Lean = Green

Lean construction practices can help contractors save both money and the environment.

You all know what a win-win is — when a business deal, personal situation or pretty much any other encounter in life turns out to be a positive experience for both parties involved. That’s what I think about when I read or hear about lean construction. It’s a common-sense approach to design and construction that integrates planning, waste reduction and performance management to create efficiencies and quality. If you can eliminate waste — either manpower waste or materials waste — you are going to save money (one kind of “green”). And while everyone wants to save money, preplanning to reduce wasted materials is also good for the environment. The more you can reuse and use right the first time, the less that needs to be manufactured in the long run and sent to a landfill (another kind of green).

An example of this jumped out at me from the article on page 32, “Contractor Finds Value and Efficiencies with BIM.” The article details how Wayne Brothers Incorporated’s BIM adoption benefited its productivity and relationships with clients. One specific example is how BIM aided its rebar manufacturing process. Daniel Wayne, director of technology at Wayne Brothers, says when they were working off 2D shop drawings they typically experienced rebar misfabrication levels between 10 and 20 percent. On a recent 1-million-square-foot project designed and constructed with the use of BIM, misfabrication dropped to only 1 percent. It’s a clear example of a lean construction practice.

More contractors are paying attention to lean construction. At the ASCC Annual Conference back in September, I sat in on a contractor roundtable entitled “Increasing Margins Through Efficiencies.” That discussion focused largely on lean construction practices. One contractor talked about planning a centrally located jobsite rebar yard that made rebar more accessible, cutting down the time it takes workers to search for rebar and manpower to move piles from spot to spot throughout the course of a project. Another contractor talked about closely managing a construction schedule and ensuring any changes are communicated to the person who handles equipment rentals so you’re not paying for idle rental equipment on a jobsite.

What became clear to me is that lean construction — or lean manufacturing or “lean” in whatever industry you are in — is based on the idea of preplanning to create efficiency. If you take the time to plan upfront, your savings down the road will increase exponentially.

There is a wealth of information available about lean construction. Start online at the Lean Construction Institute, www.leanconstruction.org. And maybe you want to put the book The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer by Jeffrey Liker on your reading list; it will help you understand the “lean” philosophy.