Mar. 28, 2024

Commercial Project Managers Leverage New Kitting Services Program to Maximize Installation Efficiencies

by Brooke Roberts

The role of project manager, coordinating the design and installation of multiple mechanical systems on large commercial construction jobs, is as challenging as it is multifaceted. 

The position calls for overseeing potentially every aspect of a project: submittals, shop drawings, procurement, scheduling, change orders, even financials. A project manager must also regularly communicate with the building owner and operators on the progress of the job while discussing any problems. 

Project managers typically work alongside their main report-to, a superintendent, making sure they stay in sync on the execution and the schedule, as well as labor demands and their cost implications. Much of the communications with the building owner or developer and other subcontractors must pass through the project manager until the job closes and the warranty period ends. 

Project managers also find themselves heavily involved with the installation crews to ensure the mechanical contractor’s teams do not go too far outside their “lane” of work. This contact also demands discussing and resolving any problems in real-time to keep the project moving relentlessly forward, always meeting what is invariably a highly demanding schedule. 

In short, project managers’ responsibilities are large, numerous, and critical. These challenges would be profound on just one project. However, it’s not unusual for project managers to be immersed in more than one job at a time.  

In such trying circumstances, the need to maximize labor and cost efficiency on a modern commercial jobsite is more critical than ever. 

A more efficient way to work 

Enabling project managers to deal with the complexities of large commercial jobs — one at a time or in multiples — is the mission of an innovative, plumbing rough-in supply program from Uponor North America, the Apple Valley, MN-based manufacturer of crosslinked polyethylene (PEX) piping and marketer/distributor of Uponor PP-RCT.  

Designed to speed installs, lower labor costs, reduce jobsite waste, and meet the most stringent of schedules, Uponor Kitting Services was specially created for larger building projects with highly repeatable room types, such as apartments, dormitories, hospitals, assisted-living centers, and hotels.  

The service provides access to the entire Uponor product catalog in the form of customized, coordinated packaging of all the essentials to plumb a project with PEX-a pipe: fittings, rings, transitions, valves, stub outs, supports, and other components.  

The items are shipped according to a carefully planned cadence in precise quantities in individual, sealed plastic bags, labeled by room. The bags also include a materials list, a clear plan view, and a 3D isometric drawing. One recent hotel project in Abilene, Texas, for example, involved 202 separate kits; another in Fort Worth had 120. 

Deliveries are not all at once in bulk but sequenced by floor level or project phase. What’s more, they come directly from the manufacturer to avoid delays due to local, in-stock distribution gaps. The primary role of the local Uponor wholesaler-distributor is simply to handle the billing. 

All the installer needs to do is enter the assigned room or area on a jobsite, open the bag, and get to work. The goal: Maximize productivity by eliminating the need or temptation to “freelance” a rough-in install, while also minimizing sourcing of additional or missing items and the consequent confusion and waste. Ideally, what’s in the bag is all that a skilled installer needs to complete the job, no more and no less.  

According to the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), only 32 percent of labor time is dedicated to actual, direct installation. The remainder is spent on materials handling, indirect operations, and ineffective activities.  

“Our intent with Kitting Services is to increase that direct installation-time percentage,” says Daniel Worm, portfolio manager for Uponor North America. “In doing so, contractors will maximize their skilled labor, while making installs more consistent, material and labor-cost estimates more accurate, and jobsites less cluttered with unneeded, leftover product.” 

For project managers benefitting from Kitting Services, Uponor’s intent becomes a welcome reality on the jobsite.  

As one manager remarked, “There are many advantages to detailing all the individual items that go into an install, including the approximate footages of the hot-water and cold-water PEX lines. We were able to precut all the pipe lengths, so they were ready and waiting in each room for our installers.” 

The isometric drawings were another key aspect of the service, according to this project manager: “That's a great ‘sell’ to take to our installers — just use the drawing that comes with the kit and run the line out. Everything to do the job is right there for you.”

We were able to precut all the pipe lengths, so they were ready and waiting in each room for our installers.

Upfront planning critical 

Just as essential to jobsite success is the pre-installation planning mechanical contractors must do with Uponor for kitting to yield maximum benefit. Such planning spares installers from having to “sort through a bunch of different parts to find what they need,” one project manager said, explaining the critical value of this work.

“We understood what we were going to do and how we were going to do it, so that it was right there for us, laid out and ready to execute. From that, I know that we gained efficiencies."

How does this planning work? After early email communications, project managers and members of their teams will likely meet multiple times, usually via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, with members of Uponor Construction Services who handle the design work. These discussions include the various piping paths on each job, their termination points, and how to handle any other foreseeable installation issues.

“The level of detail in these meetings is impressive,” says Worm. “A good project manager must be exceptionally detail-oriented with an ability to listen carefully and then work hard to solve problems.”

As one project manager recalled from his own experiences: “It was a healthy, back-and-forth dialogue between our team and Uponor Construction Services. We had to come to these sessions fully prepared, knowing exactly how the pipe on our project had to be routed if the kitting process was to work most effectively.”

Take, for example, a typical hotel job: While there is plenty of repetition within such projects, they usually involve multiple guest-room configurations. The installers must properly anticipate and accommodate each configuration if the PEX is to integrate with the building’s larger plumbing system. It is important to identify clearly the differences from one configuration to the next if the kitting is to provide everything an installer needs.

The project manager comments: “Spending extra time up front was the only way to make sure our installers had all the right parts to make those different connections, rather than only half of what was needed and then running around, special ordering all the other parts to complete the installation.”

Our customer on each project had already tagged the rooms, so every installer knew exactly which room to work in and what to install.

Key benefits 

When asked to identify the principal benefits of Uponor Kitting Services, project managers invariably cite four: 

  • Fewer fill-ins: "Everything was contained inside a compact, sealed plastic bag, numbered with the room type. Then, we staged the piping we precut right next to it,” says one manager. “Our customer on each project had already tagged the rooms, so every installer knew exactly which room to work in and what to install.”
  • Less material waste: As with fewer fill-ins, this benefit derives from more accurate material-needs projections, as well as the contractor’s ability to precut the piping. "Rather than dropping huge bundles of PEX pipe in each room plus a fudge factor for fittings, preinstallation planning can provide a more definitive estimate of pipe footage,” one project manager explains. “We didn't have oodles of extra pipe or fittings on the jobsite once we were finished.”
  • Helps meet construction schedules: A contractor involved in a recent large hotel project notes that his teams “met our durations and even exceeded them. Although I cannot specifically quantify it, we even got out ahead — honestly, we kind of 'chased' the framer and drywall installer.”
  • Less install freelancing: Given half a chance, installers will likely opt for their preferred way of running pipe. However, the kitting process can be so tightly organized that it effectively eliminates this type of counterproductive freelancing — saving time and adding efficiencies. "When the kits were shipped, we did not find we needed more of this or less of that,” comments a project manager. “Any revisions we later enacted would not have impacted what the kitting provided: The pipe routings would have remained the same. There may have been a call for additional PEX pipe, or something might have been moved, but that wouldn't be on Uponor.”

Final assessment 

For an always time-challenged, quality-conscious commercial project manager, Uponor Kitting Services can greatly impact a company’s ability to nail the schedule by doing the job right the first time without waste or delay.

A project manager who successfully leveraged Uponor Kitting Services on a pair of large hospitality jobs told us he would “absolutely” consider the service again on projects involving repetitive pipe layouts:

“Kitting helped define and quantify exactly what our teams needed to hit the ground running on each jobsite. That, in turn, enabled efficiencies and a focused installation after the necessary back-and-forth communications and coordination between Uponor and us, so we could be successful for our own customer.

“In the end, the kitting services provided the best product for the application in a reasonable time frame. Kitting does pay for itself in full and is well worth the extra cost in improved productivity.”

Learn more about Uponor Kitting Services

Get ProPEX® fittings, rings, transitions, valves, stub outs, supports, and other components in individual kits labeled by room.

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