Selecting the proper layout solution for your construction business can be a challenge. This article will offer some guidelines on the questions that you should be asking yourself and your project teams to help clarify what is best for your organization. There are three important topics that we will address:

  1. People
  2. Product
  3. Process

As is the case with any business analysis, it will likely center around the people who do the work, the product you create, and the processes you deploy to accomplish it. Thinking in these terms will help you to clarify where your most important limitations lie and how a robotic layout system will help or hinder you.

  • Current processes
  • Future workflow desire
  • Technology acceptance level
  • Budget considerations
  • Timing of implementation
  • What to expect

1. People

One of the most challenging aspects of adopting technology within a construction organization is who should be picked to use it. To answer this fully, you should consider several aspects including a willingness to adapt, the capability to learn and use the technology, and what role each member of the team will play in the implementation plan.

Historically, successful implementations are driven by a champion within the organization whose role it is to guide the adoption of technology, monitor progress, and act as a facilitator to help with the problems that will inevitably arise. The role of a champion should be defined by someone with longevity in the organization and respect of those that he/she will interact with. This person doesn’t need to be a technology expert, but they should certainly be well versed in the workflows that this technology will seek to improve and define the way it will be used.

The next important personnel decision is who will be the user? This decision will vary somewhat in each organization, but a few considerations should be made when assessing this decision. While it may seem obvious to select the most tech-savvy individual available in your organization, it is not necessarily that simple. Remember, technology can be transformative and take your quality and productivity to much higher levels than you ever expected. Still, those results are only achievable when you combine it with experts in the processes the technology is meant to improve. Your first step is finding a person that has the fundamental knowledge of construction layout processes and is willing and able to learn the technology. This may turn out to be a seasoned veteran in your team, or it may be a younger, enthusiastic tech expert with a strong knowledge of the construction process.

Finally, you’ll need to identify someone in the organization that can be responsible for identifying, producing, and managing data. Virtually all technology implementations are highly dependent on digital data, whether that comes in the form of a simple PDF drawing or a highly detailed constructible BIM model. Selecting this person requires an evaluation of the current process, what data formats are most commonly used, and whether the field crews are willing or capable of producing the proper data. In companies where the majority of projects are done using PDF drawings or CAD formats like DWG or DXF, it may be the proper decision to assign the data processing, and management tasks to the field crews as these drawing types are simple to work with and easily fit into a field workflow. When the predominant data set is a large and perhaps complex BIM model, it may be wise to employ the expertise of the Virtual Design and Construction team to be the data managers. In either case, what is most important is that the field and office teams are connected virtually and have the ability to share and collaborate on status updates, data revisions, and field condition reports.

2. Product

What is your expectation as a result of implementing a technology solution? Many contractors’ expectations center around the obvious improvements like productivity and quality. You can be assured that by implementing a robotic layout technology, you will experience substantial improvements in both areas. Historically, the statistics support a productivity improvement of 3-5 times over conventional methods when performing layout tasks. An MEP contractor doing layout for sleeves and hangers with conventional methods may be able to layout 50-100 locations per day, while those using robotic layout are experiencing at least 200-350 locations per day, with some achieving 500-600 per day. It should also be noted that these productivity improvements don’t come at the expense of quality which will also improve.

What do you do?

  • What types of self perform activities do you currently do?
    • Concrete layout
      • Foundations
      • Footings
      • Piers/grade beams
      • Anchor bolts
      • Embeds
    • Interior framing and drywall
      • Walls
      • Soffits
      • Cutouts
    • Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing
      • Sleeves
      • Hangers
      • Wall penetrations
      • Generator pads
      • Underground piping

Another important consideration concerning what you do, is related to what you can now do. Many contractors find that once they become comfortable with the process of using a robotic layout tool, they become curious about what other tasks they can take on to lower costs, improve quality and gain control over their work. There are many examples of general contractors that have self-performed certain tasks like structural concrete but realize that by implementing a robotic layout solution, other tasks like interior drywall and framing become simple and easily fit into a new category of self perform work.

Finally, you shouldn’t forget the budget considerations. Often, contractors who have investigated the implementation of robotic layout technology have been scared away by the investment cost. Robotic layout solutions can range from approximately $25,000-$50,000, depending on the configuration. That scale of investment should not be taken lightly for sure, but other factors should also be considered beyond simply the price tag on the instrument. As with any investment, you should consider the return on investment, or the time it takes to pay back this investment with productivity gains, quality improvements, rework reduction, or labor cost reduction. It’s quite common for the ROI calculation to reveal paybacks in the range of 6-12 months when you take into consideration all the advantages. There are calculation tools available that allow a contractor to enter data about his/her circumstances and get a very accurate ROI calculation worksheet.

Another thing that sometimes scares contractors is that the investment cost can be considered a capital expenditure, which is challenging to justify when you are dealing with low margin projects. Don’t let this stop you from further investigating other purchase options. There are many ways that the investment in robotic layout can be configured to meet the needs of the project. Monthly payment options via financing or rent to own can often time be less than $2000 per month and provide immediate ROI when the savings exceed the monthly expense. These options also often allow the investment to be job cost and provide predictability in cost accounting.

3. Process

An important factor that many contractors don’t take into consideration is how do they do things today. You might ask why this has any relevance in the decision to move to a technology layout solution, but what you do today can reveal a lot about how best to proceed with a new layout workflow. The first step for any contractor wanting to make a move to a robotic layout process is to look inward at your current process to identify the following questions:

How do you do it? This can be important as the means and methods that you’ll deploy using a robotic layout technology may allow you to perform tasks at different times in the project schedule or in different ways than you have in the past. A good example of this transformative change falls in the MEP realm, where many contractors are using conventional layout methods (tapes measures, chalk lines, plumb lasers) to locate hanger positions on the floor then transferring these positions to the ceiling, drilling holes and installing threaded rod. While this technique is tried and true with these tools, it is not as efficient as it could be. With robotic layout solutions, many contractors find that layout of threaded rod (blue bangers) and deck penetrations (sleeves) can be more easily and effectively accomplished by doing it on top of the deck before the concrete pour. Not only does efficiency typically increase by a factor of 3-5X, but placement before pour allows for a QA/QC check to assure proper placement before the concrete is poured.

Another advantage that takes place when robotic layout technology is used on the jobsite is that there are fewer disputes that arise between contractors claiming that one another is wrong in the placement of their systems. The most common example involves MEP contractors and Interior Framing and Drywall trades. When one of them is using a less accurate conventional layout solution, and the other is using a robotic layout solution with digital data, there is often conflict because the piping or conduit is not laid out within the confines of the wall. This becomes the long and protracted discussion of who did it wrong and who needs to fix it. When both teams are using robotic layout solutions, these disputes are typically eliminated, and if they do arise, there is a record of the data set used and the location of points laid out to help identify where the problem lies.

Contact BuildingPoint West to Learn More About Our Robotic Layout Solutions

In the end, the decision to implement a robotic layout solution, or any other technology solution to your company should be driven by a subjective assessment of your organizational processes, the people that perform them and the product you hope to produce. Once you’ve done this work, then you will be prepared to decide what solution is right for your company. To take the next step in finding your next robotic layout solution, contact the experts at BuildingPoint West today.