Rise Above the Rest
The AC478 accreditation differentiates metal
building assemblers from their quality
Last year, the Metal Building
Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA) rolled out the AC478
accreditation program with the stated goal of recognizing metal
building assemblers who are devoted to excellence. There was, of
course, a larger goal the association wanted to achieve: it wanted
to elevate the trade, make it more professional and show the
industry the value its erectors and assemblers brought to the job
Mike Reynolds is president of MBCEA and owns Systems Contractors
Inc., Denver. He says, "We want to make our industry more
professional and make it a true craftsman industry. Right now there
are too many places that are mom-and-pop shops, and people who
don't really care about the industry. We're raising the bar up.
We're not trying to drive anybody out, but just trying to make
everybody more professional."
In a price-dominated industry such as construction that also has
significant pockets of fly-by-night companies, establishing the
value of a service can have major consequences for both the
companies participating and the industry as a whole. Widespread
adoption of the AC478 could lead to safer job sites, improved
efficiencies and better value for the building owner, the assembler
itself and its employees.
The MBCEA hopes the AC478 will accomplish four things:
- Establish a level playing field and improve the end
- Provide proof that accredited companies have the experience,
procedures and commitment to assemble metal building systems.
- Benchmarks for accountability and measurement.
- Complement the AC472, which is the accreditation program for
metal building manufacturers.
How does it work? The AC478 program is administered by the
International Accreditation Service (IAS), which is the
organization that will provide the accreditation certificate.
Companies work with MBCEA to get documentation of management
procedures, including training and safety in order for IAS. An IAS
inspector visits the company to verify documents and procedures.
Another independent inspection company visits job sites to
establish quality and safety procedures are being met on the final
Accreditation isn't a one-time thing. You don't achieve it and
have it for life. You need to renew the accreditation annually to
show the industry you are continuing to operate at a standardized
Get It Out of Your Head
For contractors who are used to operating their businesses by
relying on their personal knowledge, this may sound like an
unnecessary cost and paperwork hassle. That may be especially true
for smaller companies where communication is tightly held and
everyone knows what to do. D.J. Van Rooyen co-owns Steel Worx
Solutions, Groveland, Fla., with his wife. "We're a relatively
large erector, and we're competing on a lot of larger and aerospace
projects." Steel Worx does projects nationwide, and Van Rooyen saw
the AC478 program as a way to differentiate his company from
He started the accreditation process about six months ago, and
spent about two to three months working on it. "I worked actively
on it every day," he says. But most of the work was done by his
administration staff. "For every hour I worked on it, they put in
probably seven to eight hours."
Most of the work he had to do was documentation of procedures
the company already had and, he says, "transfer them to the matrix
when they go through and do their audit."
Van Rooyen expected the accreditation would help him compete for
the larger jobs he does but he was surprised by the internal
benefits of going through accreditation. "It started as the driving
factor to use as a selling tool against other erectors who are not
accredited. But as we evolved into it, it brings a lot of more
value as an in-house audit system. We were already doing all these
tasks, but now we have the recordkeeping in place for training all
the daily tasks that are required. It turned into a better
Jackie Meiluta works on behalf of MBCEA with contractors looking
to go through the accreditation program. "I have personally worked
with almost 40 companies," she says. "We'd hoped to be further
along, but I don't see why by summer all of them shouldn't be
Meiluta initially works with companies to make sure they
understand the process and review their internal procedures. "I
have not met one company that did not have their act together in
regards to safety and training. It's very impressive. Every time I
talk with someone, I'm surprised by the robustness of their
training, their commitment to developing their crews. What they
don't have, though, is good internal documentation of procedures.
Typically, they have about 75 percent of work in place."
The problem is that much of that training, she says, "is based
on what's in their head." It's not written down, so only the owner
can be responsible for the procedure. "They know how to train and
how to do their safety. It's just in their heads. If we could
convey just one thing it would be that the discipline of being able
to lift yourself out of your business is a powerful thing that will
come out of AC478."
This is true for larger companies such as Steel Worx, and for
smaller firms, such as the one run by Steve Moore. Moore is
president of MMS Northeast Inc., Hampton Falls, N.H. "We're pretty
lean," Moore says. He has a part-time bookkeeper and eight field
workers who have been with him for years. They already operate
efficiently from long years of practice and knowing what each of
them is responsible for doing.
Moore earned the AC478 accreditation a few months ago. It took
him about eight months, and he did all the work. "Because I already
had the safety stuff and reasonably good documentation, I probably
spent about 80 hours total," he says.
Meiluta helped considerably with making sure his systems fit the
model of AC478. "It was mostly fine-tuning what we already had in
place," he says. One of the biggest surprises he encountered during
the process was in documentation. "I learned I could do a better
job of maintaining records," he says. "At the end of a job, I would
just throw out old documents." Now he retains them and uses them as
benchmarks for continuous improvement.
Compete Against Quality Competition
While continuous improvement processes and better internal
management procedures are essential to the development of a
professionally run company, the attraction of AC478 accreditation
comes mainly from the sales side. As Van Rooyen says, "It started
as a selling tool."
AC478 is a great differentiator in the marketplace. It is proof
that your company is a quality metal building assembler, and that
can help make getting your price an easier sell. "I can go to a
future client," he says, "and show him I've been through this
system and here's my matrix."
The difference is more obvious on large projects, but even on
smaller ones that don't require a company to be bonded at such a
high level and where competition from fly-by-night operators is
fiercer, AC478 can help differentiate. Steel Worx does compete for
those jobs, especially locally, and Van Rooyen says this program
can help him "justify why your price is 20 to 30 percent
Moore has not yet leveraged this differentiation in the market.
MMS Northeast is the only accredited erector in New England at this
point, so awareness among building owners and others is still
But the big benefits will come not from demand by building
owners, but from architects and manufacturers. Once AC478 is being
written into specifications, once architects and manufacturers
start saying that the building must be erected by an
AC478-accredited metal building assembler, the demand will
Meiluta says, "We are starting to see jobs specified with AC478
accredited assembler. When you're the only one in that region that
can bid, you are in a great position."
Attract the Best
While competing for jobs is an obvious benefit of accreditation,
competing for labor is an unexpected benefit. The metal building
market, as well as construction in general, is facing an acute
shortage of skilled labor. Assemblers are turning down work because
they can't find the workers to get it done, which means more
buildings are being assembled by less qualified contractors.
But AC478-accredited contractors have a unique differentiation
in the labor market that shows potential employees they are quality
contractors and not fly-by-night operators. Moore outlines the
current problem. "We go to trade fairs and do presentations at
trade schools," he says. "We bring kids into the business but it
never really works out. We've hired kids with welding certificates
and they last six months."
Identifying quality labor is as difficult as identifying a
quality contractor. Everybody thinks they're great. But if quality
attracts quality, then AC478 accreditation should serve as a beacon
Van Rooyen says it already has for his firm. "We just hired a
new engineer," he says. "He could have worked for a way bigger
company, but one of the selling points was AC478. This separated us
and shows there's more opportunity with us because we're going to
be on the front end of this. That helped makes his decision where
he wanted to go."
For every assembler the value of AC478 may be different. It
might be in sales or internal management or in the labor market.
For Moore, it's personal. He says, "The greatest day of my business
life was the day I stopped roofing and started erecting
pre-engineered metal buildings. I'm a big proponent of AC478 and I
see real value. Where I really see the value is the validation of
what we currently do relative to safety and training. That's the
most passionate part of my business. I spend a lot of money
training and a lot of money documenting trainings. Validation of
that is important to me."