"Sure, there's risk in taking project managers, moving them to preconstruction and trusting the additional overhead is going to enhance your bottom line," says Jansen. To support the transition, Faith invested heavily in training and educational programs for its work force, a move that continues to this day, funded by annual investments of $2.5 million.
As the firm simultaneously developed expertise in BIM,"we had a lot of teachers at our disposal," Jansen says. "Every project was a learning experience, and we were lucky to partner with some of the smartest owners and general contractors in the country, enterprises that shared our same passion for technology."
Today, 20 employees are involved in detailing and modeling. The firm's design department is 40 strong and includes 15 licensed engineers. Another 10 hold positions elsewhere with the firm. By year's end, its design staff will nearly double, to 100, in support of an initiative to secure 75% of its work via design-build and design-assist contracts next year. Currently, such contracts account for 50% of its business. Earlier this year, they accounted for only 27%.
It's a game changer, but company management believes it has put the resources in place to support clients in all phases of design and construction. In addition to the new Neenah facility, Faith operates a 30,000-sq-ft fabrication facility in Kansas City, Kan., with prefabrication accounting for 12% of the firm's labor hours, up from 3% in 2009. "Our goal is to eventually hit 20%," Jansen says.
The benefits are resonating, particularly among clients that value speed to market and simplification of field work. "Is greater cost control, schedule control and speed to market as critical for a K-12 project as it is for a manufacturing facility?" asks Jansen. "No, but it's playing very well in our key markets, including health care and industrial facilities."
For Mercy-West Hospital, a $200-million, 555,000-sq-ft facility in Cincinnati, a project for which it joint-ventured with Cincinnati-based Denier Electric, Faith prefabricated all corridor ceilings in 20-ft-long to 25-ft-long sections.
"Conventional installation techniques would have required hour upon hour of ladder time," says Jansen. "Here, we were able to simply lift the assemblies into place. If you can reduce an 80-hour operation to 5 hours, you're also creating safer tasks and a safer jobsite."
For the same project, workers prefabricated more than 250 bathrooms as standalone pods requiring only final connections upon arriving on site. "The market is moving more and more to multitrade prefabrication, with health care leading the charge," says Clark. "We've established prefabrication as its own business unit, with its own P&L, to promote even greater creative thinking," he says. "Its members recognize they're going to need to continue to innovate in order for that unit to succeed."
As it ramps up prefabrication, Faith is dispatching fewer workers to jobsites, allowing it to better negotiate potential labor shortages now that market conditions have begun to improve. "We currently have one employee involved in planning, technology and engineering for every three in the field," says Jansen. "For most firms, the ratio is one to eight, one to nine. As we ramp up for 2015, we'll up it to one to four, which probably is closer to where we need to be."
Workers who remain in the field are better equipped, capable of accessing real-time models of installations just feet away, the result of new mobile technology centers Faith is deploying to select sites. Equipped with a desktop PC tower and 40-in. LCD television, in addition to software ranging from Freedom Viewer and Bluebeam Revu to Microsoft Office, Faith's newly launched BIM in a Box allows trades to more readily ensure that installations conform to specifications, thereby enhancing the safety and accuracy of the final product, Jansen says.