Transforming The Construction Industry in Portland, Maine
Nearly every industry has been disrupted over the past few decades. As consumers it’s made routine tasks, like grocery shopping or finding a hotel, faster, more accessible, and more fun. However, one industry has remained nearly untouched by all this helpful technology (save for better tools) is the construction industry.
We still construct buildings much in the same way that we did 10, 20, and even 50 or more years ago, and in many cases the experiences for construction team members and clients has also remained the same.
So, being the company that we are, we asked ourselves, “how can we use technology to make the process better for us, our clients, and our team?”.
We came up with some great answers, and employing technology in the way we work has transformed our communication and efficiency.
Technology in Construction Use #1:
Quick Digital Sketches
Nearly every day we get a request from a client that begins along the lines “what if….?”. We’re dreamers ourselves, so we love to entertain clients’ ideas for how a space might look if we changed one meaningful element, such as a finish, paint color, or even moved a wall. This used to mean re-drafting plans, which is a large time commitment.
So we purchased 43 inch screen TVs for our offices, and now we’re able to view plans quickly together as a team, and use software programs to markup, measure, annotate, and add detail to existing plans. It’s far quicker for us and the client.
And once we’ve done that, we can quickly export these new design sketches to our client-facing software platform. Boom! What’s the next “What if…?”
Having this simple tool, allows us to work more efficiently both internally as a team, and with the client.
In the field, Ryan pulls out an Apple Pencil and iPad for quick mockups. Clients used to have a hard time envisioning what our suggestions could look like, so now instead of trying to explain it, we can show them, often drawing over a photo of the plans or current space.
And these quick sketches save money too.
In those moments when a customer asks “can we add a sink here?”, or “what if we moved this window by 2 feet?”, we can quickly provide an example of what that would look like without having to go back to architect for an entirely new drawing. Sometimes we just want to see what it might look like, which doesn’t need to be as formal as getting a new plan.
When we do decide on a change, we upload those images to our project management tool, and our subcontractors have the most up-to-date plans and can simply continue working from that.
Technology in Construction Use #2:
Digital 3D Mockups
Sometimes, however, we’re dealing with bigger design ideas than simply moving a window. These are changes like adding a sauna, walls, or multiple bathrooms.
In these cases, we get a bit more advanced and create full 3D mockups so that the client can envision what the space will be like. This was especially helpful when we wanted to create something we had never seen done before, an indoor water feature that snaked through a space. Since we didn’t have any photographs of this novel idea, we created a 3D mockup for our client — and they loved it so much that we’re currently building that feature.
Sometimes 3D mockups and other digital design tools come in handy for catching mistakes.
Often Ryan will ‘build’ something step-by-step in a 3D mockup, allowing him to catch any possible errors in the plans before his team does it on the project. This 3D digital construction allows us to give our team detailed step by step instructions, because we just did it ourselves. A huge benefit is not over-ordering materials. In 2D you miss a lot, but in 3D you can see everything. And we like to see everything, multiple steps ahead.
Other times these digital design tools save us countless hours and dollars, because we catch a mistake in the plans.
We recently found that the dimensions in a set of plans were off by 12 inches, making it impossible to maintain ADA compliance in the bathrooms. So we communicated within the software tool, made annotations on the plans, and then emailed the new dimensions to the architect. Within an hour the architect had a new set of accurate plans for us, and we just kept going as scheduled. We stayed on budget and on schedule thanks to our tools.
Technology in Construction Use #3:
Digital Project Management
There are a lot of people working on a job site. There are, of course, the tradesmen: the carpenters, roofers, plumbers and electricians, just to name a few. Then there’s always a project manager, foremen, and us, the owners of the company. Other stakeholders include the client, often multiple people, and specialists like architects and designers. It’s a lot of people to manage, and it can get messy.
So we found a new way to handle the hundreds of daily details while keeping all necessary stakeholders involved (and not overwhelmed).
Enter digital project management. We use an app that anyone who is connected to a project has access to, and is the go-to knowledge and communication hub.
Having digital devices in the field allows our team to do job logs in real time, accurate up to the minute.
We get notified right away if there’s anything we need to adjust with the timing due to weather, shipment, or other delays, and job partners can follow along with progress, and adapt accordingly. Being connected like that as a team helps us be efficient, on task, and most importantly, build closer relationship with the client and team.
Technology in Construction Uses #4 and Beyond:
Tools We Don’t Know How We Lived Without
There are a smattering of tools that we’ve found to be perfect for construction, even if that isn’t their intended purpose. Here are just a few that we find ourselves using daily:
We’ll use Facetime from the construction site, which makes explaining details from the job sites much easier. When talking with clients and subcontractors, we like to show and tell.
Instead of using unsecure paper forms, most of our forms are filled out electronically, using Adobe products. It’s safer, it’s faster, and it’s easier.
We use Alexa to import list details into Evernote. Our lists are now easily searchable, legible, and last forever.
Online shopping has transformed how we provide supplies to our team. We encourage all of our subcontractors to get a builder/pro account, which allows them to get pricing instantly. From there our subs can send a link to a client, who can select from multiple options for their unique building. Online shopping also allows us to restock on tools and supplies quickly from the field.
A laser tape gives us quick and accurate estimates, which we then document in our ever-present iPad. We don’t use them for construction, just for estimates, but they help us go fast when creating mockups.
We have a drone that we’ll use for roof inspections, to give us a bird’s eye view of a site. Being able to see from this view allows us to answer big questions quickly. We can see where we should store materials so that everyone has the access for their needs, we can identify wetlands, or where shadows might fall, ensuring that we build in just the right position.
We’ll use our 3D program to geolocate a building, then put it into GoogleMaps, which allows us to see the exact shadows at anytime of year, any time of day. Seeing this helps us with preliminary designs, such as for sunrooms, allows us to make good recommendations for our clients.
Technology in Construction is Here to Stay, But Not at the Expense of Relationships
While using these tools has made our construction process more streamlined and effective, it can never be a replacement for the thing we value most, the relationship. It’s easy to lose sight of the people when the tech is so shiny and helpful. We hold that tension on purpose. Technology should only enhance and support our relationships, it should never replace them. That’s the Optimum way. Everything is a tool to know people better and to build better relationships through the shared experience of building better buildings.