abreast on the latest project changes in real time.
To improve profits, rework communication needs to be done effectively and efficiently. That’s where software tools that help provide a central location to collaborate can come in handy. Whether it’s the office, trailer or another location, software tools like PlanGrid allow general contractors, concrete contractors, designers and all other project stakeholders the ability to come together and manage the project. When software tools provide a central location to collaborate–it reduces both the amount of time spent on inefficient communications and the risk of installing concrete work to outdated specifications.
If you’re interested in learning more about tools like collaboration software can help increase productivity–and profit–in concrete work, download the ebook, “How Embracing Software Can Boost Productivity for Concrete Subcontractors” on the matter.
2. Improve Productivity Through Transparency
One of the major debilitating factors on concrete jobs is lost time. The “hurry up and wait” game directly translates to lost productivity, with jobs being put behind schedule. It often involves a lack of information, a lack of documents, waiting for answers from engineers or concrete workers being shifted or moved to new areas.
The answer: Empower field workers to access complete and detailed plans and information, which thereby leads to faster decision making and less time spent waiting. Many tools can help facilitate better transparency. Such tools allow contractors to better document key pour locations, sequences and foundation details by simply pinning photos and marking up plans.
One tool that can pay big dividends in the field is building information modeling (BIM). Such modeling software helps increase productivity by improving the ability to prepare accurate lift drawings. Specifically, rather than the foreman and supers manually making lift drawings, a BIM technician can easily divide these responsibilities into parts by field crew. In fact, a study detailed in Concrete Construction found that forming productivity on BIM jobs was up to 15% higher.
3. Plan for the Unexpected
There’s always the high likelihood for Mother Nature to throw a concrete job. As we know, concrete is a material that is particularly affected by elements like heat, cold and moisture. Basically, any small weather abnormality can put a job behind schedule while workers wait out for the right working conditions.
While it’s important to pay attention to the weather forecast so that you have a general idea of the daily conditions that will be unsuitable for work (and plan accordingly, which may include buffering in extra job time), it’s also critical to have a backup plan you can refer to.
Another significant benefit of BIM software is that cement contractors can adjust on-the-fly to accommodate scheduling for the intangibles, like the weather. With BIM software, you don’t have to worry about drawing new lift drawings, as the input can be easily adjusted in the model and then redistributed.
4. Invest in Hiring and Training
As we noted above, Jim Adrian believes that losses and profits in concrete construction are made in the field. And the key to performing this field work is none other than the workers themselves.
That said, to increase your profits on concrete jobs, you need to work with high-quality people. Working with cement is complicated–way more than it seems. Austin Gary, Project Engineer for TAS Commercial Concrete, explains, “It’s not just pouring what we call mud in the industry and watching it dry.” He continues, “There’s a lot that goes into concrete; specifications, mix designs and reinforcement needs. Now, we’re even adding fiber into concrete mixes instead of mesh reinforcement. There are just so many possibilities, and you can even get into the chemistry of concrete.”
That’s why hiring–and retaining–good workers is so essential in cement contracting. And once you hire them, it’s crucial to continue investing in them so that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Invest in your employees’ growth and happiness, provide opportunities for ongoing training and always be in the know with technologies that can make their work better and more efficient. We encourage you to keep an open door policy with your workers, as you can increase productivity through transparency too–just as we detailed a few sections earlier.
Additionally, consider technology to be an investment to aid your staff. It’s essential that your workers know what you expect for them, not just on a per-project basis, but on a daily basis. Mobile technology allows staff to do more with less and can keep field teams up to date with the office and allow for making streamlined, up-to-the-second changes in a seamless fashion. It will enable the entire team to view standardized reports in real-time, thereby allowing for a more thorough understanding of factors like performance, schedule and other things that need to be addressed moving forward.
5. Update Your Materials Tracking
Do you know when you’re receiving materials? Material timing can be essential to the overall success of a concrete job, and lack of accurate tracking is a common frustration among cement contractors. This is especially true if laydown space is limited, as poorly timed deliveries can lead to major headaches if there isn’t even room to adequately and safely store the necessary materials.
To improve material tracking in concrete construction, one solution to consider incorporating sensors connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) into your operations. Data from such sensors have the potential to track fleets, concrete supplier trucks and more so that you have a specific idea of when materials are set to arrive and can plan accordingly, thereby minimizing profit-killing downtime. Proper planning is especially vital if pre-cast concrete is being used on a job. That’s because pre-cast concrete requires extensive pre-planning so that installation is timed properly. If there’s confusion around when this delivery is coming, the timing can be thrown off entirely, dipping into job profitability.
6. Stay Current with the Latest Innovations in Concrete
Finally, concrete contractors should always be in the know about current and emerging trends in the cement field of work. With the rate at which technology is changing, cement specialty contractors should always have a finger on the pulse of the industry. A lot is happening in the concrete construction space right now that has the potential of improving profit margins, and some examples of promising technology poised to disrupt things (in a good way) include:
- Concrete 3D printers
- Super-hydrophobic concrete
- Rapid-drying concrete
- Thermal insulation
While many of these innovations mentioned above are still in their infancy and too new (and expensive) to use on a widespread basis, the potential of such cannot be overlooked. Keep an eye on these emerging materials and technologies as they continue to improve and become more widely used.
See the Future of Cement at World of Concrete
If you’re looking for an in-depth, comprehensive overview of all-things concrete, there’s no better venue than the annual World of Concrete trade show. Scheduled for January 22-25, 2019, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, World of Concrete offers attendees a first-hand look at the technologies and tactics for increasing profit on concrete jobs.
The conference covers everything from BIM software to concrete 3D printing and many of the other budding technologies that we mentioned in the previous section. While you’re there, be sure to stop by the PlanGrid booth (Booth N1971) for a closer look at the future of collaboration and software shaping the concrete sector of work. We’ll be hosting live demonstrations of our solutions, as well as networking events and one-on-one meetings.
Like we said, profit margins for concrete contractors are traditionally slim. That’s why it’s important to carefully consider any technologies or practices that can help increase productivity, and thereby profitability. When time equals money, you can’t afford to be wasting it.