When Tracy Young was a construction engineer on large hospital projects in California in 2011, a common issue onsite was that builders, subs and even designers often worked in different versions of the design drawings.
It was inefficient and often resulted in rework. The problem provided the seed for a business idea.
Today, Young is the co-founder and CEO of six-year-old PlanGrid, a company headquartered in San Francisco that connects everyone from field workers to office management with “current” blueprints, markups, punchlists and other critical information in easy-to-read electronic formats.
Young, who presented a seminar on the use of electronic productivity data to “unlock your business potential” at a Construct Canada seminar in Toronto, said from the 1960s to 2016 almost all industries have seen “massive increases in labour productivity.”
Construction is an exception, however. The industry is less productive now than it was 60 years ago, she told delegates.
“I believe that closing the productivity gap is possible,” said Young, noting that change will come with the aid of technology.
Globally, construction is a multi-trillion-dollar industry and increasing production by only one per cent can result in billions of dollars in savings. The heart of the problem in construction is paper, she told delegates, noting the industry has yet to embrace digitized data that could eliminate reams of paper drawings and documentation.
Young said until recent computer technology developments allowed fieldworkers to carry around portable electronic devices (iPads in 2010, for instance), construction had few practical portable options for their workers. Today there is no excuse.
The key to success involves the integration of that data, universal access to that data and seamless collaboration between all parties on a project, she said.
While Canadian contractors have been slower to embrace the technology than their American counterparts, PlanGrid’s Ashley Johnston said the Canadian market is growing.
“We have some of the biggest general contractors to small guys building custom homes,” she said, adding while there initially is a cultural pushback from some older workers, dismissive of a new way of doing things, once they see how user friendly and efficient PlanGrid’s system is they are quick to get on board.
Johnston, a regional sales manager for PlanGrid in Canada, told delegates that trade unions, universities and colleges are catching on to the value of electronic data in the field. Toronto’s George Brown College is including instruction on this subject in its construction management program.
“Young people are coming out of university and college and demanding the technology. It’s like, ‘What’s all this paper? I don’t know how to use that,’ ” she said.
Johnston said the company’s system takes PFs (pdf files) of all of a project’s drawings and documents and automatically updates any new information.
All new logged-in data is automatically synchronized — backed up to the Cloud — so nothing needs to be saved.
PlanGrid currently has more than 90-million blueprints from 73 countries in the Cloud.
She said deficiency punchlist issue tracking is a favourite with her clients. It ensures critical issues — sometimes in the design — are put on an electronic punchlist that goes to the architect and other parties who need to act on the issue.
She said anything relevant to the project should go in PlanGrid. That might include a 360-degree photo to a CAD file, or a manual to a cutsheet.
Johnston told delegates once contractors complete projects they are passing the PlanGrid information on to building owners who can use it for future renovations or expansions.