The Order Fulfillment Cycle
Throughout the order fulfillment cycle for a specific home for a specific homebuyer, we work with you every step of the way from design consultation through order finalization, manufacture, delivery and occupancy…
Design consultation and quotation: Occasionally you may have a home-buying client who selects one of our pre-engineered designs with little modification, rely on our published standard prices, and find that we can finalize a binding sales order in a matter of a week. However, we’re never surprised when we find ourselves working over one or two years with several design alternatives and a series of progressive refinements.
Don’t hesitate to involve us early in the process by which you and your client examine alternative designs and specifications. Particularly if your client brings you a design or if you will be utilizing a design service or architect, our early input on accommodating the constraints created by transportation regulations, can eliminate some wasted effort.
Eventually, your client and you will reach a point when it makes sense to develop a quote for a specific design and specification. We’ll need a floor plan with dimensions. We will probably need an elevation and some basic information on the plumbing, HVAC and electrical systems. Depending on the structural complexity, we may need one or more cross-sections. Of course, we’ll need at least some general specifications. Under the “Customization” topic we mentioned how getting to this point may require a non-refundable engineering deposit.
Since it is common to proceed through a whole series of plans and quotes, version control becomes important, as well as the preservation of all emails, faxes and letters. We recommend that everything be dated and that the latest changes noted in some way.
Finalizing a Sales Order
When your client and you are ready, the quote from us that reflects the final specification selections and scope-of-work and the price consequences, becomes the sales order form. We refer you back to the earlier section on “General Terms and Conditions” and the sub-sections on “Sales Order Documents” and “Sales Order Acceptance.” In summary, we will need to sign the applicable plans and the sales order form, and submit the necessary deposit to finalize the order.
Particular attention should be given to the documentation of the scope-of-work. In our experience with custom work, we see lots of variation from order to order in what is done in our factory versus what is done at the home site. Making assumptions about the current order based on previous orders is risky.
Financing Arrangements: Another matter deserving careful attention is the coordination with financing arrangements. If your client has a construction-to-permanent mortgage loan, which is providing financing during the construction period, it may contain important requirements for start of construction, completion of construction and certificate of occupancy. If your client or you have a separate construction loan, it must be coordinated with the permanent mortgage loan. Release of funds by the lender (or lenders) must be coordinated with the deposit and progress payment schedule in our sales order. If some or all of the funds are coming from your client’s savings, they will need to move them into a liquid form according to the schedule in our sales order. We may require proof of loan commitment and the availability of your client’s personal funds. Proof of an adequate loan may include a requirement that the lender, your client and you execute what is known as an “irrevocable assignment of funds” that assures that we will be paid from the loan proceeds. Your client and you may need to make arrangements for funds to be made available as a certified check. You may encounter other legal forms as part of the financing arrangements.
Deposits and Building Permit: As a condition of starting work on the home, we will require a deposit that will vary with the amount of unique and special materials in the home.
Depending on the plan for obtaining a building permit, we may have already obtained a deposit to prepare sufficient drawings to obtain federal, state or provincial design approval even before we execute a sales order. If not, the initial deposit will also be our signal to prepare the “permit set” of drawings and obtain the government approval of our product, which your builder needs to obtain the local building permit for the home.
To move to the next step, we need one last thing – a formal notice from you to us that we should begin.
Buying materials: Our first step is to order the materials that will be incorporated into the home. We believe strongly in the efficiency and quality advantages of the “just-in-time” approach to purchasing. We maintain a small inventory of very standard materials such as certain lumber sizes, standard fasteners, drywall materials and paint. Nearly everything else, and, especially all custom materials, is ordered upon your “go-ahead” direction.
Our plant in Bristol, IN is the center of one of North America’s largest networks of distributors of building materials. We can obtain most materials for the home within one to two weeks after we place the orders with our suppliers. However, some custom materials may have much longer lead times, perhaps as long as four to six weeks. We will generally know about these lead times during the contracting phase, and communicate them to your builder so that we can all plan around this built-in lag before we can start production. Sometimes there are unexpected delays related to production or supply problems at our distributors. While it is fortunately uncommon, suppliers of custom materials may abruptly announce they are no longer producing a particular product, and we may need to work with you to find an acceptable substitute.
We usually don’t need all of the materials on-hand in our plant before we begin to manufacture the home. We schedule their arrival to match when they will be needed during the production process.
The production schedule: Almost daily, we update our schedule of when production will begin for each home, and where it will be in the assembly process each day until it is completed. The day on which we schedule sawing the first lumber and driving the first nail, which we call the “on-line date,” meaning the date on which it starts on our assembly line, and the date on which it is completed within the plant, which we call the “off-line date,” are based on the following conditions and events:
• The date on which you tell us the site will be ready for installation of the home
• The arrival dates of materials
• Our backlog of orders
• Our pace of production, which varies considerably during the course of each year and over the economic cycle
• The availability of trucks and other transportation equipment to deliver the home to your location
We vary our staffing and production pace to match our backlog of orders. That means that the interval from the “on-line” date to the “off-line” date may be as little as five working days or as many as fifteen. In very slow times, we may actually halt the assembly line for a week or two. In general, the pace is slowest in winter after the holidays and fastest during the peak building season in late summer and early fall.
Inspections: We maintain a formal quality assurance system, with a written manual based on widely accepted quality control and improvement concepts and a series of inspections and tests focused on assuring that your home matches the contractual design and specifications, meets the applicable building code, and performs properly. Each employee and supervisor has specific responsibilities in our system. In addition, separate company inspectors oversee the whole process.
A quality control form, which we call a “traveler,” accompanies each module as it progresses down the assembly line. At each station, responsible employees note the completion of key tasks and make note of any discrepancies in design, specifications, code compliance or operation. All discrepancies must be followed up and a note made as to the proper resolution of the concern.
In addition, at least once, and usually more often during the production of your home, an independent inspector engaged by your state, province, or, in the case of the US HUD code, by the federal government, will inspect your home. We are prohibited from delivering your home until we have the approval of the independent inspection party as evidenced by certain signed forms and the attachment of a label released to us by the inspection authority.
Completing the home in our factory: We build in an efficient assembly-line process, using as much helpful lifting and fastening equipment, jigs and fixtures as possible. We begin with the floor, and then add interior walls, exterior walls and the roof until we have a true “box girder” which can be transported safely. Then in stages, we add the interior and exterior finishes, install doors and windows and install equipment, plumbing fixtures and light fixtures. You can follow this [link] to a photographic plant tour with many more details.
Homes with a permanent transportation chassis are installed on the chasses with rolling gear (tires and axles) at the beginning of the assembly line. Homes without a permanent transportation chasses and which will be installed on a basement or crawl space foundation are fastened to a specialized transportation “carrier” at the end of the assembly line. These modular carriers will be returned to our plant after the home is installed on the foundation.
Any home consisting of more than one module will have open areas along the “mating lines” where modules will be joined together. At the end of the assembly line, we cover up these openings with a tough plastic sheet and literally shrink-wrap the modules for protection from the weather during transportation. Also at the end of the assembly line we will load materials which cannot be installed until the modules are fastened together at the building site. Examples are the siding, roofing and flooring materials which will cover the “mating lines.” We refer to these materials as “ship loose” items. To assure matching colors and materials, builders will often order additional ship-loose siding, roofing, doors and windows for garages, porches and other structures that will be built at the home-site.
As each module of the home is completed, it is pulled out of our plant and safely placed in our large, fenced and secured storage yard. When all or most of the modules are complete and in the yard, the process of delivery to the building lot can begin.
You and your client are very welcome to visit our factory while we are manufacturing the home. We prefer that you make arrangements in advance and accompany your client, if possible. For your safety, we ask that you wear stout shoes. We require that all guests wear safety glasses that we will provide. With a little planning, we can accommodate wheelchairs.
Meanwhile at the building site: One of the great advantages of “off-site” construction in a factory is that work can proceed simultaneously at the building site and in our factory. While we are assembling the home in our factory, you can be preparing the site, excavating, and constructing the foundation system. For homes built completely on-site, construction of the home cannot begin until these preceding tasks are complete.
You will also prepare the site for receiving the modules from our factory, and, if one is involved, for giving a crane access to the site.
Delivery of the home: For most projects, we hire the professional home transportation company whose specialized equipment and trained dispatchers and drivers will get the modules of the home from our factory to the home site. When the delivery of the home is in our scope-of-work, we take responsibility for the home until it arrives at the home site. Your insurance or your client’s then takes over.
If you intend to use your own transportation equipment or preferred transportation company, you take responsibility for the home from the time it is attached to a truck at our plant.
For some homes which will be placed in a densely developed area with narrow lots, it may be necessary for the home to be delivered to a suitable nearby “marshaling yard,” from which the modules can be shuttled to the building site in the proper sequence and as they are needed.
Installation of the home on the foundation: We work with you to synchronize the delivery of the modules with their installation on the foundation. The goal is to minimize the risk of damage or even theft.
Homes with a permanent transportation chasses to be installed on a simple pier foundation, may be simply pulled into position, the piers completed and shimmed to get the modules level, and the modules fastened to each other in accordance with the plans and our installation instructions.
One story homes with a permanent transportation chasses or delivered on returnable carriers may be installed on a crawl space or basement foundation using a system of rails and rollers. The modules are positioned beside the foundation, and then rolled onto the foundation. The modules are then fastened to the foundation and to each other in accordance with the plans and our installation instructions.
For multi-story homes and for most one-story homes delivered on returnable carriers, a crane is used to lift the modules off of the returnable carriers and placed on the foundation. Many of our homes have hinged roof systems, accommodating higher roof pitches than can be transported within typical height limitations. Hinged roof systems will usually also entail a series of framed assemblies forming the peak, which must be installed, sheathed and shingled on the site. The crane may be used to lift the hinged roof sections and the ridge assemblies. Alternatively, the installation crew may use jacks and smaller booms to complete the roof. Another use of the crane is to lift any dormers into position on the roof.
A milestone in the installation process is the “weathering in” of the home, meaning the installation of the modules on the foundation and the completion of the roof and covering of any openings so that the interior of the home is safe from rain, snow and wind. The work up to this point is referred to as the “rough set.” Some builders have the capability of performing the rough set with their own staff. Alternatively, a builder may also contract with a company that specializes in rough sets. In the US, the builder can also contract with us to have our crews perform the rough set. In fact, on some complicated projects, we may require that the builder use one of our crews. For complicated projects in Canada, we may recommend that the builder arrange for one our experts to be present during rough set.
Certificate of Occupancy: The inspection of the home in our plant applies only to our scope-of-work. Most work done on site must be inspected by your local building inspector, especially the foundation, plumbing, heating, ventilating and electrical connections, and the structural soundness of those miscellaneous structures framed by others at the home-site.
Our Limited Warranty: We refer you to the earlier discussion of our “General Terms and Conditions,” which incorporate our standard limited warranty.
Warranties of Our Suppliers: Many of the materials we purchase and incorporate into your home have their own limited warranty. Some, like shingles and siding, have very long-running warranties. These are “pass-through” warranties in the sense that they come to us as the original purchaser of the materials, but pass through to you as the ultimate user. We provide your builder with these documents, who will then provide them to you. You can often find additional details on the internet web site of the original manufacturer.
Obtaining warranty service: We ask that your home-buying client first contact you with regard to any problem that they believe may be covered by a warranty. You’re usually in the best position to know whether it is covered by a warranty and by whose. It is not always obvious. For instance, some problems may involve a defect in the manufacture of the material or equipment, but others may involve a defect in how the material or equipment was installed, which could be a different warranty. Some problems may arise because material and equipment provided by one firm and installed by a second has been damaged by a third.
Most problems covered by a pass-through warranty form require that you contact that manufacturer directly. Telephone numbers, mailing addresses and/or email addresses are provided in the limited warranty documents.
With regard to our limited warranty, Canadian home buyers must contact their builder. When we entered into a sales relationship with you, it included an understanding that you would make required repairs, replacements or reimbursements under the warranty on our behalf. US home buyers should still contact their builder first, even though we may undertake required repairs, replacements or reimbursements with our own employees or service sub-contractors. In many cases you will be assisting us in resolving the problem.
Preventative and Routine Maintenance and Proper Operation: Most warranties, including ours, do not cover problems that arise because of you or your client’s failure to properly maintain the materials or equipment or to operate the equipment in a reasonable manner. What constitutes proper maintenance and operation may be covered in part in the limited warranty documents, but you should also look at any accompanying “homeowners guides,” “operating manuals,” “installation instructions,” “maintenance guidelines,” and similar documents.