In the 15 years that Kara Hermann has been a part of the construction industry, she’s seen an enormous change.
“When I first started in construction, it was all about paper copies and we were constantly printing drawings and waiting for the plotter.”
Today, Kara works as a project manager for one of ENR’s Top 600 Specialty Contractors, Sprig Electric, a Silicon Valley-based electrical contractor that works directly with some of the largest high tech companies to design, build, procure, install and commission complex electrical systems in buildings. She now helps her team to embrace construction technology that not only makes paper obsolete but improves the company’s ability to deliver projects efficiently.
In this week’s “Behind the Build,” we speak with Kara to learn about her journey in the industry and how her team specifically utilizes technology in the field.
How did you get started in the construction industry?
I started in the industry in 2003 as an engineer. My degree is in Architectural Engineering. After working in consulting engineering for five years, I saw a gap between engineering and construction. There’s a lot of finger pointing between engineers and contractors. When I started to work as a Project Manager for Sprig Electric, a design/build contractor, I was able to help bridge that gap by communicating with the engineers in-house and connect that back to the field.
What do you think can be done to improve communication and relationships in construction?
It helps to have everybody sit down at the table and share their perspective and where they’re coming from. Oftentimes the office has a particular way they see things and they’re worried about the financial aspect and the schedule. Whereas the field is worried about the efficiency and most practical solution to a problem. When we can work together, we can figure out what’s going to serve the customer best while still staying on budget and schedule.
Why do you love construction?
I love construction because you get to see everything starting with the conception of ideas all the way through installation. One of the first projects that I ever did involved purchasing and installing a generator. It was this really big piece of equipment and I arranged for a crane lift. Watching the generator being lifted by that big crane and put it in place was just so exciting. I love to see the completion of projects. It’s really fulfilling.
It’s impressive to be able to see this huge amount of coordination that goes into a building.
Some days I’m just amazed anything gets built because it really does require so much communication from so many different people to be able to execute such a complex project.
How has technology changed the construction industry in the last few years?
When I first started in construction, it was all about paper copies and we were constantly printing drawings and waiting for the plotter. You would finish designing a project and just wait for hours for the multiple sets of drawings to print while trying to meet deadlines. Today, lots of cities accept PDFs and things happen so much quicker. The amount of physical storage space that projects require is so much less now, too, because now we don’t have huge sets of drawings.
What’s the hardest part about electrical construction?
The hardest part of electrical construction is the changing requirements of owners and architects during construction. We may install it one way because it seems to work on the plan, but once it is installed they say “Actually, we need you to move this over here, and move that over there.” Meanwhile, we’re trying to finish the remaining project, so it becomes a challenge to be able to meet what the owner and the architect wants and still maintain the schedule.
Why does Sprig Electric use PlanGrid?
Sprig uses PlanGrid as a way to effectively communicate to the field. Many times there’s a quick change that needs to be made. When I first started we would have changes that would come in from the architect addendums. We would have to make sure it got distributed to everyone working in the field, and sometimes things were missed.
Once we got PlanGrid, I was able to take all the addendums that were issued, and link them directly to that floor plan. When workers in the field would go into that floor plan in PlanGrid, they’d click on the link and that addendum was directly there. Things just happen so quick in our sector and a lot of times you don’t have time to update the drawings. Being able to get that information immediately to the field is really critical. In just one project, the amount of money we have saved by not having to do rework directly paid for the iPads and PlanGrid.
What types of information do you capture from the field?
When I’m on a jobsite and I see something that doesn’t look correctly, whether it’s our field that installed it or it’s a different trade, I’m able to just take a quick picture and can email it directly from PlanGrid to the office. Using that, we can price up any changes that occur–it makes things much faster. The old way would you would take a picture and have to go back to your computer to do everything. PlanGrid just bypasses that process.
What would you tell someone who’s looking to get into the industry?
I would tell somebody who’s looking to get into the industry to just give it a try. When I was looking to get out of engineering, I had somebody who’s a mentor to me say, “I think you should look at being a project manager in construction.” Even though I didn’t know construction, he told me, “Don’t worry. They’ll teach you.”
I interviewed at Sprig Electric and I knew it was an immediate fit and connection. I just loved it and went with it.
They have really have taught me everything I know in construction and I continue to learn something every single day.