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CRB Behind the Build: How These BIM Project Partners Use Technology to Empower the Field

Behind the Build: How These BIM Project Partners Use Technology to Empower the Field

For years, building information modeling (BIM) has been a powerful tool for design teams, but it has been underutilized during construction in the field, but that’s changing.

When joining CRB, Mike Mehrwin and Rob Decker, both based in the Midwest, were tasked with starting up a BIM program in the company’s Construction Services Group. Mehrwin, now the BIM coordinator, and Decker, now the BIM lead, faced an exciting opportunity to advance BIM in the field at CRB. “We came in knowing nothing; there was nothing set up,” Mehrwin said.

“We’ve had to build this from the ground up.”

Clearly, Mehrwin’s and Decker’s efforts are paying off for CRB. Today, their BIM team is growing, and they’re effectively using innovation and technology to empower their field teams to make better decisions, so how exactly did they accomplish this? In this special edition of Behind the Build, we interview the dynamic BIM duo. Read below to learn more about insights from their 12-year working relationship and how they have overcome technology implementation challenges to come out on top.

Tell us more about your journey at CRB.

Mike: I’ve been in the business for about 20 years. I come from an architectural and structural background. Rob and I have been working together for a long time, too—about 12 years.

I joined CRB in a BIM coordinator role about 2.5 years ago. When I started, there was no BIM program for construction in our region, and there wasn’t a well flushed-out program in general. Six months later, I brought Rob in to partner with me on building the BIM program in construction. We’ve had to build this from the ground up.

It’s been an exciting challenge to get inserted into a company that already has 1,000 people in an area with very little development. We do have a great group of BIM coordinators and leads who are focusing on the design side. Our construction staff probably makes up about 25 percent of our total workforce, whereas design is 75 percent. Nevertheless, we’ve been growing. This past month, we’ve added two people, and now we have a four-person team, compared to two years ago when it was just me.

Rob: I came from the same background as Mike—in design and architecture. When Mike first brought me in, I felt like I knew nothing about the construction side of things. We picked it up as we went along. Now, we have a great system. Mike identifies things and hands them off to me, and I take the wheel. Now, I feel like it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career.

Describe your team dynamic.

Mike: Rob and I are more than just coworkers. I mean, we ride to work together and have seen a lot over the last 12 years of working together.

Professionally, we’re not afraid to look in a direction the other people aren’t looking and find good solutions.

We’re also able to advocate for our field staff and our construction teams.

At times, many companies don’t have enough support in place for their field staff and construction workers who are not in the office. Some people are in the trailers, and the people with minimal internet access must slide through mud to get to their desks. That’s where we feel like we bring the most value because we bring a voice to that; we translate their needs into tools.

That’s where our partnership with PlanGrid began. We were recommended to look at PlanGrid by a handful of our field staff who had many positive things to report. We learned that there were some wide-reaching applications for it. We pushed hard last year through our document management initiative program and were able to bring PlanGrid to the forefront as a real solution for our organization.

BIM field 1

What are you passionate about in your day-to-day job?

Rob: It’s the way we’ve taken our safety forms and incorporated them in the PlanGrid. We’ve taken everything hard copy and put it in the PlanGrid. We have one project right now for which we’re doing all our safety forms in PlanGrid every day. It started as a smaller initiative, but it’s really taken off in the last couple of months. I’ve worked with our safety director here in the office, and we’re looking at getting it out nationwide on our projects too. But it’s nice because if we’re here in the office and there’s a project somewhere off site, we can instantly see what’s going on and what forms are being completed.

Mike: I know that’s something that Rob’s super passionate about. On my side, I’m just passionate about making sure that everyone has a voice and they’re supported in what they need. For me, that has been creating a more collaborative environment with many different voices and personalities.

Bringing all the people together and trying to find the best solutions gets me excited.

What do you love most about the construction industry?

Rob: It’s something different every day. You come in and think you have a plan for what you’re going to do that day, but then you leave at the end of the day not doing anything that you thought you were going to do. It keeps you on your toes.

Mike: I feel that in the world there aren’t too many frontiers left. But for technology and construction, I still think it’s wide open. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth in a place where you can get ahead of the game and not just step into a bunch of established processes. The ability to be able to work in a new space is what I like most about it.

Do you have a project you are particularly proud of?

Mike: Some of the production facilities that we put together in the past have involved a lot of moving parts and fancy machines, such as 65-foot tall stainless steel tanks holding thousands of gallons of product. Those complex projects are the ones that we enjoy the most. They require high levels of collaboration, and we need to use PlanGrid and other model coordination tools to be successful. Those are the ones we like the most—the complicated ones that make us think.

What do you find the most challenging part of the construction industry?

Rob: Getting people to buy in on the technology is challenging, especially with older generations. They’ve been used to using paper for so many years, and changing mindsets is difficult.

How has technology changed the way you work in construction?

Mike: Fundamentally, technology has allowed us to be more connected and more collaborative.

Rob: You can have technology in the field and get something resolved right away instead of having to go back to the trailer, fill out something and then send an email.

Today, everything can happen right in the field.

Mike: For instance, we used to deliver models to people for coordination on flash drives, and now they upload to the cloud. We have the same ability with our construction documents now; that’s where I see the most significant transformation.

How is PlanGrid being used on your jobs today?

Rob: Right now, we upload all our drawings on the PlanGrid. This gives our field team access to all their sheets right away. They’re empowered to create markups and send them out to anyone who needs to have them fixed. Since we do field reports on PlanGrid daily, I can go back in and check progress. I’m like “big brother” who can see who’s doing what and who’s doing what correctly or incorrectly, so we can adjust course if needed.

We have even started to use PlanGrid for punch lists. On a recent project, we used punch lists, and a project manager on the project said it was the best way he’s ever seen them done. He said he would highly recommend that all future projects use PlanGrid for punch lists.

Mike: Primarily, PlanGrid has been rolled out as a field support tool. Punch lists are an example of a way we’re starting to get our design team integrated with the PlanGrid platform.

One of the things that’s been challenging for us is winning people over to look at the big picture. As we roll out this new platform and changing workflows, reporting and other project management aspects of the job, we need them to understand why we need them to be all in on change.

Have you found any winning ways to get your team to think about the big picture?

Mike: Transparency has been very helpful—just explaining to teams where we are, what we’re doing and how to use the tools to get real project information. Most importantly, we need people to understand why we need technology to store and track information. As projects progress, changes occur, and we need to resolve issues in real time.

With PlanGrid, the low barrier to entry is helpful. I tell field staff that if they want to see drawings on their iPad, they already have the app; sign in and go from there. Once they open it up, it’s all in front of them, and they see the benefits.

Finally, we also have good support from our leadership and our region to make PlanGrid a successful tool for us. They helped us get initial access and traction to help develop the program. Hopefully, 2019 is the year we can roll it out to all regions.

What advice would you impart on the next generation of builders?

Mike: Find allies in the most unexpected places. Keep your eyes open, and don’t assume that you’ll get a reaction or a response one way. Sometimes you have to throw it out there and see what happens. For me, I found allies and support in areas I would have never expected it and found opposition in places where I would have expected to have allies. I think you need to stick to your guns and keep your eyes open. Just be willing to bring in people from different backgrounds and experiences, and you may be surprised by what you get.

Further Reading:  Behind the Build: Interview with Kara Hermann, Project Manager, Sprig Electric

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