Successful projects depend on tech-savvy preconstruction
Preconstruction plays a vital role in the success of any construction project, and construction management companies today have a wide range of software tools that can save their clients time and money.
Andrew Lock, Vice President of Preconstruction Services at F.A. Wilhelm Construction, said Wilhelm uses a variety of project control and building information modeling (BIM) tools and software to provide value-added preconstruction services. Lock said preconstruction involves estimating project costs and budgeting, value engineering to help clients save money, scheduling and sequencing of a project, and evaluating constructability issues. “During preconstruction, we envision all these things together to get the cost, quality, and schedule right to make the client’s project happen.” Lock said Wilhelm’s preconstruction team engages advanced technology to accomplish this.
Thomas Jacoby, Wilhelm’s Virtual Construction Engineer, said the single most useful piece of software he uses in preconstruction is Navisworks. Navisworks allows Wilhelm to integrate all the different building information models (BIM) – mechanical, electrical, HVAC and others – to provide a holistic view of the project. Jacoby said this is particularly helpful with highly complex projects such as healthcare facilities, noting that “the amount of mechanical equipment of various types that go into hospitals gets very complex very quickly.” Jacoby said the three-dimensional viewing capabilities of the software help clients, project teams and others better understand the how project components interact, so that decisions can be made and implemented more quickly. “Navisworks helps us effectively communicate with entire teams to get challenges quickly straightened out and keep owners, designers and subcontractors on the same page.”
Lock said Wilhelm’s use of Assemble takes that one step further, allowing the combined models to be viewed online so that everyone involved from project teams to clients – can readily access key information from anywhere. Lock said Assemble is particularly useful in the development of budgets. “Developing a budget for a project requires a lot of interaction with the owner and design team,” he said, adding that being able to view the project online makes it easier to communicate with the client about different components that can affect project costs.
Assemble is also useful during construction. When operation teams run into issues, preconstruction teams can easily coordinate through the program to quickly identify and discuss optimal solutions, including impacts on overall project costs.
Wilhelm’s use of technology for preconstruction is not limited to office computers and laptops, either. The company uses drones during both preconstruction and construction to inform the project. Lock said Wilhelm now has a fleet of five drones – “our own mini-air force” – to offer high-value preconstruction services. “We’re able to fly over and evaluate sites and existing conditions to get good information used to determine site costs. That sets us up nicely during construction so things go smoother with fewer surprises,” Jacoby said. Adding, “We’ll use drones to get basic imagery and three-dimensional (3D) information for the site, and to inspect buildings and other hard-to-reach considerations.”
Drones are also used during construction to verify progress and processes, and to save time and money. Lock said. “When Wilhelm is working on a mass excavation, for example, and we want to know how much earth we have left to move – we do a drone flyover. The 3D image of the site is then compared to previous images and final grades to understand exactly how much work is required.” Lock said drones work particularly well for large sites. “Using a drone on a 150-acre site,” he said, “can equate to two days of survey data collected in just two hours.”
Another important tool used by Wilhelm’s preconstruction team for estimating and project costing is Viewpoint. This tool allows teams to analyze historical cost information based on individual components and criteria, and build from there. Lock said software tools provide a great starting point, but people expertise is the critical component to develop reliable estimates for clients. “You have to be aware of the ins and outs of each marketplace.”
Once project plans and budgets are developed, teams use bid databases to find the most qualified subcontractors and vendors. He said these databases are particularly useful for projects like healthcare facilities that have unique needs require highly specialized expertise.
Doug Correll, Wilhelm’s Director of Project Controls said that his team implements technologies in their process from the very first contact with the job. The group primarily uses P6 and Sketchup to represent the construction sequences and logistics plans that best fit the project. Often, a highly detailed plan and schedule will be developed as a part of the proposal prior to an award being announced. Once the plans are developed and expressed through sketches and schedules, the project team (along with preconstruction) can have a product to evaluate in an effort to generate the most advantageous execution plan.
In a cautious tone, Doug continued his sentiment regarding technology indicating that “the technology is only as useful as the philosophies, training and business methodologies behind them. Even the best technology only represents what it is told to do. The key is training people on what to look for and to make prudent decisions as projects progress.”
When asked how project controls relate to ensuring the success of the project, Doug replied, “within project controls, there is a fine line between providing good information/input and executing a plan to “ensure” the success of the project. Ultimately, the project manager is responsible for the outcome of the project. The project controls group is tasked with representing the best (unbiased) plan for how to achieve the desired outcome and to alert the team when the plan is getting off track.”
Wilhelm’s operational teams also use software tools to improve onsite project management including Procore, Viewpoint and Latista. Project Manager Jeremy Putnam uses Latista – a quality control and field management application – to keep track of all items needing to be completed on a project. Putnam said he especially appreciates the accountability it provides for a project. “As you walk the job site, you snap a picture and assign the item to the appropriate subcontractor. The subcontractor responsible for the fix receives a daily notification to remedy the item, and when it’s fixed, can mark the item done for verification.”
Perhaps one of the most important advantages that Wilhelm’s use of technology provides is the ability to communicate more effectively with the clients it serves. “It all comes down to communication,” Lock said. He explained that successful projects require being able to communicate in different ways, “There’s no one universal way to show a budget or a schedule that will suit everyone’s needs. The different types of technology we use allow us to communicate more effectively with everyone – including owners, project stakeholders, end users, subcontractors and suppliers. Lock said healthcare projects are a good example. “In healthcare,” he said, “you have a lot of different user groups, and they’re each looking for very specific information. Wilhelm’s technology gives us the ability to focus in on each stakeholder’s individual needs, as well as communicate the entire project scope.”
Whether in the office or on a project site, Wilhelm is harnessing the power of advanced technology to improve the services it provides to clients every step of the way from preconstruction through construction.
Jacoby said Wilhelm stays on the leading edge of preconstruction technology because, while technology requires an investment on Wilhelm’s part, it provides huge dividends for clients.
Clients benefit from technology because it provides transparency, and transparency builds consensus. Technology also provides real-time access to information and visual confirmation of activities and successes. The right project tools applied by the right project team provide a comprehensive project overview giving owners “peace of mind” and confidence in the building process.