Steve Nack landed a good contract, but a big deadline problem. He had to retrofit 4,375 center-of-tile sprinkler heads in five schools, and he had only a month to do it. Within days, though, he found the key to not only meet the aggressive deadline, but also to beat it and protect his bottom line.
"When I read the fine print to see what the schedule was, well then, I really had to sharpen my pencil to make sure that we could do it," says Nack, president of Golden Triangle Fire Protection of Denton, TX. "I was sweating it--it was really going to be close, even though my guys were all psyched up for it. We thought we could make it happen, but it would mean long hours--18 to 20 a day--and weekends, too."
A critical part of hitting the deadline was making sure that all the necessary materials would positively be there when Golden Triangle needed them. Nack checked with his supplier, Bobby Eagle of The Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Company, to make sure the material he intended to use was going to be there. What he found was the patented FlexHead flexible sprinkler system.
"I'd seen them in a magazine, and you know, you think, 'Ah, I'm never going to use those,'" Nack laughs. "But when Bobby Eagle showed it to me, I said, 'That's perfect!' And the first day I showed my employees, they said, 'Man, that's it! Let's use 'em!' They took to them right away.
"I still had some sleepless nights over it, because we'd never used FlexHead before," he continues, "but we finished four days ahead of schedule, and that was working shorter days than we originally thought, too. On these retrofits, [the general contractor] didn't remove the ceiling grids in the classrooms, just in the hallways. All the same, though, we had to take the classroom ceiling tiles up, put in the pipe, and put everything back down, just like a finished product. So FlexHead was a real good find for us."
Dead-On Accuracy, Little Experience or Time NeededNack recognized right away that even his less-experienced fitters could easily and accurately install the FlexHead sprinklers. The flexible connection between the sprinkler head and the line lets them immediately adapt to unexpected obstructions or misalignments in the field, and the standardized FlexHead mounting bracket hits center-of-tile every time.
"I could use some of my newer hands to put the FlexHeads in, and I didn't have to worry about them making 500 cuts trying to cut a drop into the center of ceiling tile," he explains. "When they put the line in, they put the FlexHead in, and it was done!"
Nack acknowledges that he initially had reservations about the higher cost of the materials compared to traditional hard pipe. But even in straightforward drops, they cut labor costs by as much as 80% per head. For more complex problems in the field, the labor savings can be even higher.
He recalls seeing FlexHead in magazine ads: "You know, you look at something and say, 'Oh, I know that's expensive. We'll never use those.' But you save so much in labor--you know, where one man would maybe cut five of these center-tile heads in an hour's time, he can probably cut between 20 and 30 of these. On a good day, he might even get 35 in an hour. It's a whole lot quicker, so you save on your manpower."
Surprises in the Field Are No Longer a ProblemBobby Eagle of Reliable agrees with Nack about the lower overall cost of using FlexHead. "You know, when you have $18- or $20-an-hour fitters going back and forth and back and forth, cutting and recutting, that's where most of your money is going. There's so much flexibility in these things that you don't even have to bid the job center-of-tile, yet you can still give that to your customer and make them happy."
"The problem with hard pipe," observes Nack, "is if you move the main or the branch line just a little bit one way or the other, that means the drop is going to have a couple of bends in it to hit center-of-tile, which is time and money. When you're going over a foot and back a foot and down a foot, you've got to get all those measurements right. With FlexHead, you don't have to do that. If it's off six inches, the FlexHead allows you to adjust in the field without having to make another cut or cut another piece of pipe. It's just so much easier."
Further, Nack notes, you don't know till you get to the field whether someone's put a duct or even a wall in the wrong place, or had to route it differently from the plan. Yet, the fitter still has to hit center-of-tile. "They engineer these things, but they're not always perfect," he says, "Then when they re-engineer it out in the field, they just check with the guy who's putting it up, and it's fine with him!" Nack laughs. "So the rest of us kind of suffer with that mistake."
Two Steps Ahead of the GC, for a ChangeUsing traditional materials, Nack may have finished the first phase of installation on time, but his crew still would have had to wait for the general contractor to reinstall the ceiling grid and tiles in the hallways before they could complete the job. With 30,000 square feet of hallway ceiling per school, Nack would have been looking at additional, stressful days getting the hallways sprinklered before school opens.
"They didn't start putting those hallways back together 'til the day we were originally supposed to finish," Nack observes. "So I still wouldn't be finished with my part of the project even today [two weeks after the first deadline]. But, even without the hallway ceiling grids in place, I can just hang my FlexHeads from the main, and snap them in place when they get the grid in there. I'll take one guy back with me, and we'll just have to adjust the heads up or down to make sure they stick out of the ceiling the right amount. So right now, we're done and we're waiting for them! Usually, it's the other way around...."
Measuring Up on Three Bottom LinesThree bottom lines measure the success of any new experience: how the initial project goes, the financial outcome, and whether or not you will use the new material again. FlexHead scores on all three for Nack.
"I expected to struggle a little bit to make these deadlines. You get guys working long hours for three or four weeks, and they get tired. But with FlexHead, they knew that they could get it done, and they did. It was better than we expected," he says of the first two measures.
"I definitely will continue to use FlexHead. In fact, I'm using them again right now on another school project that we're doing. FlexHead [the company] has really kept in touch to make sure that we're not having any trouble with anything and that their product is performing like it needs to. There's been no flaws on their part at all. It's been excellent!"
For more information on FlexHead flexible sprinkler systems, visit www.flexhead.com.
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