PlanGrid software opens up possibilities for horizontal construction

PlanGrid’s mobile app has helped companies around the world with civil construction. Josh Progar explains to Roads & Infrastructure Magazine how it can help supervisors and those with their boots on the ground.PlanGrid’s mobile app has helped companies around the world with civil construction. Josh Progar explains to Roads & Infrastructure Magazine how it can help supervisors and those with their boots on the ground.

Communication and collaboration are critical for large infrastructure projects. Unfortunately, not all sites have the luxury of a reliable Wi-Fi connection or reception.

To ensure construction companies are still able to take advantage of 21st century technology, regardless of location, global software company PlanGrid has released an app that aims to tackle this issue.

Josh Progar, Lead Customer Advocate at PlanGrid, says it is critical to use connected technology to meet productivity targets in the heavy civil construction sector.

“Horizontal construction sites can be miles long with teams numbering in the hundreds. A lot of work they’re doing is getting changed minute by minute and it’s important to document what has happened,” he says.

“The owners of the infrastructure, whether they are governments or businesses, also need to know exactly where everything is in order to maintain it properly for decades to come.”

One example of where this is being used in the US is the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit upgrade. Tunnels underneath the bay are undergoing seismic retrofitting to protect them from earthquakes.

“In that situation, you’ve got workers underground and underwater without connectivity, and they need access to the latest and most accurate information,” Mr. Progar says.

“This creates a unique challenge for the infrastructure companies, which PlanGrid helps overcome.”

Mr. Progar says the fundamental idea behind the PlanGrid software is simple: enable the construction industry to work from anywhere. It was made with the field user in mind, so it has been designed to be intuitive to use and quick to learn on a mobile device. It is also able to function in areas without Wi-Fi or connection to mobile internet.

“If you’re working in a tunnel below the ocean, or an area with no connectivity, data is still needed to make sure the project is on schedule and under budget. Photos, blueprints and inspection data are synchronised to make sure everyone on the next shift has access to accurate and updated information.”

He notes that in the heavy civil construction industry, blueprints still often use paper, creating a whole set of problems.

“One isolated drawing could be out of date, or the only plans available could be rolled up somewhere away from the site and take up valuable time to access. PlanGrid’s ability to increase the level of collaboration with features as simple as being able to work offline sees companies making a return on investment alone,” Mr. Progar says.

One example of PlanGrid’s software being used on a horizontal construction site is during infrastructure company Granite Construction’s $150 million realignment of Highway 99 in the US.

Granite Construction’s project required the company to move several kilometres of highway in Fresno, California, around 25 metres away from the adjacent railway tracks to provide a corridor for a proposed high-speed rail alignment. This meant also removing three bridges and relocating multiple streets and utilities.

Granite used tablet computers installed with PlanGrid software to speed up the process of sharing project information between the California Department of Transportation and subcontractors.

Randy Lucchesi, Lead Project Engineer at Granite, says the company’s supervisors could sit with an inspector in the field and understand the information needed to resolve any problems quickly, without having to head to the office to verify anything or pick up physical plans.

PlanGrid let the company update revisions to the plan and share them with workers in the field instantly. The app also provided an overlay to compare the different versions, which Mr. Lucchesi says helped him catch what would have been a $30,000 to $40,000 mistake before it became an issue.

Technology of the future 

PlanGrid was founded in 2011 and has expanded over the last seven years into more than 84 countries, in more than one million projects. Mr. Progar says the company’s growth is thanks to the introduction of technology that has disrupted the infrastructure sector’s traditional methods.

“The construction industry is ripe for innovation. Its ageing workforce has a lot of experience that can be tapped into. However, the industry is also often slow to adopt new technology and change,” Mr. Progar says.

He says PlanGrid’s CEO Tracy Young experienced the challenges construction workers face due to the lack of technology first-hand, when she was an engineer. She and her co-founders looked at the technology landscape and what was happening around the world and saw an opportunity.

Mr. Progar points to a study from consultancy firm McKinsey that shows by 2030, $57 trillion will need to be spent globally on infrastructure to keep up with world GDP growth.

“Currently around the world we are only spending around $13 trillion, meaning in the future demand won’t be able to keep up with supply,” he says.

“Technology needs to be part of the solution. Growing population means current infrastructure is under strain, so it is important to invest in software that empowers contractors to build as effectively and cost efficiently as possible.”

He says with mobile devices, it’s now possible to put software directly in to the hands of field workers, and this mobile access to construction information is disrupting the industry.

“Smartphones are now in the majority of adult hands and can be taken anywhere. When it comes to mobility on a worksite, it’s hard to beat a device that you can slip into your pocket – nobody wants to climb a ladder holding a laptop,” he says.

“Having a workforce that can access all the plans, drawings and updates on their mobile devices empowers workers in the field to be successful.

“We’re excited to be a part of the evolution of the construction industry and team up with other companies developing disruptive technologies like drones and 360-degree cameras to help global efficiency and productivity.”

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