Since Miller Electric opened its first prefab shop, the use of it on projects has created time and budget efficiencies that can’t be ignored. With October marking the seventh anniversary of the prefabrication facilities at Miller Electric, now seemed an appropriate time to consider how prefab has changed and the value it creates.

What is prefabrication?

Any assembly needed for a project that is made ahead of time and offsite is a good candidate for prefabrication. The best prefab assemblies are often those that are hidden from view.

Items Miller Electric commonly prefabricates include:

  • Conduit racks
  • Overhead pipe racking
  • Rough-in supplies
  • Light fixtures
  • Fire and security alarm components
  • Custom applications that require unique paint applications or metal fabrications

In short, anything that can be done ahead of time can potentially be prefabricated.

What are the benefits of prefab?

Whether common or custom, moving tasks out of job sites and into established prefab facilities improves safety, increases output and saves time. Not only can repetitive tasks be performed under better lighting and ergonomic conditions, they can also be performed more safely.

In the era of COVID-19, being able to reduce the number of people present at a job site and spread them out in a controlled environment in accordance with appropriate distancing and PPE guidelines is a tremendous advantage. That’s exactly what Miller Electric has been able to do with its prefab locations.

How is prefab changing?

Prefab forces the dissection of project information long before work begins, when it can benefit all trades involved on a project and help them work together more efficiently.

During a project, prefab can deliver greater consistency because fewer errors occur when products are built in a controlled environment with consistent, repeatable methods. These powerful technologies increase the ability of prefab to reduce rework and eliminate inefficiencies on jobsites.

Blending BIM into the prefab process improves communication between trades, enables the early identification of prefab candidates, ensures accurate pre-planning and leads to cost-effective design and construction of specialized assemblies.

“The advancement of 3D modeling in BIM technology over the past few years is allowing us to gain visibility into projects earlier than ever before,” says Chris Nightser, Prefabrication Manager for Miller Electric. “Earlier pre-planning is now possible and as general contractors and building owners see the benefits, they’re starting to ask for it, which is leading to even more opportunities to demonstrate the capabilities of our prefab department.”

Interesting Prefab Applications

Miller Electric regularly involves everyone in the organization in the prefab process, by inviting suggestions for prefab candidates from field electricians, project managers and office staff alike. That steady stream of ideas has led to interesting applications of Miller Electric’s prefabrication capabilities on projects.

One recent unique application was overhead pipe racking Miller Electric completed for a customer. “We were able to put multiple conduits on one rack and perform a level of pipe bending we hadn’t tried before, but the BIM team showed their capabilities by drawing precise plans that we could execute upon,” says Nightser. “From the field guys who installed it to the prefab guys who assembled it to the BIM guys who designed it, the overhead racks were an excellent example of how multiple elements can come together to create efficiencies through prefab.”

Other interesting projects the prefab shop has worked on recently include custom prefabrication applicants for customers and burn ins for LED lights.

“Some light fixtures require 24-hour burn ins before installation,” says Nightser. “This used to be something guys had to do onsite. Now, we can burn in the fixtures ahead of time in the prefab shop so that when the lights arrive onsite, they are pre-tested and can be installed immediately, without any additional waiting period required.”

While the savings might seem small, when many such applications are added up, they equate to measurable savings in time and budget on commercial electrical construction projects.

Training and Expansion

What began as one shop and a handful of employees seven years ago has grown to 75 employees working across two dedicated prefab facilities. Nightser doesn’t see that growth stopping any time soon.

“I think the next six months hold more growth and opportunity for prefabrication at Miller Electric,” he says. “We expose all our new apprentices, journeymen and construction wiremen to prefab. We work with them to give them a basic understanding of it and skills like pipe bending and can provide excellent hands on training and instruction to them. As those individuals continue in their careers, they end up coming back to us with ideas for prefab that create savings and efficiency for customers.”

Nightser doesn’t think prefab has hit its peak yet.

“I expect it to continue to grow. It’s constantly changing and we’re always able to do more with it. With support across the organization, demand from customers and an ongoing need to maintain physical distance between workers, I think prefab is only going to continue to expand its impact in the months and years ahead.”