In this edition of our Behind the Build blog series, we speak to Ryan Lemke, CAD/BIM Manager at Walker Engineering based in Texas. Starting as a BIM Detailer in Houston, Ryan grew in his career to become the BIM Manager for all four of his company’s offices. Read our interview, below, to learn more about his journey.
What’s your favorite project?
We’re an electrical contractor and work mostly in the commercial sector. However, we do have a sizable industrial department. Throughout my career here at Walker Engineering, we’ve done a lot of hospitals, data centers and a couple of stadiums–we do a lot of big and complicated projects.
I went to Texas A&M, and the very first project I had the opportunity to work on was doing the stadium there–Kyle Field. It was a cool and exciting experience to get to work on what was your own football stadium. I was on the project for about a year and a half.
How did you get into the construction industry?
I actually had an acquaintance who was working at Walker and told me that they were hiring. I had just graduated, and I thought that construction sounded like a good industry.
Especially since construction is always going to be around, you’re never going to be wanting for work.
How has your career progressed at Walker Engineering?
I started as just a BIM Detailer for Walker Engineering. When we finished the Kyle Field project, I branched out to an array of other projects. We have four offices, and after about three years, I became the at the time BIM manager for our Houston office. I was reporting to our corporate BIM manager, but I was also in charge of all of Houston.
For a little over a year now, I’ve been the BIM manager for all of Walker. I’ve enjoyed making the transition from focusing on just one project and getting into the details of that and then going on into having to keep tabs on several projects for the whole office. It has helped me to understand all the components that go into construction.
When I graduated with an electrical engineering degree, I didn’t really know anything about this industry or how anything worked. Particularly, being a part of the electrical systems and seeing how everything is installed and how buildings are put together—you get to see everything that goes into construction and its complexity.
What gets you excited to wake up in the morning?
Just interacting with people makes me excited to come into work because there’s so much to learn. Especially being a coordinator, you get more than strictly electrical knowledge. For example, you talk and learn from the team working on ducts and mechanical. As a result, you learn how all the systems work. When there’s a conflict between, say, you and the duct team, you can problem-solve with more competency.
What do you love most about the construction industry?
It’s the best feeling, driving somewhere and being able to say, “I worked on that. I built that.” I can drive around Houston and just look at all the buildings where I had a role to play. It’s cool to see the impact that you made.
What do you think is the most challenging part about working in construction?
There’s often a disconnect between the field and the office. For instance, as an electrical engineer, I first didn’t know anything about construction. I had to learn everything away from the field. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you’re working with superintendents who started as helpers in the field, and they don’t fully grasp what you’re doing in the office. There’s even a disconnect in your communication. You don’t talk the same and use the same terms.
Getting the entire team online on a platform like PlanGrid has been helpful for closing this disconnect. Instead of looking at some vague notes on a printed-out piece of paper, you can work together with markups and more and start collaborating better on changes.
How has technology changed the way you’ve worked in construction over these last five years?
From the relatively short amount of time I’ve been here, it has gone from everyone coming into our meeting with their models on thumb drives to a shift in using collaborative platforms. As a result, everyone is always up to date with the latest information, as well as using PlanGrid to share drawings to the field, get markups, track issues and track progress.
The growth of collaboration software has gone from virtually non-existent to pretty much required on every job.
Why was PlanGrid first brought on at Walker Engineering?
I wasn’t part of the original group pushing to get it used, but there was a compelling case for getting on board. Back when I was working on Kyle Field, for instance, I was driving up from Houston every day. Every week, I would have two or three rolls of 500-foot paper so we could print out new drawings, versus using PlanGrid like we do today. Now, our entire team has the latest documents as soon as they’re uploaded.
How does your team use PlanGrid today?
I am usually the one keeping drawings up to date in PlanGrid. When there’s any revision or new changes, the project manager will often ask me to keep that up to date. I manage that, but we’ve also recently been using PlanGrid to measure our productivity out in the field. For example, when we get markups from the field on what has been installed, we’ll take that back and figure out how much faster it was installed compared to what was done before.
Even then, you save time because everyone in the field has their iPad with the latest drawings. PlanGrid eliminates confusion and has just saved so much time for everyone.