Bot-driven drones roll through jobsites and record percentage of work completed. Augmented reality devices in hardhats allow the wearer to see through walls and determine the location of pipes, equipment and access points. Smart crane hooks warn crane operators of unseen dangers. Apps and sensors not only monitor equipment and activity from afar, but detect and alert personnel to worker falls or hazardous conditions.
Sci-fi technology is alive and well and coming soon to a construction site near you.
As KA’s representatives attending the ENR FutureTech conference May 30-June 1 in San Francisco, Kraus-Anderson Superintendent Terry Coleman, Mobile Technology Coordinator Judd Jennrich, and Information Systems Director Mike Benz are not only seeing, but shaping, some of the most exciting emerging technologies and tech companies, in the world today.
Q: KA’s commitment to technology innovation was clearly evidenced during your visit. Talk about that.
JUDD JENNRICH: Going into this conference, I felt like there might be other companies setting the bar and doing really cool stuff with cutting edge technology. In reality, what we are already doing makes US one of the leaders in technology in the industry. We are well ahead of the curve and positioned nicely to continue embracing cost effective technologies that in the long run will help increase our bottom line.
MIKE BENZ: It is clear that KA is an industry leader in the use of mobile technologies. Apple and PlanGrid executives talked with our team at length about showcasing Kraus-Anderson as a leading edge user of their products.
Q: Explain PlanGrid and our relationship to that company.
TERRY COLEMAN: PlanGrid is field collaboration software for construction documents. Instead of printing a full set of drawings every week, PlanGrid allows our team to upload current plans at no charge for reproduction. We were one of their first customers when the start-up launched in 2011.
MIKE BENZ: When we used to call PlanGrid tech support, we would get Tracy (Young, co-founder and CEO). Now we’re their largest customer to date, with 350 licenses currently in use.
Q: How and why did KA decide to adopt PlanGrid at such an early stage?
TERRY COLEMAN: Rob Wurzl (another KA superintendent) and I were both researching ways to improve our process and found it and we both said, wow, this is a game-changer.
Q: Besides the cost savings, what are the advantages of PlanGrid?
TERRY COLEMAN: Time, quality and productivity. It used to take an hour to write an RFI; now with PlanGrid it’s a 60-second process. Everyone has the same plans. And the software also archives all previous versions of the plan, so you can see just when and where changes have been made. I’ve got every plan from every job I’ve done going back to 2011 on my iPad.
Q: How has the relationship with PlanGrid grown over time?
TERRY COLEMAN: It’s a great relationship. In the past we’ve approached them to develop new features, such as a view-only version for owners. Then when we hand off a new building project, we can provide the owner with complete 2D archived plans of all the systems that they can use to facilitate maintenance and updates throughout the building life cycle. PlanGrid is working with us now to talk to groups of facility managers about this function.
“Thank you for taking time out of your trip to visit us! It’s really fantastic to put the human side and face to great partners who have helped us all these years.
I doubt PlanGrid would be where it is today without Kraus-Anderson’s early support. On behalf of PlanGrid, thank you.”
Q: Did you see any barriers to adopting any of the technologies you saw at the conference?
TERRY COLEMAN: ROI is the litmus for us. Some new technologies don’t clearly pay for themselves.
Q: What about the human factor? Do you see “new technology fatigue” set in within your respective areas?
TERRY COLEMAN: Even our older superintendents love PlanGrid. I’ve seen late adopters doing stuff that I never thought they would.
JUDD JENNRICH: And I see our people using recreational apps that are often more complex than what they are using for work.
Q: What are some other takeaways for KA, or for your personally, from the conference?
MIKE BENZ: As a result of connections made at the conference, KA is moving forward with beta testing a new artificial intelligence system for crane hooks. The system alerts crane operators in blind picks when their hook is nearing the hook and line of another crane.
JUDD JENNRICH: I took away increased confidence and knowledge around the products we are currently using. Touring Apple’s flagship store in Union Square and learning about the construction of Apple Park highlighted their commitment to quality in everything they do. Our tour and conversation with PlanGrid’s founder and executives gave me even more confidence in the products we use. I can relay that confidence to our end users when I am putting the product into their hands for the first time.
Q: Some of the apps you’re looking at would potentially replace software and systems that were new to us only a couple years ago. Why is it important to KA that we stay ahead of the curve?
TERRY COLEMAN:It’s part of our lean approach, with an emphasis on continuous improvement. We are motivated to take advantage of the continually improving technologies that help make our work safer, more productive, and more quality-driven.
JUDD JENNRICH: And to keep building on the relationships that we have.