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What Can Innovation Do for You?

I began working in the drywall business nearly 40 years ago and, like many of us, I started at the bottom—stocking board, scraping floors and masking ahead of the spray texture man. Ray was his name and I really enjoyed working with him. He was something of a character, and what’s more, he made masking a breeze with this tubular-framed contraption he came up with that rolled out the tape and paper simultaneously, creating a sort of consolidated “ready to stick” sheet that we tore off in the needed lengths on the attached serrated blade. He would tell us all that he would soon retire on the patent for his masking machine, and we would nod and wink and sometimes scoff … until that day came when Ray gave his notice and announced that a huge paper products corporation had indeed bought his patent. Variations of Ray’s brainchild are now commonplace in our industry.

Ever since, I have been fascinated with the remarkable ingenuity that the folks in our industry display in generating innovations that enable us to turn out our product better, faster and with more style than we ever could before. Consequently, my recent visit to Denver for the AWCI- and CISCA-sponsored INTEX Expo became a reawakening experience for my preoccupation with construction innovation. More to the point, it occurred to me that, while it is pretty common for field ops people to integrate some of these practical creations into their programs, I think I can count on one hand the times I can recall discussing the incorporation of new technologies into a well-prepared estimate.

The ingenious devices and designs on exhibit at the expo were remarkably varied in both function and degree of originality—ranging from new developments in aesthetic finishes to the invention of entirely new mechanical gadgets. Some of those that were particularly memorable for me included these:

• A highly maneuverable motorized “Perry”-type scaffold that turns 180 degrees on a dime.

• Self-adhesive drywall beads and trims that cut installation time, use no fasteners and require less compound that standard metal beads.

• A deep-leg deflection-type top track with a built-in intumescent strip that eliminates fire caulking at rated head-of-wall details.

• Pneumatic fastening tools for rapid installation of gypsum sheathing products.

• A flex-track system that locks into conformance with a hammer blow.

• A drywall mud that significantly reduces airborne dust when sanding.

• A laser system that beams a horizontal and vertical plane simultaneously.

These are just a few examples of the hundreds of innovative products that our industry generates, many of them appearing consistently among the pages of this periodical. But I suspect that a goodly number of us estimators are missing some sweet opportunities for cost-cutting if we aren’t asking ourselves how we might work some of these time-and-money-saving innovations into our bids. For example, ask yourself how much equipment rental cost could one or more of those motorized scaffolds save you? Or, how much higher might you set your sheathing production levels if your hangers had those pneumatic fasteners instead of antiquated screwguns? Or, what if you could entirely eliminate the fire-caulking item from your rated assemblies using that new fire-stopping track?

Clearly, it falls (once again) to the estimator to be at the cutting edge of the new technologies, and to capitalize on the potential savings that these innovations can offer by building them into the estimate. Doing so will constitute one more approach to gaining a competitive edge in an ultra-competitive market.

Vince Bailey is the former estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.

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