Centre d’apprentissage

ATF Tools Increase Productivity and Profitability

By Mark Wilson
mercredi 11 avril 2012

All professional finishing contractors have an opinion about what style of drywall tools works best for them.  Overall, most tapers and finishers agree that hand tools are best for close-quarter finish work, such as corner beads or tray ceilings, while automatic tools are ideal for maximizing production and yield a more consistent finish.

A drywall finisher’s skill and proficiency have a substantial impact on project timing, job scheduling, resource management, and most of all, labor cost. With union positions earning between $40 and $70 per hour, the typical four-man crew costs between $160 and $280 per hour.  Increase the crew’s productivity by even a little, and the return on investment can be substantial, which is why a growing number of contractors are seriously considering automatic tools.

The numbers are impressive. How much more board feet will a worker finish each day using automatic taping and finishing tools?  Our research says between 30 and 50 percent.  Other contractors who have made the conversion to automatic tools have reported savings of three to five man-days per week / per crew.


The Lure of Automation & Finish Uniformity

Make no mistake: A skilled drywall finisher using hand methods produces incredible work.  Combine that skill set with automatic taping and finishing tools, however, and the same finisher will experience a dramatic increase in output—while maintaining a consistent finish quality. 

Most contractors agree that a veteran drywall finisher has the “touch,” that special ability to work with tools, tape and compound to transform gypsum wall panels into a monolithic surface that is ready for paint.  But let this same skilled drywall finisher combine the finesse of a hand finisher with the speed and efficiency of automatic tools, and the result is a near-flawless product that is produced in less time.  Most finishers use automatic tools to knock out 95 percent of the time-consuming basics, so that they can spend more time focusing their craft on the fine details of a job.

The time savings lies in the ability of the tools to precisely match the rate of compound and tape flow based on the speed of the contractor.  Further, the tools also control the position of compound over the joint, laying it out in exactly the right width and with the proper “crown” down the middle.  This can be a tremendous productivity gain: If the automatic tool is correctly set, seams will require very little finish-sanding.

Supervisors on the job also point to the ability of automatic tools to yield a uniform finish.  In a sense, these tools serve as a quality control system, so that every joint, every inside corner, is identical to the next—even in direct sunlight that shows every defect.

Finally, today’s automatic tool designs are ergonomic and lighter than previous generations, enabling contractors to more safely improve finish quality, with less strain and fatigue.


Making the Transition

Converting from hand methods to automatic tools can be challenging, because it involves change and learning a new skill. 

Some finishers resist the technology because they mistakenly fear that automatic tools will replace the need for skilled labor.  First, whether a contractor is using manual or automatic taping tools, there is a significant amount of skill and finesse required to yield a quality job.  Second, by helping the tradesman complete the job more quickly, automatic taping and finishing tools boost productivity and yield a consistent high-quality finish, helping contractors finish more jobs in a given time frame and generating more profit.

Other finishers question their ability to translate a process they have perfected by hand into a new set of tools.  Not surprisingly, experience has shown that the best hand finishers also become the best automatic taping and finishing tool users.


Renting Vs. Owning

In addition to the productivity gains offered by automatic taping and finishing tools, an often overlooked means of greater efficiencies – and profits – can be found in the maintenance of the tools themselves.

The gold standard for any finisher is a clean, fully calibrated tool.  These job-ready tools maximize the contractor’s time actively finishing—the goal for any production drywall finisher.  Ordering supplies, performing tool maintenance and other secondary tasks all detract from active finishing and profitability. 

Assume for a moment that each taper spends just 30 minutes a day adjusting or repairing his tools, and you can quickly see the hundreds of hours of productivity stolen by a defective or broken tool. Moreover, a jerry-rigged tool results in substandard quality, time-consuming repetitions and lost productivity. 

Based on our data, culled from conversations with hundreds of customers nationwide, job-ready tools can boost productivity by up to 15 percent.  Using an average hourly labor rate of $47, this enhanced performance translates into $282 extra per worker, per week.  For a crew of three, top-quality tools can help generate an additional $44,000 in billings annually.

Given this sobering economic reality, how does a contractor decide whether to own or rent his automatic tools? What productivity measures does he use to guide his choice?

Well, that depends. Owning a set of taping tools is ideal for a contractor who properly maintains his investment through routine cleaning, lubricating and replacement of standard wear parts. But for his equally conscientious counterpart who must share tools across a jobsite, a rental arrangement assures that no matter who last ran a particular tool, it can be changed out, at no cost, for a clean and fully-calibrated tool.

Unfortunately, the real productivity thief is found in between these two scenarios. The contractor who purchases tools—with the best intentions—but, due to work load or compressed schedules, cannot properly maintain them is forced to make due. He must compensate for a poorly performing or broken tool by working additional hours or overstaffing a job.

In the end, tool ownership—just like the chosen finishing method—is the responsibility of each individual contractor.  Larger operations typically leverage the efficiencies and services associated with rental agreements, while many individual contractors prefer the familiarity of their own tools. But in either case, just like choosing the right tool for the job, professional finishers know that enhanced productivity, improved finish quality and job-site savings can be found right in their own job box.