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Contractors Confront the Growing Costs of Rework

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Photo courtesy of Mortenson Construction
Mortenson has used computer-automated, virtual-environment technology at the Pegula Ice Arena at Penn State to catch and fix problems early.
Photo courtesy of JE Dunn Construction Co.
BIM technology, including virtual images of mechanical systems like those pictured here, is used by JE Dunn to prevent mistakes that require rework.
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Rework plagues U.S. commercial construction projects, causing problems ranging from longer construction schedules and late delivery to worker injuries and billions a year in lost revenue. In the long term, rework can also affect a construction company's reputation and its ability to attract new business.

The problem of rework has been largely ignored by the construction industry, but tighter profit margins during the recent recession have prompted contractors to look for new ways to shave expenses as well as boost earnings. Preventing, or at least curtailing, rework is one cost-cutting measure embraced by more and more contractors. Those efforts include using processes such as building information modeling and lean construction techniques to detect and correct mistakes virtually, as well as common-sense practices such as involving owners, users and other stakeholders throughout planning and construction.

"Rework happens on every project … and the average cost is staggering," says Jim Zack, executive director of Chicago-based construction consultant Navigant Consulting Inc.'s annual Construction Forum. The group's most recent conference, held in August, was called "The Impact of Rework on Construction & Some Practical Remedies."

"Rework is something that's very expensive for contractors, in direct and soft costs as well," says Michael McLin, managing director at Maxim Consulting Group LLC, a Denver-based construction management-consulting firm.

The causes and costs of rework, as well as ways to prevent it, have been studied very little until recent years, but the Construction Industry Institute (CII) of Texas lately has produced major reports on rework to help the construction industry deal with it. The CII is part of the University of Texas at Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering.

"When you think about doing a job that costs a total of $100 million, you can spend something like $900,000 on rework," says Wayne Crew, CII director. "The questions become: Can you afford that and how much effort do you put into saving $900,000?"

The Cost of Rework

Rework costs—including labor, materials, equipment and subcontractors—can run from 2% to 20% of a project's total contract amount. That equates to an estimated total of $15 billion a year, according to CII. Breaking that down further, the institute found the direct cost of rework averaged 2.4% of total contract value for standard industrial construction projects and 12.4% for civil and heavy industrial projects.

Some construction industry executives and consultants call the CII's annual dollar estimates low. "The $15-billion figure is a drop in the bucket," says McLin.

"Those costs are being passed on to someone," adds Gene Hodge, Denver-based director of project development at Mortenson Construction, about the price of rework. "Eventually, our customers are paying for it."

Rework doesn't necessarily affect availability or cost of insurance and bonding for contractors, according to construction industry insiders, but it can have an indirect impact. "Rework has no direct effect on insurance and bonding, though anything that affects a company's profitability can affect bonding," says Hodge. "Planning cuts down on the reportable incident rate, and that does affect insurance."

Another significant indirect aspect of rework is its impact on a contractor's reputation and, therefore, its ability to attract and keep clients. Companies that used to participate in invitation-only bids, for example, are often no longer invited to bid.

Not only can a contractor with a bad rework track record lose the opportunity to do future business with an existing customer, it can also lose the chance to win other clients because its executives and senior project managers are so busy with rework that they're not available to pursue new construction work, says Rodd Merchant, senior vice president with Kansas City-based JE Dunn Construction Co.

"There is, of course, a huge cost to its impact on reputation, which can also prevent companies from getting new projects," Merchant adds.

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