Autodesk Improves Efficiency at Superior Bowen
When Superior Bowen was paving a subdivision and the city of Kansas City identified a potential problem, the asphalt contractor was thankful it had recently adopted PlanGrid. PlanGrid is a field collaboration and construction information management platform from software maker Autodesk, San Rafael, California.
The city thought there might be a problem with the dirt work on the project, which had been performed by a subcontractor. Superior Bowen was able to review all of the documents and photos stored within PlanGrid throughout the course of the team’s work on the project to make it clear to the city that the issue wasn’t as severe as initially thought.
“By looking back through that storyline, we saved our private development owner a lot of time and money, we saved ourselves a lot of time and money for re-work, and we saved our subcontracting partner some brand reputation,” said Brian Johanning, vice president of business development at Superior Bowen. “In sum, that saved us tens of thousands of dollars and months of time. That’s how powerful it is to have all project documents in one place.”
PlanGrid is one of four solutions within Autodesk Construction Cloud, unveiled in November 2019. The other three solutions are BIM 360, Assemble and Building Connected.
BIM 360 is another team collaboration and project management platform that offers more features for the team in the office, including cost management and project risk analysis, for example. Assemble makes it possible for users to condition, query and connect a variety of data, including BIM models, drawings and point clouds.
BuildingConnected is a bid management platform where preconstruction teams can search for contractors and send bid invitations to them, as well as qualify and select them as vendors. The ultimate goal of Autodesk Construction Cloud is to optimize project budgets, schedules and quality, from design through construction and operations.
“The driving force from the industry is the need to meet the demands of the future with our current output capability. That requires more efficiency and less waste,” said Mark Contino, vice president of North American retail distribution at Topcon Positioning Systems, Livermore, California. “We can’t do things wrong because someone didn’t get the memo. That’s where this technology can help.”
In 2017, Topcon acquired PPI Group, a move which also made Topcon an Autodesk distributor. The goal, Contino said, was to bring together Topcon hardware and Autodesk software with local training, support and service. The company recently announced plans to upgrade its Topcon Solutions Store facilities to offer a variety of training opportunities, including training on Autodesk software.
“When we look at the market, the problem is training,” Contino said. “We can pump out all kinds of cool stuff, but if people in the field don’t know how to use it, what good is it?”
Although the use of Autodesk’s products is nothing new to vertical contractors, Contino said, it is now being transitioned over to earthwork, engineering and road construction. “We can check every step of the way as we build a road, whether that’s the folks putting down the sub-base or the crew paving the road,” he said. “If there’s a problem at any stage, this makes it easier to find it before getting out in the field, eliminating a lot of potential rework and waste in the construction project.”
How Superior Bowen Uses PlanGrid
Prior to adding PlanGrid to its technology portfolio in 2019, Superior Bowen relied on various file storage, collaboration and communication solutions. However, each project manager and supervisor had their own folders and organizational system, which led to some confusion in an already challenging environment.
“Kansas City is a unique market in the Midwest,” Johanning said. The city spans the Kansas/Missouri border, and encompasses 14 counties and 42 municipalities. “We have to make sure we meet the specs and needs of a lot of governing agencies, as well as the transportation and logistics challenges of our market. PlanGrid gives us a centralized hub for project document storage so our team can localize information in one place, instead of in disparate folders across our server and various softwares.”
Johanning said the rollout of PlanGrid within their company was seamless. Autodesk carried out several rounds of training, both at the office and out in the field. Additionally, Superior Bowen’s own spirit of innovation made adoption among its staff easier.
“The heavy civil construction industry has a bit of a reputation for lagging behind on technology,” Johanning said, “but our people have really embraced technology. They’re always looking for ways to remove bottlenecks and do things better, faster and cheaper.”
Like it did during the recent subdivision project, PlanGrid makes it easier for Superior Bowen’s crews to resolve any issues out in the field, without having to return to the owner for approval or schedule or price modifications.
“Having the ability to pull up the drawing in the field, red line it immediately, and share the document and photos with our folks in the office or our consulting partners has reduced our red line process from days to minutes,” Johanning said.
The platform’s photo feature, he added, has been particularly useful. Each photo is geotagged and timestamped, so people can know exactly where on the job the photo was taken. Photos and documents can also be attached where needed on a plan, so if a spec sheet or grading report needs to be available for people working on that plan, the info is available immediately.
Johanning also said Superior Bowen’s supervisors and project managers appreciate being able to document the project from the field, on their mobile devices. “They don’t have to come back to the office at the end of the day, fire up the computer, and spend a couple hours uploading, organizing, etc.”
PlanGrid has also improved operations from a pre-construction standpoint. Superior Bowen is able to get plans from engineering firms quickly and seamlessly, as well as open and store large PDFs for plans and estimates with automated organization.
“For a vertically integrated company like ours, everything ties into one another,” Johanning said. “But, whether the work is performed by subcontractors or our own crews, it all translates through PlanGrid.” In the future, Superior Bowen hopes to give access to a project’s documentation within PlanGrid to the respective project owners and subcontractors on the job.
“It’s incredible to have one platform for plans, specs, pictures, and other documentation,” Johanning said. “With PlanGrid, we were able to gain some consistency, and rely on a product built specifically for the construction industry.”
Autodesk and the Future of Paving
Cloud-based collaboration tools like PlanGrid are only the beginning, Contino said. “We are on the edge of a huge technological revolution in the paving business, and Autodesk is providing a lot of fuel for that engine with their product portfolio.”
For example, Topcon’s RD-M1 road scanner can be attached to a vehicle and driven over a road at normal highway speeds to capture 3 million points per second. This massive point cloud can then be downloaded into Autodesk ReCap software for processing before final design work in Autodesk Civil-3D. The result is an extremely accurate digital replica of the road, used to analyze every crack and defect, and then make a design plan for the best surface going forward.
“With the road scanning capabilities that are coming in, we are able to get so much more data than if a surveyor took traditional cross sections,” Contino said. “We can get millions of data points. Contractors haven’t seen that before.”
There are similar tools emerging for use on pavement maintenance projects. The Leica BLK3D handheld imager captures 3D measurements in 2D photos in a point-and-shoot workflow. The photos are ready to measure, share in BIM 360 Docs, or export as JPG or PDF from BLK3D Web, mobile, or desktop platforms.
“The BLK3D was designed with the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) market in mind,” said Michael Liberati, Leica BLK3D’s business development manager. “In day-to-day use, heavy construction contractors can easily carry the BLK3D with them for quick measurement and documentation to digitize and replace tape measures.”
Learn more about the Leica BLK3D here.
Johanning thought the digital replica of the roadway would appeal to DOTs and other agencies. Contino said Topcon has been educating state DOTs about the potential of this technology.
“Let’s say they need to resurface a bumpy road,” Contino said. “If they can scan it and digitize that road, they can plan out variable depth milling to take out every undulation in the road–not just the ones that show up every 50 feet where the surveyor took a cross section.”
As the project is completed, the digital model can be updated with information from the paver’s grade and slope sensors or intelligent compaction data.
“Once a project is complete, its owners can track the project’s historical data,” said Andrew Botkin, an account executive at Autodesk with experience in the asphalt paving industry. “Then they can see what worked well and what didn’t across different projects within the same geographical area.”
Contino predicts ConExpo 2020, coming up March 10-15 in Las Vegas, will be an important trade show for this kind of technology: “I think ConExpo 2020 will be the year of the small contractor. The big guys understand what technology like this can do for them. Now and in the near future, we will see a lot of smaller contractors realizing they can’t compete if they don’t modernize.”