5 Keys to Delivering Prefab Across an Ocean

Mar 06, 2020

What travels 3,500 miles by rig, rail and rudder? U.S. Engineering.

Recently two members of our family of companies, U.S. Engineering Innovations and U.S. Engineering Metalworks, teamed up with Dorvin D. Leis to produce chilled water and condenser loops for the central plant at Hawaii State Hospital. The loose carbon steel and galvanized piping fabrication originated in our shop in Johnstown, Colorado, and ended up on site in Honolulu.

The benefits of prefabrication are widely discussed: assembly in a controlled environment offers safety, efficiency—fewer weather delays and less material waste—and greater predictability, a prized characteristic in the construction industry. And when building health facilities, modularization provides particular value. Health care systems require elaborate mechanical solutions and rely on mission-critical functions in order to keep patients safe and health care providers confident, and modular construction offers the certainty and efficiency those systems need.

At U.S. Engineering offsite construction and delivery is an established business practice, and we’re continuing to improve on our prefab manufacturing processes by investing in technology and the people to make it work. So after the Hawaii project, we asked Jeff Kiblen, General Manager of U.S. Engineering Innovations and K-Malt, how our teams managed to efficiently manufacture and ship prefabbed product even with a giant body of water separating the shop and the jobsite.

Jeff answered with 5 keys to delivering prefab across an ocean.

1.  Organization

The most obvious component to offsite manufacturing is organization, and virtual construction plays a key role in getting organized. In this case, our Hawaii project was unique, not because of the build itself, but because there were 3,500 miles and a very deep body of water between us and the jobsite. So the planning and organizing stage was crucial.

The product for this project required a single delivery in one shipping container. So we meticulously modeled our loading sequence on Dorvin’s site install sequence, and we developed a highly detailed packing plan: the last item packed on the container had to be the first item the install required. Since the container was one-way-in, one-way-out, our load-in plan had to be exact, Tetris-style.

We then provided the install team with a map, tags and a detailed execution plan for unloading everything from hangers to bolt packs to fabrication. Another element to our planning, one that ensured accuracy, speed and safety, was our QA/QC protocol, something our Metalworks team takes very seriously. We add QA/QC steps at the virtual construction stage. The last thing you need on a prefab project are spool drawings hitting the floor with incorrect materials or incorrect orientation of directional flow or piping arrangements. It is highly disruptive to efficiency when errors are identified mid-fabrication, but it’s a disaster when those errors are identified by our client on-site, especially when they are 3,500 miles away. Our multi-step QA/QC process prevents that from happening.

2.  Communication

Clear communication and transparency throughout the process are essential. We are constantly in communication with our clients, providing meeting support and robust QA/QC documentation. Additionally, we create a shared project folder with our customers that contain information on our processes and on the project specifically. For example, we share production schedules, welding QC logs and project-specific documents for review and approval. We want the client to know the project status at all points, and through our shared folders, they can actively participate in the review-to-approval process.

We also communicate our expertise. When it comes to central plants in hospitals or large facilities, or large-bore carbon steel layout, I would put U.S. Engineering up against anyone. We’ve been designing and installing central plants for a long time. So on this project in particular, we were able to communicate with the client and say, hey, if we arrange it this way, if we broke it here, for example, your handling would be smoother. That kind of communication adds a lot of value.

3. Technology

At U.S. Engineering we have an internal application development team that offers tech solutions across our companies. An integral part of our manufacturing workflow is our proprietary shop floor management system and software. This automated system allows accurate scheduling, real time productivity tracking, and quality control documentation. It connects the virtual model to reality, delivering the VC build to the shop floor.

Additionally, we have built logistics software that will strengthen our ability to track the delivery of every piece and modular system we fabricate.  Much like tracking systems used by UPS or FedEx, the software follows the product at all steps, so that we and our customers will know exactly when to expect delivery. The Hawaiian State Hospital project informed our continued development of that system.

4. Logistics

It takes a talented logistics team to cover 3,500 miles across varying modes of transportation.

On this job, a truck unloaded a Connex at our fab shop in Johnstown; we loaded the container; a truck came back and took it to the train station; the train carried it to the Port of Los Angeles, where it was loaded onto the ship; the ship took it to the Port of Honolulu; and finally a truck delivered it to the jobsite. Thankfully, U.S. Engineering Innovations has a lot of experience shipping product, and our partner on this project, Dorvin D. Leis, is a champion of logistics.

5. Relationships

This one might be the most important ingredient to a successful offsite manufacturing project. U.S. Engineering has always placed building and maintaining good relationships with our clients at the top of our list. Organization, communication and logistics all depend on a solid foundation of trust. For us, projects are partnerships, and that was certainly the case on this project with Dorvin D. Leis. There are a lot of fab shops out there. Something that sets us apart is the relationship we build with our clients—we are attentive throughout the project, supporting them, setting them up for success, and finishing strong. Success for us comes when they say, “let’s do this again,” and we’re looking forward to the projects we have lined up with Dorvin.


Jeff Kiblen is General Manager of U.S. Engineering Innovations & K-Malt. Based in our Rocky Mountain region, he focuses on offsite manufacturing for Innovations projects, as well as operations for K-Malt, a wholly-owned subsidiary.

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