One of the things many manufacturers work hard to get right is schedules. Ok, if you’re the GC or a sub on a project waiting for a shipment days after the deadline, that may not always seem to be the case. A company might make a whale of a product, but if it can’t deliver on time, that’s a real hardship on the customers. It’s a fair complaint. But frequently, there are factors that go into the equation that are outside the manufacturer’s control. Keeping schedules in line requires strong commitments all around.
First, please understand Knickerbocker’s Immutable Law of Construction Scheduling: Contracts will always be awarded so that the subcontractor is already running late before they actually start their work. The Corollary: Regardless of when the contract is awarded, and no matter what happens in between, the end date cannot be and is NEVER changed.
When it comes to material fabrication, there are several things that directly impact the schedule.
First, there’s often a lot of final design done on shop drawings – final tweaking of issues that either came to light as a result of preparing the shop drawings, or trying to clarify issues that were not clear in the architectural drawings. All products have limits, both real and intangible: what’s physically possible, what’s practical from a manufacturing perspective and, last but not least, whether there’s enough cost in the budget to do it that way. And since we’re talking about schedules, let’s just deal with that for now – none of the others occur ever anyway (yeah, right!).
Second, first submittal drawings rarely, if ever, come back truly “approved,” with no other changes required. We all know that two submittals typically are going to be needed. That’s ok; it’s expected in most instances that a minimum of two submittals are required for anything but the simplest of projects.
Manufacturers have little or no control over how long the drawings are out on submittal and the amount of time it takes to make the necessary revisions dependent on how much the architect “bleeds” (the amount of red ink) on the drawings. This can be a schedule killer.
Obviously, we all (suppliers and subcontractors combined) have to make the general contractors more aware of the critical nature of returning the shop drawings. It’s as crucial as making the submittal on time in the first place. Getting the GCs’ help can expedite the drawing review through the design team.
Also, finding a way to cut down on resubmittals can help keep the schedule on track. Have more conference calls about the comments the architect wants to put on the drawings before they’re due to be sent back. Web conferences make this even easier. On a larger project where the schedule is even more critical, and when the cost can be more easily absorbed, isn’t a plane trip a cheap ticket to keep a job on track? Meeting with the GC and architect before the drawings come back “Revise/Resubmit” allows everybody to be in the same room at the same time to resolve any concerns, whatever it takes to get the drawings either “approved” or “approved as noted.”
Lastly, the dreaded “request for information:” What is the best way to get these answered in a timely manner? Manufacturers try not to ask frivolous questions, but sometimes there are issues that the customer can’t answer or give direction, and so have to rise to the designer’s level. Where this gets bogged down is in the weeks it sometimes takes for issues to be addressed through a normal RFI process. Rather than run the risk of guessing wrong on the answer, manufacturers tend to want to hold completing the details in question waiting for the response. If we have to complete a submittal by a certain date, and have open, unresolved questions, one approach would be to cloud the area in question, and write the RFI right on the drawings. When the answer is given on the returned submittals, the update makes the RFI officially responded to, and will be shown in the next submittal.
Rarely is it acceptable to move the end date (see Immutable Law above), so a tickler email 7-10 days prior to a scheduled return date to a GC that the drawings are due back on a specific date can’t hurt. Should manufacturers be flagging this to our customers that drawings are due back?
Manufacturers typically try all we can to compress, expedite and generally improve on the lead times it takes to fab to get the material shipped on the date we all thought was agreed upon at the time the order was placed. But in reality, it’s tough to fit X weeks of fabrication into a window that’s shorter (didn’t someone try this already, putting 10 lbs of whatever in a 5 lb bag?). The same stuff they tried to put in the bag rolls downhill to the manufacturer, and we do all we can to meet deadlines. I’m open for other suggestions on how to make this happen. What’s worked well for you?