Saturday, August 19, 2017

Apex Homes of PA, and Other Modular Home Factories, are bucking a trend.

While manufacturing jobs across the country have decreased over the years, building construction has increased. That has increased demand for the modular homes that Apex makes according to an article in the Sunbury Daily Item.

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Apex is one of the lucky businesses locally. Just two of the four Valley counties lost manufacturing companies between 2006 and 2016, but all four lost jobs, according to Lauren Riegel, a statistician supervisor with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Center for Workforce Information and Analysis. Across Pennsylvania, more than 110,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost over the past 10 years.

"Our market is Maine to North Carolina," said Apex President Lynn Kuhns. "There's an increase in demand."

The Snyder County company added cabinet manufacturing several years ago in a separate facility in Mount Pleasant Mills, then later moved it to the factory complex along Route 522 in Middlecreek Township, near Kreamer.

"We've been doing that for a number years," Kuhns said. "We put up a showroom inspiration center."

The company employs about 120, and though a slowdown forced some labor cuts earlier in the year, "Now we're trying to fill production spots in order to meet increased demands," Kuhns said. "We'd like to bring on another 40 people."

But it's not like that in other manufacturing industries. Those jobs have been in decline across the nation.

There are exceptions in Pennsylvania, such as the homebuilder and food and beverage production, the latter receiving a boost from the explosion of wineries and craft beer breweries in Pennsylvania.

There are a number of reasons for the decline.

"In the past 10 years, the recession had the biggest impact," Riegel said. "Automation and outsourcing are having an impact. Generally, technological advances and automation have had a stronger impact than the outsourcing."

Jimmy Chen, a Bucknell University assistant professor of management, and Matt Rousu, interim dean of the Sigmund Weis School of Business at Susquehanna University and an economics professor for 13 years before that, agree that automation is playing a big role in reducing manufacturing jobs everywhere in the country.

"A more interesting question is even if we bring back manufacturing jobs, I would say many of them could be replaced by robots," Chen said. "If I can buy a robot instead of hiring six more people, the decision comes down to what makes more sense."

Kuhns said Apex has installed some automated equipment in its cabinet shop, but not at the expense of jobs.

"We could have eliminated some people, but we actually brought in more people to increase production," he said.

Again, that is an exception. Rousu said machines increasingly are doing the work people used to do. He said that's been true in the car manufacturing industry for a long time. It's also true beyond the United States' shores. He said automation is even eliminating jobs overseas.

"China has fewer manufacturing jobs than they had 10 years ago," he said. "Technology is improving."

He doesn't see it changing.

"The downward trend in manufacturing jobs has been going on for 100 years," Rousu said. "Two hundred years ago, most people farmed. The trend went from farming to manufacturing to the service industry."

Kuhns said every manufacturing industry faces the same challenge: "People don't want to get into the trades."

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Green Impact of Modular Construction

Modular construction can create many benefits for the environment in addition to efficiency and cost savings as outlined here by Suhayl Laher of Tiles Direct


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As time goes on and our planet feels the weight of human activity, the need for sustainable solutions has risen substantially. We now understand the impact that construction alone can have on the environment, with the UK industry using more than 400 million tonnes of materials every year – making it the nation’s largest consumer of natural resources. Eco-conscious manufacturing techniques have become more popular in recent decades as a result, with a modular construction approach, in particular, offering builders the chance to save both money and time while helping support the planet too.

Eco-friendly building materials

Many modular construction companies are adopting an environmental approach throughout all of their processes. This means incorporating eco-friendly building materials is now an innate part of the modular building process, lowering the environmental impact of prefabricated builds and reducing their overall waste consumption.

The drastic reduction in wasted materials is primarily down to the fact that modular units are built in a highly controlled environment, instead of on-site at a traditional project location. Obsolete waste materials that would normally be sent to a landfill off-site can instead be recycled in other projects and for different purposes. Not only that, but the materials themselves are often eco-friendly from the get-go, with materials like FSC-approved timber and sustainably sourced steel regularly found in modular construction projects.

Reduced energy consumption

Because modular construction companies operate in a controlled environment, the energy poured into the assembly process is only a fraction of that which would be used on-site. The majority of parts built in this way are built in a system similar to an assembly line, which reduces the time spent on building individual parts and removes the need to assemble individual materials on-site.

This efficiency is part of the reason modular manufacturing requires substantially less energy than other traditional assembly techniques. In modular builds, everything from the bathroom wall tiles to the drainage systems are integrated from the start – reducing assembly time, minimising wasted material and providing a consistent quality level throughout.

Reusability

With a recent surge of interest in building reusability and recyclability, modular builds can provide the flexible solution the buildings of the future need. Prefabricated sections are far easier to disassemble and relocate to different sites, thanks to their pre-assembled parts. If a building has become obsolete or disused, modular parts can be saved so that they don’t go to waste.

If modular construction techniques became the norm, the requirement for fresh, raw materials for every new project would be substantially reduced. Where homes have become disused, whole rooms or even entire floors could be lifted out for use in other projects. In the UK, where we need to build an estimated 300,000 homes each year to help solve the housing crisis, this could be a huge asset. The innate flexibility of prefabricated homes could go a long way to support construction companies in their efforts to meet government targets, while also dramatically reducing the industry’s burden on the environment.

Less noise pollution

Because modular sub-assemblies are completed in a factory, the construction site will require considerably fewer personnel than a traditional site would. Without the need for building material deliveries, noisy on-site machinery or large numbers of staff, noise pollution is reduced dramatically. Besides the environmental benefit, this also means sites are less likely to receive complaints and can be built both quicker and more harmoniously with the surrounding community – both of which are vital in busy urban areas.

As the demand for sustainability seeps into every major global industry, innovations like modular construction could be the future for the industry. From bathroom pods to entire homes, the uses for prefabrication techniques extend across the entire building spectrum. With heavy pressure to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint, and the impressive speed of modular construction innovation, the green benefits of this relatively new technique deserve to be considered.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

CA Modular Home Dealer Builds a Net Zero for Himself

California wants all new residential construction in the state to be zero net energy (ZNE) by 2020. Steve Lefler, vice president of Modular Lifestyles, a modular home dealer and builder, wants to prove it's affordable to achieve ZNE — today.

ZNE homes produce as much energy as they consume, usually through a mix of energy-efficient building techniques and onsite power generation. As architects and builders throughout California gear up to meet the upcoming standards, Lefler decided to take on the challenge with his own modular home.

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Using a combination of solar photovoltaic power and an efficient propane tankless water heater, he achieved the ambitious goal, and he has the energy bill savings to prove it.

The net zero challenge
Lefler constructed his 1,939-square-foot home in Paso Robles, California, where the unforgiving climate would provide a true test. "I'm very competitive to prove a point that I'm not in the middle of Irvine or San Diego, where it's very temperate climates," he says. "This climate is very difficult. It has 125 days of 100 degrees and 45 days of below 30."

Modular home builder Steve Lefler constructed his own modular home to zero net energy standards. Because a propane tankless water heater reduces the home’s electrical demands, solar photovoltaic panels can provide most of the home’s power needs.


The home stands up to those demanding temperatures with a well-insulated building envelope, achieving an R-value of 38 in the attic, 23 in the exterior walls, and 22 in the floor. A 3-kW photovoltaic system provides nearly all of the home's energy needs — except for the water heating.

"The worst nut to crack in net zero is heating water," Lefler says. "I have not seen an all-electric house work unless it has $30,000 worth of solar on the roof to run the water heater. You've got to build a whole other array just exclusively for the water heater."

Rather than the huge upfront cost of a larger photovoltaic array, Lefler simply turned to a propane tankless water heater. "I'm not heating 100 gallons a day," he explains. "I'm only heating what the family uses." The unit costs him about $90 per year to operate. "I'd rather spend $90 than build another 16 panels of solar," he says.

Lifestyle luxuries
While propane water heating was key to meeting his ZNE goal, propane also fueled other amenities that appealed to Lefler and his wife, including two sealed-combustion gas fireplaces. "She loves fireplaces," he says of his wife. "It's more ambience and romantic." Since wood-burning fireplaces are banned in new construction in the state, propane was a necessity to achieve that comfort.

Lefler also installed a luxe Bertazzoni propane range, inspired by professional chefs. "Do you watch the cooking shows?" he asks. "Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, do you ever see them cook on electric? Need I say more?"

Lefler plans to take his commitment to the ZNE goal further by installing a large battery system and a propane generator, taking the house entirely off the grid. "I already have propane, so I might as well use the propane generator to charge the batteries when those lack-of-sun days come for the solar panels," he says.

The results in the first two years of the home's operation have shown that it likely won't require a great deal of additional energy. Lefler spent an average of $611 on electricity and $300 on propane annually, and he says that without a power-hungry hot tub, the house would be close to net zero. He also earned a rebate through the California Advanced Homes Program for exceeding California's "Title 24" Building Energy Efficiency Standards.

With proof of performance in hand, Lefler is pitching a smaller, two-bedroom modular home design to government officials in cities across California. Using a similar combination of solar roof shingles and a propane tankless water heater to reduce energy costs, the homes would be ideal for housing that's affordable both to build and operate, with no natural gas infrastructure needed. "It's a common sense, logical solution to net zero," he says, "by getting everything onto the electric side and just leaving the hot water to propane."

LGA Recruiters’ List of Jobs and Candidates Available for Modular Industry

LGA Recruiters’ Lists of Jobs and Candidates Available

The Active Candidates section below represents candidates looking for new career opportunities.

The Open Positions section represents companies, who are looking for candidates to fill their open positions.

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Contact Lynn Gromann at 888-831-0327 or Lynn.Gromann@LGARecruiters.com
if you would like further information on an available candidate or on an open position.

***
Active Candidates

EXECUTIVE
General Manager / 9 years HUD / MOD, CA only

SALES
Digital Marketing Manager / 19 years HUD / MOD experience

PRODUCTION / OPERATIONS / PURCHASING
Production Manager / 30+ years HUD / MOD experience, CA only
Materials Manager / HUD / MOD, TX only

ENGINEERING / QUALITY
Engineering Manager / HUD / MOD - 35 years experience, Northern IN only

***
Open Positions

EXECUTIVE
General Manager - HUD - Midwest
General Manager - HUD / MOD - Northeast

MATERIALS / PURCHASING
Materials Manager / Building Supply Experience - South

PRODUCTION / OPERATIONS
Operational Excellence Manager - Lean / Six Sigma - West
Production Manager - HUD / MOD - Northeast
Production Manager - HUD / MOD - South
Asst. Production Manager - HUD / MOD - Pacific NW
Production Supervisors - Experience needed everywhere

ENGINEERING / QUALITY
Engineering Manager - MOD - South
Drafter - HUD / MOD - Northeast
Drafting Manager - HUD/ MOD - Midwest
Quality Control Manager (2) - HUD - South
Quality Control Manager - HUD / MOD - West
Quality Control Manager - Commercial MOD - South

SALES
Sales Rep - MOD - to service W. VA
Sales Manager - HUD / MOD - Upper Midwest
Park Model Sales Rep - West
Commercial MOD Sales Rep - South

SERVICE
Service Manager - HUD / MOD - Northeast

Contact Lynn Gromann at 888-831-0327 or Lynn.Gromann@LGARecruiters.com
if you would like further information on an available candidate or on an open position.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Reason There's a Skilled Labor Shortage

Garden State Modular Wins DOE Housing Innovation Award

The Department of Energy's Housing Innovation Awards recognize the nation's top builders taking housing to the next level through our Zero Energy Ready Home program.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the winners of its 2017 Housing Innovation Awards. This year's winners include 26 homes across 5 housing categories (Affordable Homes, Multi-Family Homes, Production Homes, Custom Homes (Buyers), and Custom Homes (Spec)) and 24 builders from across the country.


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Winners for Innovation in Custom Homes (For Buyer)
  • Alliance Green Builders, Ramona, California
  • BPC Green Builders, Staatsburg, New York
  • Clifton View Homes Inc., Anacortes, Washington
  • Ferrier Custom Homes, Dallas, Texas
  • Garden State Modular, Lavallette, New Jersey
  • High Performance Homes, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Imery & Co., Chamblee, Georgia
  • SD Jessup Construction, Tobaccoville, North Carolina
  • Mantell-Hecathorn Builders, Durango, Colorado

The winning home was manufactured by Apex Modular Homes in Middleburg, PA.
Grand Winners for each category are selected by a distinguished group of national experts and will be announced at the 2017 Housing Innovation Awards Ceremony. This event is scheduled for Wednesday, October 11th at the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance’s High Performance Home Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.

Homes receive this award by meeting the rigorous technical requirements of DOE's Zero Energy Ready Home program. Homes earning this recognition are so energy efficient that they are able to produce as much energy as they use with a small, renewable energy system, such as solar, and offer better indoor air quality and long-term durability.

"Housing Innovation Award winners represent the top 1% of builders across the country who successfully demonstrate they can meet the federal government's most rigorous specifications for high-performance homes," said Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect at DOE's Building Technologies Office. "Zero energy ready homes are designed to provide a whole new level of homeowner experience including ultra-low utility bills, ensured comfort, comprehensive water protection, whole-house fresh air delivery, high-capture filtration, contaminant control, and enhanced durability."

"These winners are leading a national movement to zero energy ready homes, providing better places for Americans to live, stronger communities, and a more economically and environmentally resilient nation," said Rashkin.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tesla Builds Tiny House for Australian Market

Tesla's putting a "Tiny House" on tour today in Australia, as it unveiled a project that would demonstrate its solar roof panels and Powerwall home energy storage batteries. Tesla wants to demonstrate how a sustainable energy home could work.


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Australia enjoys a healthy dose of sunshine for most of the year— in fact, it has the highest average solar radiation per square meter than any other continent on Earth, making the “Land Down Under” an ideal place for solar energy farms and home solar products.


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Tesla is hitting the road across Australia in a tiny house powered by 100% renewable energy.


Pulled by a Tesla Model X SUV, the house features a Tesla mobile design studio so visitors can check out and learn how to set up their own Tesla solar and energy storage system.


The Tiny House is powered by solar energy using a six-panel 2kW solar system attached to a Powerwall battery, where energy can be stored throughout the day and night.

I wonder if Tesla is just showing off what they can do or are they serious about entering the Tiny House market. I’ll find out next week when Elon Musk stops by for our monthly lunch at our favorite restaurant…. Waffle House.

What’s Next for the Modular Industry in the US?

This is the third article from Tom Hardiman, Executive Director of the MHBA, about the Chicago housing deal that will bring 20,000 modular housing units to the city but built by foreign investment and foreign factories.

In my first two articles about the proposed Chicago deal to build 20,000 housing units, I expressed my frustration that City leaders chose a foreign company over the dozens of nearby modular manufacturers.  I also expressed my frustrations over excessive regulations that hamper the growth of existing manufacturers.  But competition and regulations are reality in our business. The real question we need to be asking ourselves is this:   What can we as an industry do to better position ourselves for future opportunities?

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I am 100% absolutely certain that modular construction will be much more widely adopted in North America than it has been in the past.  When leading companies like Marriott, Google, Amazon, and Starbucks start embracing modular, you can bet it will catch on.  

McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), one the world’s premier business consulting firms, cited deployment of modular construction as one of their five ways to close the housing gap in California.  In fact, MGI stated that using modular construction would save California $100 billion over the next eight years.

The interest in modular construction is here!

Why then, aren’t more people using it?  There’s a question I get asked a lot.  I think a big part of the answer is that the industry is largely regional in nature.  Sometimes a market (like multifamily) gets hot in a region where there simply are not many modular factories who can (or are willing) to service that area.

The modular manufacturing base is primarily located in regional “hubs” across North America including in places near Harrisburg PA, Douglas GA, Elkhart IN, Dallas, TX, Riverside CA, and Calgary, Alberta. But the multi-family housing needs are in places like Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, and Vancouver.

Transportation costs of the modules are often a limiting factor in determining service area.

In order to expand the service area, we must find ways to reduce the costs of transportation, or alternatively, reduce other costs to offset transportation.  Those opportunities exist within the factories by gaining efficiencies through more automated processes, streamlining production steps, and improving the work “flow.”  Implementing new technologies and communication strategies that make it easier for your customers or builders to understand your products is another “under-explored” area within our industry.  Manufacturers must continually be looking to improve upon their efficiency.

We can also address added costs that result from excessive regulations.  The industry as a whole needs to actively and aggressively push back on new regulations that target our industry and add no value or safety for the end user.
 
Regarding industry government affairs efforts, I’ve heard it said dozens of times from many companies - “that issue doesn’t impact my business so I’m not interested.”  If the industry has an issue in Maryland, for example, every company needs to be concerned, whether they do business in Maryland or not.  An attack on one of our companies is an attack on all of us!  We need to bring the full weight of the industry to the table at each for each and every and challenge we face and speak with a unified voice.

In many of these cases, it’s not the distance from factory to site that matters.  Often, the manufacturers within a particular region may or may not have the experience or interest in building for that sector of the market (multifamily, for example).

Business owners need to be regularly scanning their environment, identifying new market opportunities, and investing in market research and analysis.  In short, the industry needs to have an insatiable appetite for learning. But beyond this, industry participants must be open to the POSSIBILITY of changing their own business models to pursue new opportunities (easier said than done, I realize!).

These are fairly high-level recommendations that can easily go overlooked by readers.  

So, I will boil it down to a list of more tangible items the industry needs to focus on if our goal is to grow market share:
  1. It’s hard to speak with a unified voice when many companies in the industry are not supporting their respective trade associations!  MBI serves companies engaged in commercial modular markets (education, healthcare, retail, administrative offices, institutional facilities, hotels).  MHBA represents the single-family home market.  If you are a modular manufacturer or contractor/builder, or a company that supplies services or materials to this industry, you need to join one or both of these organizations!  If you don’t like the direction these organizations are heading, join, get involved and make your voice heard, rather than criticizing from the sidelines.
  2. Both groups have services in place to help fight excessive regulations.  But we don’t always hear about issues when they first arise.  Believe it or not, the state agencies don’t inform us of what they are doing behind the scenes.  We are counting on companies being our eyes and ears in the field.  If you are having regulatory issues, let us know about it.
  3. MBI has its “Seals” program whereby manufacturers are asked to acquire one $20 seal (label) for each commercial module manufactured. The funds from this voluntary program are earmarked to address government affairs issues and to further promote the industry through greater marketing efforts.  Only about half of MBI’s manufacturers support this program.  As a result, the funds and actions we can take are obviously limited.
  4. MHBA implemented its Consumer Awareness Program (CAP) about a year ago. We ask all manufacturers to voluntarily add $10 / single family module manufactured.  Those funds are earmarked exclusively for marketing and promotion to potential home buyers.  Only eight of MHBA’s manufacturer members currently support this effort.
  5. There are all sorts of learning opportunities available for the modular industry. Some of which are hosted by the above-named groups and many by other organizations such as the NAHB’s Building Systems Council, or the National Institute of Building Sciences Offsite Construction Council.  I understand that training is time consuming and sometimes costly for many companies, but what’s the alternative?  Manufacturers must embrace a continuous improvement mentality and an appetite for learning as much as they can about new technology, processes, skills, markets, etc.

More quality projects delivered!  The best thing any company in the modular industry can do is to deliver a quality project – be that a home or a hospital.  

We try to showcase our best projects through various outlets and always need more case studies.  For single family homes, the easiest path is to enter your project in MHBA’s Home of the Month contest.  For MBI, we use Awards of Distinction entries year-round for our marketing efforts. Make sure to get your projects in for consideration.


I think we have many pieces of the puzzle readily available for this industry to take off.  
But like any puzzle, it’s hard to complete without looking at the bigger picture to see how all the pieces go together.  And it’s impossible if some of the pieces are missing.