Thursday, July 18, 2013

Going paperless in the world of construction site documents (J.E. Dunn Construction)

Article published by The Daily Journal of Commerce, Oregon

Focus on technology: JE Dunn’s little blue kiosk

POSTED: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 12:28 PM PT

Butch Fiedler, a senior superintendent with JE Dunn, demonstrates the use of a kiosk housing a computer which contains building plans for the OHSU/OUS Collaborative Life Sciences Building project. (Sam Tenney/DJC)
A quick glance around the OHSU/OUS Collaborative Life Sciences Building project site in Portland’s South Waterfront District offers sights common to just about any other construction site in the city. But closer inspection reveals something that sets the JE Dunn Construction Co. project apart from those being done by other companies: a rectangular, blue, metal box on wheels on one of the upper floors.
The doors on the box conceal an oversized computer monitor and a keyboard. With a click of a mouse, a subcontractor armed with a provided password can access the entire history of the project’s drawings, including the most recent updates.

The JE Dunn folks call the blue box a kiosk, and the computer setup is part of a paperless job system they’ve dubbed the Dunn Dashboard. By using the now-industry-standard Bluebeam software and adding hyperlinks, the construction company has turned the work flow on the Collaborative Life Sciences Building site into the stuff of which construction writers with a passion for technology could only dream a few years ago.

The Dunn Dashboard allows project team members, including subcontractors, to bypass traditional paper drawings and build directly off of the kiosk computer, laptops and electronic tablets. In this paperless world, PDF drawings are updated from a single, main source with the speed of a 4G network and a single click of a mouse. 

Hyperlinks on the dashboard allow crews working on the project to move quickly through drawings for specific portions of the project.
That means tables overloaded with stacks of papers are missing from job trailers. Gone, too, is the need for each project team member to track myriad changes to drawings. And while a traditional set of drawings can still be found on the floors of the project, the sheets are as clean as the day they were placed there. For the most part, even the most tech-phobic construction veterans seem to have embraced the Dunn Dashboard system, according to JE Dunn Vice President E.H. “Chip” Laizure.

“It’s very intuitive; if you can operate an iPhone, you can use this,” Laizure said. “Guys in the field love it – even the old guys.”

The idea that became the Dunn Dashboard started when JE Dunn employees were working on a job in Colorado. The changes to drawings came fast and furious, often making it difficult to keep up.

“We were getting new documents every nine minutes,” said Eric Snelling, JE Dunn’s director of field operations in the Northwest. “By the time I would get the drawings back, I would be 40 documents behind.”
One of the members of Snelling’s crew began creating shortcuts to allow him to move more easily between the Bluebeam drawings. Before long, the shortcuts had developed into a system of hyperlinks that eventually morphed into the full-blown Dunn Dashboard system.

Before plunging high-dollar, highly complex projects like the South Waterfront job into a world without paper, JE Dunn tested the system on smaller projects. The success on jobs valued at around $200,000 convinced the company that the dashboard approach would perform equally well on projects valued at $200 million, Laizure said.

Four years later, the dashboard has become the standard system for all of JE Dunn’s projects. And Bluebeam has contacted the construction company to learn more about how it took the software to another level.
“Almost every contractor is using Bluebeam, but no one has taken it to the level we have,” Snelling said.
Being at the head of a technology curve, especially one in an industry that has been so reliant on paper documents, isn’t always a smooth ride. Convincing subcontractors to trade paper drawings for an image on a computer screen was surprisingly easy, according to Laizure. But doing the same with project owners often takes more coaxing, especially when all they receive at the end of a project is a thumb drive with the entire history of their building’s drawings and plans.

“It’s still hard for (building owners) to let go of paper,” Laizure said.

But increasingly, he added, owners are seeing the benefit of having a system that lets them quickly reference a specific building portion with a single mouse click. And it’s not just because it means they don’t have to find an entire room in which to store paperwork related to the project.

“All of the documents go to the owner once the project is done, right down to identifying the actual products used,” Snelling said. “It’s really powerful for (them). But the end users – the (building) maintenance people – are the ones who really love it.

“We had a cooling tower maintenance guy ask us to include a hyperlink to the panel schedule (for one project). That way, if a pump series goes down, he can go in and determine which switch controls the shutoff.”

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