The winter months are normally the time to make changes to your processes within your area of influence. Depending on how your company is structured for decision-making, your influence and actions to stay competitive in the face of ever-increasing challenges will determine the long-term viability of your company and your individual career. What has been true for decades will no longer remain the same whether or not you embrace the changes.

Facts that need to be considered:

  • Technology enhancements will change how components are manufactured and how the projects are processed within the office, including the design. I have witnessed some genuinely mind-blowing game changes in the manufacturing and design processes.
  • The building industry markets are not as strong as they have been, and the market uncertainties will continue to create significant downward pressures on retaining profits. Greater manufacturing capacities with slowing building markets are not a recipe for sustainable margins and profits.

My sole purpose is to provide enhanced perspective and training to help companies improve their processes to survive changing market conditions and thrive. If you have been in the component manufacturing (CM) industry for a few decades or more, then you have witnessed changes within the manufacturing process, such as automated saws and auto jigging. I am old enough to remember when the manual TimberMill™ 6-blade component saw was high-capacity cutting technology. Yes, there was a 6-blade TimberMill™ saw. Now, the changes and technological upgrades within the manufacturing process are increasing at a faster pace.

Fact: The standard automated 5-blade component saw is outdated in both capacity and accuracy. Most CMs are still “enhancing” their cutting capacity with the same technologies that have been around for decades, including 5-bladed and linear saws. What is perceived as the tried-and-true methods are quietly being left behind. If your group is using the same automated 5-bladed component saws that have not really changed in decades, the results pale in comparison to what can be achieved. No, the one-size-fits-all solutions are not the best solution for all the cutting or the assembly. Automated material movement equipment looks impressive, but many systems are not increasing manufacturing capacities.

Fact: So many brand-new roof truss facilities are creating congestion that will slow their overall capacity by 5% to 10%. Over the past decades, roof truss equipment has changed considerably and yet the equipment vendors have continued recommending the same “tried and true” old configuration layout for material flow and processing. Once installed, the truss assemblers can do nothing to go beyond the standard equipment setup constraints. At least 80% of new truss assembly is congested with poorly planned equipment assembly setups. One should really rethink the “free” vendor recommendations and what they may be doing to your company's manufacturing capacities. For most, a restriction of 5% equates to millions of dollars in lost opportunities.

Fact: Roof truss assembly output will double within three to five years with the same amount of personnel. The types of truss assembly enhancements that are coming into the market over the next three to five years will be revolutionary. Most GMs and owners have not been shown or made aware of what is coming. What was talked about and displayed this past Building Component Manufacturers Conference show barely scratched the surface of what is coming. However, I have witnessed some truly game-changing automation that goes beyond what is currently being touted in the market. Sadly, too many are not preparing themselves for the coming changes. Regardless of the size of the CM, these changes will have enormous ramifications within all markets.

Fact: The roof truss and wall panel design process has not significantly changed in decades. Of course, there have been slow improvements to how the design process has evolved over the past decades with gradual improvements to the software. Let me state that the number of designers needed to process the same number of components will significantly decrease. All the overseas design services and much of the industry’s accepted standard number of designers per sales dollar will be turned upside down. The design process will shift from the actual design of the components to that of making sure the designs are correct. I cannot emphasize this enough when I state that the number of designers needed to process the component designs will change by possibly as much a factor of ten. In other words, one designer will process ten times the number of designs that are common today. Adding more and more designers to increase output should not be the focus of any design manager. Design groups, of which I was a designer and design manager for many years, are among the most stubborn groups for embracing changes to the design process. Technology is about to make a significant leap forward, and nothing will stop it. Recognizing the coming changes, you can start adopting better methods with your design groups now.

Design change example: Using “old” technology in a new way, the quote process can be 10x faster than traditional plate vendor software. How many CMs have a quote-to-order ratio of approximately 30% and yet insist they need to design each component as if it were going to be processed as an order ready for manufacturing? Must all the projects be quoted using the design program? Or could a high percentage of potential projects be processed using another method? Better yet, someone other than the design group could easily use this estimation program. In minutes, you can have an accurate quote that includes the board footage, lumber cost, plate cost, labor cost, gross margins, and many other helpful project details needed for estimation. To the managers and owners who resist this quoting method, ask yourself this question: Would you rather be able to process the quote projects ten times using a different program or hire and train other personnel to become designers?

Don’t shoot the messenger. At this point, many of you are upset with me. Please keep in mind that I am the informed messenger. If you wish to ignore these coming changes and want to continue with willful blindness, that is up to you. You have been warned. However, when your group is willing to prepare and embrace the coming changes, it first takes an open mindset of willingness.

Pride or ego is the actual barrier for most companies making meaningful improvements. An honest assessment and a review of all current practices are always warranted. Maybe your group should try a different approach to learning improved processes instead of using the same methods your group has grown accustomed to. The time for improvement is always now, so embrace continuous improvement in meaningful ways before it is too little, too late.