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OM in the News: Building the “Lean” High-Rise

March 12, 2013

constructionThat new apartment tower going up in downtown Orlando is growing so quickly, it’s as if Jack buried a bean there and a concrete stalk sprouted, writes the Orlando Sentinel (March 10, 2013). The 320 unit SkyHouse high-rise, topping out at 23 floors,  will open to renters only 13 months after the first dirt was shoveled aside. It takes that long just to build some custom homes. The job has gone quickly because of “Lean”, which is dedicated to ridding the construction process of waste, especially wasted time. Work schedules have been drawn so that nobody is left waiting on someone else.  Contractor Batson-Cook, owned  by a Japanese company, is adhering to concepts drawn from Toyota’s obsession with eliminating “muda” — or waste of motion, material and time — using Lean.

The tower’s rapid rise  is the result of a well-oiled pattern of repetition made possible by dividing the job into smaller  bites. The typical way to construct such a tower would have been to complete each 15,000 sq.ft. floor before starting on the next one. Workers would erect floor forms, lay out reinforcement steel, and set up the initial wiring and plumbing fittings, which would take 4 days to complete. The floor’s concrete would be poured and finished on the 5th day. The waste in that is that the concrete finishers are idle for the first 4 days, while the forms, steel and utilities crews are idle on the 5th day. At SkyHouse, each floor is divided into 3 sections of 5,000 square feet each. Starting early each day, the forms, steel and utilities workers prepare one of the sections for a concrete pour that occurs late in the afternoon, when 17 concrete trucks arrive.

With this approach, workers do the same thing every day at the same time. By taking smaller bites of work, crews are in constant motion. The Lean approach, by cutting construction time, reduces costs and allows a building to begin generating income sooner. Batson-Cook said it expects SkyHouse to be finished months sooner and millions of dollars cheaper than a conventionally built tower.

Discussion questions:

1. Why is Lean such a powerful construction tool? Why isn’t it used more frequently?

2. How does muda differ from Lean?

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