In the fast-paced world of construction with tight deadlines and even tighter budgets, taking an in-progress project “back to the drawing board” just isn’t an option.
And thanks to information-age technology catching up to the task, the complicated task of communication between the job site and home office is being made easier.
The software program PlanGrid has been used by at least one Rapid City engineering firm for nearly two years now and has streamlined construction projects by allowing minor issues and major changes in plans to be resolved in real time between project owners, engineers working in their offices, and supervisors and workers in the field.
San Francisco-based PlanGrid was founded in 2012 by former construction engineers who saw productivity lagging because of paperwork, litigation and broken communication, according to the company's website.
Improvements to smartphone and handheld portable tablet technology, notably the unveiling of the first Apple I-Pad in 2010, marked the first generation of construction field-ready mobile technology.
PlanGrid's idea to put hundreds of pages of blueprints, plans, change orders on both IOS and Android mobile devices instead of printing them out at high cost was born in 2010, as well, said Emily Tsitrian, a consulting and training director for the firm.
“There’s no reason every person out in the field can’t have this technology,” she said. “We’re in a golden age now where we’re seeing rapid improvements in the hardware available.”
Tsitrian, the daughter of John and Dawna Rae Tsitrian of Rapid City, graduated in 2004 from Rapid City Stevens High School and worked several jobs from catering to doing minor construction work for the U.S. Forest Service over the course of a couple of years, a time which built her respect for hard work.
She eventually earned a degree from the University of California-Berkeley and joined PlanGrid about four years ago, overseeing marketing and use of the software around the world.
John VanBeek of Ferber Engineering Co. of Rapid City started using PlanGrid technology at the beginning of the 2015 construction season.
The firm is mainly involved with municipal street and infrastructure reconstruction projects, including the Mount Rushmore Road project, projects on Dyess Avenue and Seger Drive in northeast Rapid City, and the rebuilding of Baldwin Street at South Berry Pine Road in west Rapid City.
“Our desire when we started out looking for a digital solution was to be able to have our guys in the field have a set of plans on an I-Pad perhaps, or something similar. But also what we’re after is the ability to keep records of daily construction. Being able to document things was important,” said VanBeek.
PlanGrid allows his firm to reduce a 400-500 document, including blueprints, for use on a mobile device, a laptop or a personal computer, and be able to navigate through those documents with others in the system.
“Guys in the field can take a picture or mark something up on a mobile device and it’s available almost instantaneously to myself in the office or anybody that would need to look at it. This tool really simplifies that process. We’re almost updating those documents in real time,” VanBeek said.
Tsitrian said the ability to communicate even minor changes in plans that arise during a project can save workdays and thousands of dollars in building costs in an industry that has seen productivity lagging because of a shortage of skilled workers.
“Output per worker hasn’t been going up the way we’d like to see, and a lot of that is because we don’t have the right technology for people,” Tsitrian said.
“There is such a huge labor shortage across the board, but specifically in construction, the more time that we’re paying people to build the wrong thing, that’s less time we can really execute on these plans and attract the right kind of labor pool that we need to become more efficient,” she said.
Monthly, per-user, annually-billed prices for PlanGrid software range from $39 for a limit of 550 pages, to $59 for up to 5,000 pages and $119 for unlimited pages.
The pricing is competitive with the costs of changing and reprinting one set of hard-copy blueprints, which can cost hundreds of dollars, Tsitrian said.
After two years working with PlanGrid, VanBeek is a believer.
“We like to stay up to speed with technology and the use of mobile devices in construction in general, basically getting rid of the paper and being able to collaborate with us as the engineer, the owner and the contractors,” VanBeek said.
“I don’t want to sound like a salesman for the company, but I think there’s a great potential and PlanGrid is on the cutting edge of this technology,” he said.
Tsitrian said bringing the software to her hometown has been particularly rewarding.
She credits her teachers at Canyon Lake Elementary, Southwest Middle School and Stevens High School with building the foundation for her career in Silicon Valley.
“I had just some of the most incredible teachers that really inspired me to go out and make a difference in the world. I credit a lot of who I am and what I’m doing today to the education I got in Rapid City,” Tsitrian said.
“For me seeing PlanGrid being adopted in my hometown is just super cool for me. It brings it full circle,” she said.
(Editor's note: the above story has been changed to reflect Emily' Tsitrian's correct title with PlanGrid.)