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When a contractor is considering what type of pumping system to install, the choices between a-la-carte, packaged or preassembled options can make it hard to compare not only costs but also quality and performance.
How should a contractor decide what system makes the most sense for the application? How can the installer guarantee that the systems will serve the application for years to come?
Consider the following questions when evaluating the pros and cons of what’s available in a pumping system.
How Much Does the System Need to Be Customized?
A-la-carte ordering is often the most common choice when evaluating a pumping system, and for good reason: it offers the flexibility to get what’s needed when and how it’s needed. This makes it easier for contractors to customize parts for each application. It is especially important when a customer needs a more complex pumping system. Also, when replacement parts are needed, a contractor can get what’s required without replacing an entire system.
However, this flexibility comes with some drawbacks. Purchase orders are often long, complex and itemized — meaning extra accounting and inventory oversight both in and out the door. Items can arrive in separate shipments, in multiple boxes and may not include everything at once. This includes supplemental materials such as specification sheets and installation instructions.
When gathering items to head to the jobsite, the same complex issues apply — installers must manually inventory each part as it is loaded into the truck since these units typically don’t have standardized packaging. This can lead to issues on the jobsite, where assembly often takes more time.
Another drawback to an a-la-carte system can be understanding the total cost. Depending on the number of variables, it may take more time for a distributor to calculate the cost of an a-la-carte option, slowing down a contractor’s ability to quote a job.
Is it Possible to Streamline Ordering and Delivery?
One option distributors developed to overcome these a-la-carte challenges is to create prepackaged, customized systems for their customers. These can carry a single line on a purchase order and offset the issues associated with pulling an entire order.
Since the system is prepacked at the distributor, customization is still possible. Distributors can offer several a-la-carte line items within the prepackaged system — bridging the gap between simplified ordering and customization needs.
Distributors can make modifications before selling the system while still saving on the number of SKUs they need to keep within their inventory and the time required to pick individual components.
However, for the contractor, there is still one major drawback: installation. These prepackaged systems will still require internal assembly, meaning more time on-site for contractors and more hands-on time with each system.
Which System Offers the Easiest Install?
When it comes to saving time on installation, preassembled packages offer the biggest advantages. Preassembled packages deliver all the streamlined purchasing and delivery benefits of a prepacked system with the added benefit of easier installation since much of the assembly is handled by the manufacturer. This also means less margin for error on the jobsite since components are assembled in a more controlled environment.
It can also deliver cost savings on installation; as skilled labor becomes harder to find and more expensive, preassembled units can equate to back-end savings.
Ordering is also easier: the package arrives together from the distributor on a single purchase order in a single package. There’s no searching or waiting for multiple parts or shipments, and no need to inventory everything that has arrived.
However, with no options for customization, preassembled package systems may not be for everyone. They do offer benefits in many application situations, especially if timing is tight for a basin install.
For example, if the system is being used in a sewage lift station, the easier pump installation that comes with a preassembled package can equate to substantial time savings. In these situations, basins are installed by the plumber prior to the concrete pour with varying heights, depending on distances and required drops for the intake piping. The discharge and vent locations are then known for the rest of the plumbing, as the framing and final indoor plumbing are completed later.
In this type of situation, preassembled packages require less work for final pump installation since vent connections are easier to make. This equates to less time on-site for the overall plumbing contractor — whether it’s a new build or replacement system install. New builds also typically require standard residential pump sizing, so not much customization is needed, making preassembled packages a more viable and smart choice.
In contrast, an a-la-carte option might be more appropriate with sump lift stations. Not all sump lift station locations require a sump pump, but a general contractor will still typically install a standard basin early in the construction project when drainage tile is installed and before concrete is poured.
Typically, the plumber is called in much later, so any required pump is selected at the end of the project. These pumps are easy to install since they don’t require any attachment to vents or other plumbing fixtures. Only outdoor discharge is required; this is normally just a drilled hole to get outside. In these situations, the installation time savings associated with a prepackaged or preassembled pump is less of an important consideration.
A-la-carte, prepackaged and preassembled pumping systems all offer benefits in various situations; each is a viable and important part of a contractor’s toolkit. Knowing which one makes the most sense in a variety of situations can help contractors maximize the benefits of each when it matters — whether you’re looking for customization, streamlined ordering or simplified installation.
Jeff Wilder has been a plumbing product manager at Franklin Electric for several years. His background includes 10 years of mechanical engineering experience, with seven of those in hydraulics seals and three in electric motors/controls and project management.