Building homes on a factory line is not new. Modular homes, built in units small enough to be trailed over the road, have been produced in and around the Washington area for the past several years.
But the speed with which Bruno Figliuzzi hopes to build modular homes at his new LCS Homes plant is something new. He plans to have them come popping off the assembly line at the rate of one every 40 minutes.
"That seems incredible to me," said Nancy Smith, director of public affairs for the Ryland Group, one of the area construction companies that manufactures modular home units in factories. "We produce three homes a day and we consider our plants fully automated."
Figliuzzi, a former car salesman who has just built a new modular home plant outside Fredericksburg, believes that he has an assembly line so modern he is unwilling to name some of the machines on the line for fear that his competitors will be tipped off.
"Just say that is a dovetail-drawer saw," Figliuzzi said last week as visitors toured the plant. "We don't want people knowing exactly what we have in here."
Nail-gun machines, which can nail up to 18 studs with the push of one button, are common in the modular home industry today, but saws that can cut enough lumber for 25 houses a day are an example of some of the improvements Figliuzzi says he has made in this new factory.
"See that crane up there," Figliuzzi said, pointing to a device hung from the rafters. "That is fully automated so that when a worker needs more roofing material he can just push a button and the crane will go over and pick it up for him. The roofer can stay at his station and continue operating the nail guns."
Building homes on a factory line is, claims Figliuzzi, the wave of the future, and he has plans to produce not just the standard ranch-style house but two-, three- and four-story dwellings as well as apartment buildings, all out of modular units.
Other modular home builders in the area, including Ryland, which has two plants in Maryland and is opening another in Virginia next spring, and North American Housing Corp.'s factory in Point of Rocks, Md., offer similar variations of the basic modular unit, but none of them claim to build homes as quickly.
"You get much better quality control in the factory because your workers become experts at what they do," said Figliuzzi. "We go out, hire someone with no construction skills, teach him to saw a two-by-four into six foot lengths, and he does it every day and he becomes an expert."
One way Figliuzzi plans to cut time on his assembly line is by keeping workers in their stations. Each employe will have a small, specific job that they do repeatedly over and over. Only if they show great promise will they be taught new jobs and allowed to fill in for sick or absent workers.
Figliuzzi claims they put extra money into buying materials because they have unskilled labor. And he believes that by limiting the amount of handling of material by workers he can quarantee higher quality results.
Figliuzzi's assembly line isn't really in full production yet, however, so it is impossible to say whether or not he can meet the daily goals he has set for LCS homes. The heavy cables that will eventually pull the houses along the assembly line lie relaxed on the plant floor and a few finished units stand at the front of the line waiting to be moved into warehouses.
But he already has plans in place to help him sell the many homes he apparently believes he will be able to produce.
In order to bring more people into the modular home market, Figliuzzi has developed what he calls a "starter" home, a one-bedroom unit with a living room, bath, laundry area and kitchen. It sells wholesale for about $20,000 and Figliuzzi believes that the unit could work as an accessory unit to a larger house, a separate house or as an apartment unit in a multi-family building. He also has developed a $7,000 kit of two additional rooms which he says a couple could put together in a weekend if they wanted to expand their starter home.
Figliuzzi said he expects that, with the faster production line, he will be able to manufacture modular homes that run substantially less a square foot than his competitors'. And although he is not in the retail or development business yet, he said he will do his own developments if he finds that other retailers are not passing the costs savings on to the homeowners.
He is currently trying to develop a research and development industrial park around his plant in Fredericksburg, and has plans to build a housing development made up of his modular homes around the industrial park in the future.
For now, though, he is working to get the plant into operation and start selling modular homes to builders throughout the Washington and Richmond areas.
"These two cities have an abundance of land, and located here in Fredericksburg we are close to both," said Figliuzzi. "I expect to do very well here."