PlanGridPlanGrid is a field-focused mobile platform for coordinating construction documents that saves time and reduces rework.

By Tim O’Connor, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media

Cost is a concern on any project, but when public money is involved there’s an even higher level of scrutiny. It’s one of the reasons why Caltrans, the agency charged with managing California’s highway systems, mandated that general contractor Granite Construction provide tablets to field workers during the realignment of SR-99 in Fresno, Calif. The $225 million project will make way for the construction of a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Requiring the use of tablets on the job site was largely a time-saving measure. Even on a building project, where construction activity is usually contained to a one-block radius, supervisors waste much time traveling between different points to update subcontractors and issue revised blueprints. The travel time issue multiplies when dealing with a project that spans nearly four miles of road. By using tablets, Granite can issue new blueprints and keep in touch with subcontractors without needed to leave the field office.PlanGrid info box

But Granite still needed a platform to facilitate that communication, and found the perfect solution in PlanGrid. Unlike other digital construction management systems, PlanGrid was built to be mobile-first - launching initially on iPads and iPhones before adding Android, PC and web versions – making it an ideal platform for field supervisors and workers that need to be able to access construction documents from any location.

Using PlanGrid, Granite’s supervisors and contractors can easily collaborate and review blueprints, spec sheets, job photos, field reports and punch lists. It’s estimated that PlanGrid has saved every user five hours per week since the project began. “We sped up the process of sharing all kinds of information on this project,” PlanGrid CTO and co-founder Ralph Gootee says.

Not only was the sharing of information made easier, but that information was more accurate and helped the team avoid rework. Anytime a person uploads a new blueprint or makes an annotation on a document, that change is updated in the system and made available to all users, ensuring that everyone is working off the latest construction plans. It’s a feature that enabled Granite to prevent costly mistakes.

“PlanGrid helped me catch what would have been a $30,000 to $40,000 mistake,” Lead Project Engineer Randy Lucchesi says. “I saw an area of the roadway that wasn’t graded properly and when the foreman – who wasn’t using PlanGrid – pulled out his paper plans, I quickly opened up PlanGrid to show him the revision. They were able to fix it before it became an issue.”

Gootee says those kinds of stories have become common among PlanGrid in the five years since the platform launched. “It’s hard to understand how much communication errors around people not having the same source of truth impact this industry,” he notes.

Even when armed with the correct documents, it can be difficult to distinguish the minute details that change between versions of a blueprint. PlanGrid eases this process by automatically analyzing and highlighting where adjustments have been made in the plans. That way, if a plumbing crew has already partially completed the piping installation, they can clearly identify the changes and know if they have to redo any of the previous work. “They can compare the old version of the blueprint with the new version of the blueprint to see what the changes are right in the field,” Gootee says. “That type of real-time, live access to the record set is really key for our customers.”

Scalable Platform

More project stakeholders are adopting PlanGrid to ensure they are following the same facts. The platform is designed to put field operations first, making it the solution of choice for general contractors in 72 countries. “There’s a lot of software out there in the world of construction,” Gootee says, “but we really focus on the field and making sure the field superintendent has the right information at his or her fingertips.”

Although it was conceived as a platform for working at a job site, project owners have increasingly embraced PlanGrid because of its speed, ease of use, simple interface and robust features. Many even specifically require their general contractors to use PlanGrid during construction. “Owners are becoming more and more a part of the PlanGrid experience because they’re the ones that save the most money in the end,” Gootee says.

The platform is designed to scale with any size project, but the biggest benefits are found on major projects with a lot of complexity and greater opportunities for time savings. “Where PlanGrid really shines is over huge projects that have a large scale,” Gootee says. “You’ve got the benefit of simplicity but the power of something that can be used on a project with 100,000 blueprints.”  

PlanGrid is being used on many of the country’s most visible projects, such as the $20 billion Hudson Yards redevelopment in New York City, the largest private real estate development in U.S. history. PlanGrid is serving as the document control and field collaboration solution for Towers D, E and the retail component of the project.

PlanGrid was also instrumental in the construction of the Comcast Center in Philadelphia and the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. On the Comcast Center, builder Structure Tone – which has used PlanGrid on more than 4,000 projects - estimated that the platform saved 900 users an average of 15 hours per week. For the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, general contractor Bartlett Cocke determined that PlanGrid saved $38,000 in paper, $194,000 in time and $567,000 in rework. “That’s over half-a-million dollars [saved] by not having to build the wrong thing,” Gootee says.

Machine Learning

The savings potential of PlanGrid will only grow as the platform improves with the advancement of machine learning. The platform already uses machine learning to automatically mark hyperlinks and perform deep searches of construction documents, but the potential is far greater. “It’s a huge influence on the entire industry right now,” Gootee says of machine learning. “How can we be smarter?

“We’ll be able to offer insights to our customers that help them understand things about their projects before they ask,” Gootee continues. One potential application of machine learning is to better facilitate the coordination between general contractors and their subs. In the future, when a blueprint change is made, the systems may not only be able to identify the change, but alert the general contractor that the subcontractor is working on that component now and ask if they want to contact the crew directly.

The ability to analyze mountains of construction data could also lead to numeric performance ratings for subcontractors and provide owners with insights on past projects to better inform their decision-making on the next development. “There’s some very exciting things we can do with that data for our customers,” Gootee says.

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