The construction industry is in need of a reset, and the team at Corbins Electric has the juice to flip the ON switch.
The travails of the American construction industry are hardly new: a lack of skilled labor, rising materials costs, doddering technology adoption, and safety issues that never seem to cease. Change is on the horizon, with flares of ingenuity and forward-thinking, but for many construction firms, long-term sustainability remains elusive.
The primary issue is one of leadership. In a 2014 TED Talk, author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek explored why some corporate leaders inspire rock solid loyalty while many whiff on the chance to do more than meet bottom line demands. “When we asked them why—why would you give your blood, sweat, and tears for that person? They all say the same thing: because they would have done it for me. Isn't that an organization we would all like to work in?”
Corbins Electric is one such organization. With headquarters in Phoenix and satellite offices in Tucson and Albuquerque, the firm offers boots-on-the-ground electrical construction services, full service electrical production and maintenance, and leads the industry through Lean construction best practices and the novel use of technology. Through its sister company, NOX Innovations, they offer global B2B virtual design and construction services including building information modeling (BIM), 3D scanning, robotic layout, sheet set production, fabrication, labels, and connected workflows to other contractors.
NOX Innovations embodies Sinek’s leadership theory. “NOX was born out of the efforts of Corbins Electric at putting cutting-edge technology and innovative processes into practice, field testing them, breaking them, and proving them until the results were repeatable and predictable and could be utilized by other people,” Corbins President & CEO Justin Martin said.
“One of the big things we want to do is to lower the number of skilled tradespeople that are needed to complete projects because the biggest issue in our industry is a shortage of qualified tradespeople. As a result of that, other contractors can scale their business and respond to the needs of their customers more effectively.
“The intention of all the services provided by NOX is to help other contractors accelerate their businesses so that everyone doesn't have to reinvent that same wheel,” he stressed. “NOX helps contractors be more efficient, more effective, and more profitable so they can reinvest into training their employees and implementing new technology.”
Founded in 1975, Corbins was no stranger to BIM technology, implementing it in the early aughts. In 2012, the firm moved to add value through blending fabrication and virtual design and construction, with the intention of creating more efficient modeling and generating models with an enhanced degree of detail. They automated key processes, including material requisitioning and the creation of prefabrication drawings, and embedded data to make electrical systems easier to design, layout, and fabricate.
“In electrical construction a lot of the modeling effort is focused on getting spatial commitments and clash detection, basically committing to where you are going to put your systems and ensuring that they don't conflict with other people’s systems,” Martin outlined.
“Oftentimes there's not a lot of additional value to that modeling effort, so we developed custom toolbars for Revit in-house to automate highly detailed sheet sets and achieve a larger volume of offsite prefabrication of electrical systems. Then we can ship it to the site, look at the footprint, controls, and safety, and lower the requirement of skilled trades necessary to complete the installation. We were doing this process internally for a few years and it got a lot of attention, so we started offering that service to other contractors and that's when NOX was born.”
The company’s virtual design and construction offerings have been provided across the United States, Canada, Israel, and Ireland to date. Fabrication services are offered regionally.
Designed to help
NOX is a channel partner with Xalt, the developers of the knowledge work as a service (KWaaS) platform, to create connected workflows. “Xalt’s platform allows businesses to connect their data, collect it from multiple sources, and display it, all through rapid mobile app deployment,” Martin revealed.
“We exercised that within the business at Corbins Electric, and we provide that service to other contractors to help them develop those connected workflows. That's more of a back-end of business efficiency tool that starts in the front lines in the field and then everything flows through it. It connects accounting software, scheduling, human resource information—all of the different systems and software within a business—and creates a seamless user interface for frontline workers and managers so they have all the information they need to make effective decisions quickly, in real time. They don't need to call a lot of people or go to a lot of different platforms to find that information.”
In a twist that will delight every electrical contractor’s material handling specialist, NOX also produces project support hardware that includes material cages, carts, wire reels, form and stand units, and the like. “Things that aren't intended for installation on a project but are good tools that move from project to project,” Martin simplified.
“We produce those for the industry, and we sell them directly and through distributors. It's not that the market didn't have those goods available, they just weren't being designed by electrical contractors or specialty trade contractors, so we improved them and made them more effective.”
One of the most essential aspects of electrical contracting is also one of the most time consuming, complex, and frustratingly mundane: labeling. Naturally, NOX is taking it on.
“That sounds really simple, and it is in a sense, but there are a wide variety of construction labels that are required: identification labels for wires, gear, and equipment, for anything from nameplates and stainless steel engraved plastic, to any type of label,” Martin said. “There's a need for a more efficient process for people to provide their information and get their construction labels quickly. We provide labels throughout the United States.”
Hatching the next great idea
Martin refers to the organization as an incubator of innovation. “As an electrical contractor that changes the way we process, operate, the way we talk, the way we think, the way we hire,” he stressed. “Our people don’t stop once they achieve an objective. They're always trying to find a better way and build a better mousetrap so we can help other people. That's what gets them fired up every day. We look for people who want to do more than participate in the process. They want to change the way construction happens.”
For Corbins, innovations are driven by how much value it contributes to customers, employees, and the industry-at-large. “The intended output always has to drive value beyond Corbins’ bottom line, or the specific project, or even specific customer solutions. We’re trying to find how to drive value all the way into the industry more broadly. That allows us to take up a wider zoom lens on the solution itself. Is it sustainable and repeatable?
“Internally, none of our growth or our innovation would be possible without a super high level of trust and transparency. We talk about ourselves as brothers and sisters because innovation requires a certain amount of tension, like you see between siblings. Your people have to feel really comfortable speaking up and giving their ideas at every level of the organization. We have to create an environment that makes them comfortable doing that, and makes those arguments and discussions valuable. It's very much a ‘yes, and’ environment so people don't shut down when they provide an idea that’s not implemented or received well.
“We need people to constantly be challenging the way we go about things. To do that effectively there has to be a baseline level of trust that exists so people feel safe, and we can continue our leadership. We always encourage that level of people challenging the way we do things … that's where all the hidden gems really come from.”
Corbins’ reliance on trust building and open communication eliminates organizational silos that negatively disrupt typical business operations. “We do a lot of value stream mapping across multiple departments, and that requires open, honest conversation and a lot of analysis without blame. That's a huge thing. If something doesn't go right, we're not looking for somebody to blame, we analyze the process and have the whole team looking at the process and where it broke down, rather than trying to point fingers. That's really how our culture impacts our speed. Trust is key for us because trust creates speed.”
Martin credits a diverse multicultural workforce to the company’s success. “We are incredibly blessed, fortunate, and proud to have the kind of team we have,” he enthused. “There's a lot of young and ambitious people from all over the world on our team, and then we have a lot of seasoned people with a ton of experience in the industry who stay here because they're passionate about changing it.”
Corbins Electric is a values-driven, innovative electrical partner. We provide virtual construction services worldwide, fabrication services in the Southwest, and electrical construction and electrical service in Arizona and New Mexico.
Since our inception in 1975, we have grown to be one of Arizona's largest electrical contractors. We partner with vendors and work with customers who share and appreciate our core values: Passion, Relationships, Innovation, Development, and Excellence. We empower our employees to implement these core values in everything they do and encourage out-of-the-box thinking to provide innovative solutions.
LEAN is more than just a catchphrase to us. We're continually improving and finding new and innovative ways to increase our efficiency.
4829 S 38th St
Phoenix, AZ 85040