Young Apex Engineers Go West for Unique Lessons in Lean Building

Sr. Project Manager Bryan Nadeau recently reported that Apex enjoyed five opportunities in 2022 to partner 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. What’s more, three of the five trips included a chance for new members of the structural engineering team to join Bryan for a valuable professional development experience.

In an article about the year’s first trip to Salt Lake City, Bryan detailed how this long-term partnership with TrueNorth is a great example of one of Apex’s core values – collaboration – and Davor Bozic shared how the experience broadened his mindset for how to approach each project. As Bryan reflected on more recent travels, however, another core value was evident. This time it was “passion” and the idea of bringing a “curious, creative approach to each job” that stood out, especially as Bryan was able to demonstrate this value with younger team members based on his own experiences.

“These trips are a great opportunity for young engineers to go out in the field to see a different way of designing and building, flex their own expertise, and get a chance to experience a new place,” says Bryan, who has been with Apex since 2014. “Jeff Arneson got me involved with TrueNorth a few years ago, so I enjoy the chance to pay that investment forward as I’m able to include others in my travels.” 

Trevor Painter joined Apex’s Mid-Atlantic office in early 2021 and says his TrueNorth trip to DesMoines was his first time talking to a builder who was trying to value engineer and optimize their plans. “It’s always nice to visit jobsites and see how it all comes together,” explains Trevor. “Contractors have their own issues to deal with that you sometimes don’t think about, so this trip gave me insight into why some things are done a certain way – like designing rooms to be 12 feet wide to match the standard width of a roll of carpet.”

“It was also a nice change of pace,” says Trevor. “I’d never been to Iowa before and it was interesting to see how different it is than Maryland, especially the wide roads and large lots.”

Jake Wight started with Jacksonville’s engineering team in September 2020 and joined Bryan for the trip to St. Louis. He says he was surprised that more builders weren’t taking advantage of the benefits of lean optimization: “There’s so much value in getting the viewpoint of all involved, from the subs up to the builder. Understanding the whole process and getting everyone on the same page reduces costs.”

“As we walked the three different models, I really enjoyed seeing the basements. Being from Florida, that’s unique for me,” says Jake. “There’s always a benefit to seeing how things are done differently across the country, as well as how things can be done better to save time and money on each project.”

According to Bryan, Apex’s expertise brought an average structural savings of $1500 per house to each TrueNorth project. 

“Ultimately, we are there to help the TrueNorth team find present cost-savings opportunities,” explains Bryan. “It’s up to each builder to weigh those recommendations against their brand identity and situation and implement the improvements that make the most sense. We are happy to be at the table to share our expertise and have the chance to grow our own staff along the way.”

ABOVE: One photo can capture multiple layers of the work accomplished on a lean building site visit. The team reports that headers are a frequent focus of their analysis during these projects and often provide a clear area for a builder to find some savings. Bryan explains that examples like this one, however, offer a good example of “right-size” engineering at work. The header might seem like too much at first glance but the recognition of the investment that header protects – in this case a $20K sliding glass door – brings the decision into context.

The pile of waste in the backyard highlights another common area to address with builders seeking to improve jobsite efficiencies. TrueNorth President Scott Sedam moderates a Lean Building Group on LinkedIn that considers a variety of jobsite photos in a regular feature called “Waste (Not) Wednesday.” Check it out for more insight on lean building methods.