Auburn Mechanical Empowers the Field Through Data Mobility

SMACNA member, Auburn Mechanical, recently talked to Procore about how their fully mobile digital construction management solution puts their voluminous project information literally at the fingertips of craft labor in the field. The mobile, real-time task clarity streamlines processes and reduces risk as a result, and their innovative culture drove success for the whole company.

Auburn Mechanical’s secret to success? An innovative culture.

The Challenge:  
From the life science of Seattle Genetics’ design-build plant, to the in-slab MEP of the majestic Stadium Place residential towers, Auburn Mechanical’s portfolio says, “Of course we can do that.” Undaunted by project complexity, the premier mechanical contractor’s main challenge to momentum was the complexity of their communication process between field and office.

The Solution:
Procore’s integrated, fully mobile digital construction management solution puts Auburn Mechanical’s voluminous project information literally at the fingertips of craft labor in the field. Mobile, real-time task clarity streamlines process and reduces risk.

 “From a field-specific perspective, the usability from a mobile device was hands-down the reason why the field wanted to use it. We pulled up Procore on an iPad, showed it to our field leadership, and they were ready to make the decision right there,” said Justin Pritchett, Construction Division Manager at Auburn Mechanical

The Results:
Instant Information

Project data streams into the field worker’s mobile device, making all project info available when and where it’s needed.

Mobile Drawings
Unwieldy physical drawing sets are replaced by a mobile-accessible rendering, common to all viewers and able to be remotely annotated from anywhere with an internet connection.

Simple Daily Reports
Cloud-based daily construction reports that can be simultaneously entered by many workers throughout the work day.

Auburn Mechanical knows their way around a challenge. 
Auburn Mechanical is a family-owned company founded in 1975 and based in the great northwest city of Auburn, Washington. Mechanical design, HVAC, plumbing, fitting, refrigeration, maintenance—the mechanical contractor prides itself on industry-leading, in-house expertise; meticulously hiring and retaining tradespersons who have mastered their respective fields. Auburn Mechanical’s sheet metal workers, plumbers, designers, welders, and pipe fitters are best in class, and take on projects of staggering complexity as well as standalone niche assignments. What challenges do exist are often related to process, says Justin Pritchett, Construction Division Manager.

 “We've got some very large projects that are currently under construction. One of them is north of 1.5 million square feet. We’ve got a crew of roughly 40 craftspeople onsite at any given time dispersed across all that space. Our jobsite office is a few blocks away.” This not-uncommon project setup typically requires pauses in progress throughout the day, as the craftsperson takes longish walks to the jobsite trailer or around the site seeking a needed piece of information. 

The pace and accuracy of project progress is all about the project’s information. And the availability in the field of the project’s information is, as Pritchett explains, all about technology. “Our firm's Operations group has this mission of perfection at the point of connection,” he says. “This means perfect information in the hands of our craft labor.” Procore’s mobile construction management solution makes all project information available right there in the field. There is no roaming the jobsite in search of an answer; you’re carrying all the detailed project information —formerly tens of thousands of sheets of paper—in the palm of your hand. That’s Procore––and that’s Auburn Mechanical. “We want our specialized craft labor to focus on production and quality and safety, and not have questions about how the building comes together.”

Sunsetting the Submittals Binder
“The amount of information that we need in order to build our projects can be overwhelming at times,” Pritchett says, then sets the scene. “Let’s say you walk out to the site where there are multiple trades working concurrently. What’re you holding? You’ve brought out your drawing set, your submittals binder, and your IOM binder. That's a lot of stuff to carry around.” Pritchett grins. “You can have it all on a mobile platform that literally fits in your pocket.” Auburn Mechanical, as its name implies, has never been averse to technology that moves the needle. “We definitely believe our adoption of technology is a competitive advantage for our organization.” 

The Daily Construction Report (DCR), a dynamic, exposure-reducing record that details the project’s evolution, is a prime example of tech making a task simpler and more efficient. The cloud-based DCR produces a much more granular record than its manual paper predecessor. In the area of project record-keeping, technology brings a simplicity of process that encourages participation—a thoroughness of reporting that inspires downstream confidence. Pritchett describes the alternative.

“Our previous process used Microsoft Office Suite to do our daily construction report—a Word file. We're a full mechanical firm, so we could have plumbing, sheet metal, refrigeration, and pipe-fitting forepersons on the jobsite, and all of them need to participate in the DCR. When it's a Word file, it's either this awkwardly shared document, or it's, ‘Hey, I did my portion. Now, you all do your portions.’ Everyone drags photos off their phones to a desktop and uses a snippet tool to cut the photo and place it in the DCR. That’s a heavily manual process. The biggest risk is that it doesn't happen.

“In Procore, it's complete collaboration. With Procore it doesn't have to happen at the end of the day—you've got the tool that produces the DCR right in your pocket. Everybody can simultaneously work in the DCR in real time, so when you take that quick photo to document progress and site conditions—that gets into the DCR very quickly and easily, and multiple forepersons can do that concurrently.”

Real-time Information Where and When You Need It 
Pritchett still sees old school practices now and again, and it chills him. “When I see actual drawing sets onsite it concerns me. Annotating a drawing set with a new RFI sketch means cutting out the sketch, taping it to the drawing set—it’s just something that doesn't happen as frequently as it needs to because it's such a manual task. And you start having these drawing sets that are frankly expensive, and then they're both expensive and a liability.” Technology—however seemingly complex—must always deliver a meaningful simplification of process. On an Auburn Mechanical project, this simplification can take many forms. Pritchett has seen them all.

“On our major projects, our Project Engineering team is linking the submittal data, the installation manuals, and our spool drawings to the various documents in the shop drawings—all of it accessible on their mobile devices. Today our field can very quickly pull up the shop drawing and look at the submittal—to understand precisely what they're supposed to install,” Pritchett says. “Right where they’re standing, they can open up the install instructions, and pull up their spool drawings; all that data is available right there. And then through the Procore Model module, they're able to look at the 3D model for precise comparison—again, right there in the field.” Pritchett pauses. “It’s all about bringing detailed, real-time information to the field.”

“A digital solution, and a people solution, and a process solution…” 
Procore’s collaborative transparency and ability to clarify complex project detail is quickly making it the Industry-leading technology solution for mechanical/HVAC contractors—as well as for innovative, culture-driven, competitive SCs of every kind. Procore understands better than anyone the industry sea-change they are arguably leading. The software company will continue to work with specialty contractors like Auburn Mechanical to develop technologies that make the construction worker’s life easier, safer, and more productive. It begins at implementation. 

“One nice training component was Procore’s certification process,” Pritchett says. “We had all of our major project forepersons, our project managers, and all of our field leadership go through Procore’s certification classes. They were immediately up to speed.” Procore in fact launched a new certification this year called the Field Worker Certification—training centered on Procore’s mobile functionality, which affects momentum in the field. 

Clarity and a shared view of the evolving build move the project along with fewer missteps. “Our constructability reviews are done through Procore,“ Prichett says. “We've got our SD, DD, CD. We'll see that SD go up, and our comments in the design set will be in one color. When the DD set comes out, we automatically slipsheet in, and you can see the previous annotation color. We look at that annotation and say, ‘Did that get addressed in this new drawing set?’ If it did, we remove the annotation. If it didn't, we update it to the new color that we've selected. Anybody can go and make these annotations from anywhere—as long as they've got a mobile device and internet connection. It's just incredibly streamlined in Procore.”

Strength through Partnering—Auburn, Procore, and SMACNA
Given the absolute primacy of sheet metal to Auburn Mechanical’s work, and to the MEP/HVAC mission generally, it should come as no surprise that Auburn is a member of SMACNA—the industry-connecting Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association. Neither should it surprise anyone that Procore—deeply committed to improving and transforming the work lives of our precious trades—is likewise a SMACNA Premier Partner. Tradespeople and specialty contractors are the systemic core of any given construction project. Without the complex, detail-driven expertise they bring to a build, there is no build. 

Between this cohort of established craftspersons and construction’s digitized nextgen, there is a synergy that defines what construction is, and what it will be. Pritchett explains.

“There’s a new project engineer coming out of the universities. They're very knowledgeable about technology. Yes, they have a lot to learn about construction and what we do as a business,” he concedes. “And then we have the other end of our workforce spectrum—folks who have been in the industry for 20, 30, 40 years. Their strength is their deep institutional knowledge of our systems and our business – but technology may not have been an integral part of their previous workflow.” The old saying ‘birds of a feather flock together’ may not apply to these differing construction generations. Or it just might. Pritchett continues.

“When you team those two people together, you've got the technology expert learning from the building expert. That’s a natural partnership.” Pritchett smiles. “At Auburn Mechanical we’ve been able to pair those project engineers with master builders. This is a digital solution, a people solution, and a process solution.” He pauses. “We can leverage technology to build more economical buildings, to produce more affordable housing for those in need. We’re an industry that can leverage technology for the common good.” 

SMACNA members can click here to request more information about the special pricing available to them from Procore.