Using collaboration tools and other new technologies on data center work has made possible extensive productivity gains at SMACNA contractor Southland Industries and helps make them more competitive. Southland has offices in California, Nevada, and Virginia.
“Tools such as Autodesk’s Collaboration for Revit takes building information modeling (BIM) to the next level and allow the entire project team to work together in a web-hosted environment,” said Southland’s Las Vegas Division BIM and Constructability Leader Brandon Zeleniak. “Our ability to do reporting over an entire project has increased significantly. Project set-up time has decreased. Collaboration workflow is better.”
Before such tools, project workflow would usually be contained in a local office, remote file server, or an FTP site. Every contractor would be an independent silo, uploading files to a central site. Contactors would download other contractors’ files and use them to put their own files together. “Now, instead of downloading the architect’s file, we are all linked into the same files. It really expedites the work,” Mr. Zeleniak said.
He admitted that there are possible disadvantages to storing data in the cloud, including security considerations, corruption and data loss, but said that Southland hasn’t so far encountered such problems. “Still, it is important to get all the facts before making a leap into a new technology. You don’t want to go in blind.”
Animation streamlines routing, scheduling, sequencing
Another tool Southland uses for data centers—and many other jobs—is animation to simulate the installation sequence. According to Mr. Zeleniak, animation is useful for increasing job site safety, identifying the best routing for equipment install, and avoiding pinch points. “It really helps with scheduling and sequencing of the trades.”
Southland also uses both line-of-sight and laser scanning—such as Trimble Total Stations—to save time when field measuring data center projects. “With field measuring, there is always the potential of missing something. The laser scans don’t miss anything,” Mr. Zeleniak said. “Higher accuracy means that we can do more prefabrication and make fewer modifications in the field.”
Southland currently outsources the laser scanning because of the cost of the tool is high and the number of projects the company needs it for is low. However, according to Mr. Zeleniak, it may soon be worth it to bring such work in-house. “As the cost of scanners comes down, the potential return on investment goes up.”
iPads speed collaboration, coordination
Mr. Zeleniak is a big fan of equipping supervisors with mobile devices that can access relevant files in the cloud. At Southland, all general foremen have iPads. “Reducing the need to travel back and forth to the trailer or run across the jobsite saves a lot of time. The supervisor can just blow up a diagram on the screen to see the status.”
This is especially important when modifications are required. “In the past, the foreman would make changes based on what he or she saw at the time, but such solutions didn’t always work
when the other trades came in afterwards. When supervisors have direct access to the model—with all of the different layers—they can see the bigger picture, which enables more effective coordination,” Mr. Zeleniak said.
Overall, taking advantage of new technologies has made Southland more competitive. “The challenge is to constantly improve without increasing costs,” Mr. Zeleniak said. “These things allow us to execute quality work more quickly through prefabrication, processing off-site, and reduced material handling. At the same time, we have cleaner, safer job sites and lower modification rates. Now we can bid and win work that others can’t.”
Autodesk (Autodesk Is a SMACNA Silver Associate Member.)
Trimble (Trimble is a SMACNA Silver Associate Member)