Buy-In Comes Before Widespread Embracing of Technology

By Nick Barbush, Director of Project Integration

In many ways, the bridge to efficiency between the engineering and construction teams is paved with technology. That’s what we’ve discovered, at least. And when implemented correctly we’ve realized significant productivity gains and faster, clearer communication. 

Technology is only as effective as it’s understood by all the parties; buy-in is critical. When we started adopting iPads in the field on a wide scale there was naturally some resistance. Many of our tradesmen and jobsite foremen are used to doing things a certain way. And frankly they’re very good at it. You simply can’t approach these guys and demand “this is how you’re going to do it now” with a new piece of technology and expect it to go smoothly.

Rather, our approach was to educate them on what the benefits of the iPad apps are and how the new technology can actually make their jobs easier. We explained it’s not going to take anything away from how they’re used to doing something, but it’s only going to make their job a whole lot more efficient. We fostered their sense of ownership in the technology; that it’s just another tool in the tool belt they have access to.

While many of them hated the iPads at first, now they don’t want to do a job without them. Here’s some of what the construction applications we’re using are enabling us to do:

  • Quicker access to drawings – Because we now view drawings, submittals and vendor cut sheets electronically, we eliminate printing costs and remove the lag time involved in reprinting and delivering revisions. The jobsite gets new drawings almost instantaneously as our document control team uploads them to the app. 
  • Fewer wasted steps – Redlined drawings are done directly on the app and shared in real time with customers, saving steps in the process, redundancies and lowering the risk of human error inherent in the “old way.”
  • Working smarter – The iPad improves our mobility, eliminates carrying stacks of drawings, removes the need for a laptop, and dramatically shortens the time associated with walking back and forth to look at prints. 

“BIM boxes” are another piece of technology helping us improve communication and efficiency. They’re essentially large toolboxes on wheels that we’ve outfitted with a computer, monitor, wi-fi and printer that allow the foreman to pull up 3D building information models of the job.

BIM enables a virtual coordination of all the trades – electrical, structural, architectural, plumbing, mechanical. It’s a virtual build that can predict clashes and interferences in a simulated manner prior to getting out in the field. Plus it’s more. It gives tradesmen a visual reference to what they’re building, as well as context as to what’s around it, precise measurements of individual components, the ability to “float” around the drawing to see it from different angles, material types, elevation and noise/voltage levels; things that aren’t always on the 2D prints.

What else is possible? We’re starting to work with our purchasing vendors to link purchasing information into the model. Say we’re ready to order a piece of pipe, all we have to do is click on it on the model and order the material right from the iPad. No more going back to the trailer, typing something up in Excel, sending it off to the purchasing agent, getting a P.O., etc.

If we don’t have to take nine steps to get from Point A to Point B, but maybe we can take two steps by utilizing technology, that’s really the goal here. By embracing this type of technology it’s going to allow us to continue to be successful and be more competitive in what we do.