“We love to partner with companies who share our values,” says Apex Sr. Project Manager Bryan Nadeau, in a succinct explanation of the company’s 13-year relationship with TrueNorth Development, a consulting firm that specializes in applying Lean Methods to the homebuilding industry to increase value, remove waste, and find efficiencies for builders.
“Collaboration is one of Apex’s core values, and BeLit’s mission is to help people achieve the American dream by building value and keeping costs down,” explains Bryan, a professional engineer who has been with the company since 2014. “TrueNorth is aligned with us on all accounts.”
In a nutshell, TrueNorth contracts with builders around the country to identify savings in process, product and plans while increasing value to the customer. The consulting team includes an architectural consultant, a TrueNorth facilitator, and a structural consultant, which is where Apex comes in. A typical weeklong project focuses on four of the client’s key plans. These might include a best seller, a popular plan that is not as profitable as it should be, one that is difficult to build, or even a brand-new plan.
The team spends several days walking jobsites and getting perspectives from the cross-functional “Lean Team,” formed specifically for this event. Then the engineers take a deep dive into the local construction methods, available alternatives, local building codes, and any other relevant research. The final engineering report includes recommendations for how the builder can achieve labor and material savings for the plans reviewed.
“Sometimes the savings are simply found in a more efficient application of the building code,” says Bryan. “Sometimes we can push the boundaries in terms of engineered design, such as a no header solution. Ultimately, it comes down to asking why things are done a certain way, often the way they ‘always have been.’ It’s our job to ask those questions and help builders understand what they simply might not know and consider alternatives that can both improve the product and reduce cost.”
Bryan gathers information as the consulting team walks jobsites at the beginning of the Salt Lake City project. “Sometimes the opportunity to save cost or improve efficiency jumps right out at you,” he says, “and sometimes you have to dig for it.”
“Most engineers see their role as to provide structural design that meets all building codes, but that is only half the job,” says TrueNorth’s President, Scott Sedam. “The other half is to ensure their builder clients receive the most efficient design that meets and at times exceeds standards, at the lowest cost. This never involves shortcuts, but does require a keen eye and extensive knowledge. When TrueNorth was looking for the right engineering firm, how thrilled we were to meet Mike Kozlowski from Apex. Mike’s work, along with Jeff Arneson and now Bryan Nadeau, has been outstanding. It has truly been a mutually beneficial relationship between our two firms.”
Apex typically works with TrueNorth on 5-10 projects a year and kicked off 2022 with a January trip to Salt Lake City. Bryan says this trip offered an opportunity for Apex to include Davor Bozic, a younger staff member, on the structural consulting team. Davor started with Apex as a designer intern in 2016 and moved from the role of engineering associate to junior project manager in 2021.
“The trips are a good experience for our engineers to see how their specs impact everyone else down the line,” Bryan explains. “You don’t often realize how your work will impact the trades and the builder when it’s just numbers on paper.”
Davor says the biggest thing he noticed was how much the building process varies from one part of the country to another. “I’m used to FL,” he says. “Utah is different because of basements, snow loads, etc. You have to suspend everything you think you know and start from scratch.”
Bryan agrees: “Going into a part of the country we don’t usually work in and seeing their practices – and challenges – gives us so much more exposure to how things are done across the country and maximizes our ability to learn from the tradespeople who live and breathe this work on the jobsite rather than just learning engineering from code books.”
From a personal perspective, Davor and Bryan agree that this type of trip is great not only for the chance to represent Apex but also to take some time to relax and enjoy themselves. “The mantra ‘work hard, have fun, and go home’ is an important part of who we are at Apex,” Davor explains. “While I was out there working hard, I was also able to explore the nearby ski resorts and hiking trails, too. It was truly a great all-around experience.”
Davor takes some down time to recharge and enjoy the natural beauty of Salt Lake City.