Geek of the Week
Construction Tech News
JBKnowledge podcast network
This week’s guest, Mike MacBean from Pacific Structures, and this week’s news, Video Call Fatigue, Modular Construction, GoCanvas, Mixed Reality, Autonomous Robotics and more!
JAMES: Construction is the world’s oldest industry but spends the least amount of money on innovation. When we realized people outside and inside the industry, did not typically associate with technology like virtual reality, apps, and robotics, we started The ConTechCrew. Each week we bring our listeners the latest in ConTech news and interview the minds behind the technological innovations, changing the way we build. So, strap in, enjoy the ride, and geek out. It is ConTechCrew time!
Another week has come and gone. We are almost done with the dumpster fire year that is 2020. Three more weeks, onto a new year.
TAUHIRA: We survived the week after Thanksgiving
JAMES: That’s a lot on its own to survive that.
TAUHIRA: It’s a heavy week, man.
JAMES: I mean, physically it’s a heavy week. Did anybody weigh themselves three days later?
TAUHIRA: I’m still postpartum I’m not weighing myself.
JAMES: No. Sorry. Shouldn’t have even brought that up. Nope. Nope. You have a baby! And what a Christmas gift! The human 3d printer, my goodness
TAUHIRA: Coolest part of 2020 Anyone having a rough year? Just let me know. I’ll send you some baby pictures.
JAMES: I really like fat babies too. I just think they’re adorable. Both of my daughters were pretty tubby babies, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. Well, what an interesting time. We’ve also got with us Tauhira Ali. She’s the greatest, Tauhira, how you’ve been doing?
TAUHIRA: I’m doing great. Like you said it’s been a hell of a year and I think everyone’s ready for the break, but also ready to just kind of reflect on all the great things we’ve done this year. Excited to be on the show, excited to hang out.
JAMES: And Mike MacBean from Bay area. What’s going on MacBean.
MIKE: Good morning, man. Thanks for having me, great to be here.
JAMES: Thanks for being on, he’s a Texan natively, I guess you could say, but went out to California a long time ago. He stayed out there, went to Cal State Chico, and Blake Wentz, if you’re listening, this is one of your alumni. You haven’t met him yet, but you need to, hope you’re listening to the show. Blake Wentz, one of our good friends of the show, just took over the Dean position in June, just in time to deal with the COVID restrictions of the fall. But he took over there at Cal State Chico, Mike McBean’s Alma mater, and Mike is joining us today to talk about all things tech over with Pacific Structures. And we’re going to get back to you in a second Mike, before we do. I just want to remind all of our guests out there to never miss an episode by having every episode sent straight to your email inbox, just text ConTech to 66866. It’s not just the audio. You’re getting the weekly email, the links to the show notes, the articles we discussed, just text ConTech to 66866. Also a reminder that if you have questions, comments, or suggestions, you can get in touch with us by texting us at (979) 473-9040, and we can answer your questions live on the air, or I’ll just text you back. Sometimes we will call, you can call and leave a voicemail there. I might even pick up randomly or you can leave a voicemail and if it’s cool, we’ll play it on the air.
According to the CDC, construction occupations have the highest rate of suicide, as well as the highest number of suicides across all occupational groups. To combat these statistics, contractors, unions, associations, industry service providers, and project owners must work together to stand up for suicide prevention. The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention is raising awareness about the risk of suicide within the construction industry and providing suicide prevention resources, and tools, to create a zero-suicide industry. Visit PreventConstructionsSuicide.com for more information.
Mike before I get started with you, I just wanted to let the cat out of the bag. She’s wearing Milwaukee red. And of course she has so much Milwaukee gear, I think that she’ll wear it at least a good percentage of the time on a go-forward basis, cause how do you eliminate that much of your wardrobe, but Tauhira is the greatest. She has some personal news on the job front, Tauhira.
TAUHIRA: I do. So as of last week, the announcement was made, this is the first time I’m talking about it live. So, I’ve accepted a position as the executive director of industry innovation for NECA. So I’ll be working with the National Electrical Contractors Association and essentially doing a lot of what I’ve already been doing through my work at Milwaukee: industry leadership, trying to help contractors figure out how to go the extra mile and expand their businesses, helping people to understand how to take these advanced solutions and actually apply them in a way that gives them a competitive edge, but I’ll be doing it from a seat at NECA instead of the position I’ve held for many years at Milwaukee Tool. So it is very bittersweet. I will say my new little one has onesies in all ages up to two years that are Milwaukee red, so we certainly are going to keep Milwaukee very close to our hearts, but it’s an exciting time. It is exciting to be able to, to really truly advocate for the people of the industry and to work on all the trades together. I started the position January 25th. So, if you need me in the meantime there’s always ways to reach me. It’s never been Twitter, but LinkedIn, my Milwaukee contact there’ll be a NECA one soon. So, all good news.
JAMES: Congratulations on that. Happy to see the next move, you’re going to be working with our good friend, Josh Bone, who went over to Electri, which the foundation that’s associated with NECA, so I’m excited about your work with him. And you’re going to have an even a broader industry association to spread the good words of innovation and technology as someone who has done a lot of innovating herself. You’ve been pioneering the one key program over there at Milwaukee. And so I that’s something I always appreciate in running this show is getting to talk with people who are actually doing the innovation work themselves. That always geeks me out. Cause I started writing software when I was a preteen and have really enjoyed actually doing the innovation, not just talking about it. And that’s something that you’ve been super hands on with is actually architecting a program, seeing it through to execution and rollout making sure it sells to customers, making sure the customers are happy. And so it’s been really cool seeing you do that there and there’s a lot of lessons I’m sure you’re going to bring over to NECA from your personal hands-on experience, getting innovation actually done.
TAUHIRA: The thing is Milwaukee is very much an army and has never been in a better place. And also too, for those of you who are listening, who are innovators, as James says, there’s nothing that can beat getting out and talking to your users and having that face to face to help you put in that iteration and that feedback. And that’s what I’m here to help you do. And. So it’ll, it’ll be a fun time for all.
JAMES: So now that we got the cat out of the bag. I’m a dog fanatic and I’m from South Louisiana. I was born and raised down there. I’ve got a giant 98-pound Catahoula who thinks that she’s my lap dog. And I love dogs, they’re just ferociously loyal. Cats? They just could care less. It’s a weird thing. They’re super moody and I’m super moody. So like having a pet who’s super moody does doesn’t really work well for me. So that’s why I really dig dogs. My Catahoula had surgery this week, by the way, she had a little cancer tor on her knee. So we got rid of that and little lipoma on her chest. And. She’s the saddest thing ever. She just lays across me.
TAUHIRA: What about you, Mike? Do you have any do you have any pets?
MIKE: Absolutely. My main boy behind me here, Jack he’s, my black lab, turned 11 on Halloween here, I also have a Leon Berger, he’s a big dog. He weighs about 140 pounds and I have a cat as well, little cat named Lily. And she’s just as moody as what you guys are talking about. I love animals. I mean, grew up on a ranch, so anything and everything. I love them all.
JAMES: They’re awesome. I noticed the picture of the black lab. I think I’d like to have a black lab one day. I think that’d be a fun addition to the massive herd of animals we have. We’ve we have 13 animals in the house right now, it’s insane. Three dogs, two Guinea pigs, we just got two chinchillas, they’re very interesting.
TAUHIRA: You got rid of the chickens though
JAMES: Well, not by choice. They HOA discovered them and made us get rid of the chickens. I got a couple of rabbits. Rabbits are punks. They really are, they’re just little jerks, but they’re fluffy and cute. So let’s talk about construction technology. Mike, first thing, I’ve mentioned where you’re from and where you live already, what school you went to. I want to kind of start with the end in mind, so I want you to tell me what Pacific Structures does. I want you to tell me what you do there, and then we’re going to go back into your past
MIKE: We’re a self-performing concrete contractor based in San Francisco, we have an outfit in SoCal as well, in LA. We reach about 150-mile radius out of the Bay area and wherever the work is out of Southern California, my role here right now is a project director of key accounts, basically we’re divided up between a few different account managers. We have some internal work with our greater umbrella of GC, and I’d take care of our outside clients here in the Bay area, focused on the work that’s in San Francisco proper.
JAMES: Self-performed concrete?
MIKE: Yes, sir. Self-performed structural concrete.
JAMES: And you’ve been with them for a while now it looks like eight years. And before that you were over at a Webcor, your first job right out of college was Webcor. And you were there for about five years, and then you went to Pacific Structures, but let’s go back into time, back in the day, which was a Tuesday, you were a young boy growing up in Chico, what did you envision yourself doing? And then how’d you end up picking construction as a career path for when you went to Chico state.
MIKE: I always just had a super mechanical mind and a passion for figuring out how things work, putting them together, building things, and I always wanted to be a pilot. In younger days I was really thinking I was going to go into aerospace and be a pilot and that just ended up not happening with choices of schools. I started as a mechanical engineering major. While I was in school working, I was building houses, building foundations for a small-time contractor in Chico. And I just fell in love with the work as an actual builder, getting dirty thumbing nails and building stuff. And I made a kind of a late switch through my college career to construction management and found Webcor. I ended up running a couple internships through them while I was in school as well and went straight to work for Webcor concrete. And that’s where my love of concrete construction really took off.
JAMES: You mentioned literally my number one hobby and passion which is flying. So let’s talk about this for a second. You wanted to be a pilot. You wanted to fly. Did you ever take lessons?
MIKE: I did. I flew a Cub around, not nearly as much as I’ve really wanted to, but now that life’s kind of grown, I have a 16 month old daughter, a little boy on the way due in May and life’s kind of taken over a little bit, but it’s in my future.
TAUHIRA: There’s always time to go back.
JAMES: Yes, there is. I am proof of that, my mom and dad are both private pilots, my dad got his ATP. If you don’t know what that is, the Air Transport Pilot rating, so you have to work all your way through that. And he had 6,000 hours of private flying and my mom had 600 hours she was a multi single instrument pilot. Which I think is super cool that both my mom and dad could fly. And then my mom’s dad was a Navy pilot. And so when I was 19, my dad got me flight lessons. I went all the way through all the training, did my solo cross country. And then didn’t take the test because I was a dumb, dumb, dumb 19-year-old and life got in the way in a good way. Right? So family, kids, all that stuff that happens business and by the time this episode airs will be exactly three years ago, I walked to the local flight school and I’m like, I have 36 hours. I’ve done by solo cross-country I know I’m going to have to redo pretty much all my training, but I’ve got to get my license. And so I worked on it December of ‘17 then January, February, March and I did my check ride in March of ‘18 and got my private pilot’s certificate got a little Piper Saratoga, which is a single engine Piper and got my instrument rating in December, and then moved up to multi engine, got my dad’s old 1970 Aztec, which is like your dad’s old truck. It’s a 50-year-old airplane, but it still flies great. Got my multi-engine rating, and so I just last week passed my commercial pilot’s test. So I, I am now a commercial pilot. I passed the commercial multi-engine test in my dad’s old Aztec and It’s exciting, the crazy thing about flying and for all you who are listening out there, there’s so many good lessons to take into construction technology and construction from flying, the importance of checklists. Number one, the importance of checklists, the importance of checking your work. There’s a ton of technology and innovation in aviation t hat’s making flying way safer. That happens to also directly apply to heavy equipment. Like there’s just so many parallels. I’ve done a lot of flying in the last month, a lot like 40 or 45 hours just in the last month, all in the Aztec and I always get really sentimental about it. My dad flew that plane across the Pacific Ocean to Australia so it’s a pretty awesome little old truck, but flying is great. So I’m just going to encourage all of our listeners and my brother Mike here to get on that it takes about three months, two to three days a week. So your dream was flying, ended up over in construction technology, which ends up being another dream, right? It’s like you can actually have two passions who, who knew? And what was the big takeaway from Webcor? They are really innovative company, they have a really good reputation in the market, what was your big takeaway, what where your big lessons learned there?
MIKE: When I graduated college, it was also in our kind of 2008 ish downturn in the economy. So I came into a market that was hot, that suddenly disappeared to kind of like the nuclear winter of what was out there project wise. And I grew a lot and super-fast as well. I had some great exposure to some of the brightest minds that I’ve met in concrete construction here in the West coast. And my big takeaway really was Just continuing to drive and follow my passion to build and innovate to find better, smarter, faster ways to do things.
JAMES: Not accepting normal as okay. Sometimes normal is okay. Sometimes the way things have been done is a really good thing. You run across that in flying all the time. There are old memory checklists that were invented in 1940, that are still really amazing but there’s a lot of things we used to do that we don’t anymore and there’s a good reason for that. So you always have to challenge your status quo. What’s the big lesson been so far, you’ve had a few positions because at Pacific Structures you were a superintendent then a senior super then a senior PM then you were pre-con director, which is a big shift from being a project manager in the field, and now you’re a director of key accounts, so you’ve moved around. What’s been a couple of your big lessons there through your path at Pacific Structures.
MIKE: I’ve been everything from a superintendent to pre-con to now running some key accounts and big lessons are really the importance of relationships. I mean, building’s cool. Technology’s cool. But it really doesn’t happen in this kind of work without the people and the relationships. So we’re able to see how some of this industry can get caught up and, and just lost that it’s really the people that get this done and how important the relationships in is. It’s kind of been sitting with me, especially through what 2020 has been through this pandemic and being so virtual all the time, losing this this touch of involvement face to face with people it’s really been resonating with me for the last nine months of what this craziness has been.
JAMES: Well, Tauhira, I know you have a, a question that I’m excited to hear about in regards to some specific technology that Mike’s been using over there at Pacific.
TAUHIRA: We’ve talked a little bit about how your career has grown Mike and how innovative Pacific Structures is. And you guys have definitely been at the forefront of how you apply these advanced practices. Artificial intelligence, optimized project strategy management. And I know you guys have been working with Alice technologies recently on applying that AI to construction. James and I are both AI geeks, and what we’d love to know a little bit about is from your experience, especially from that peoples’ side, what are some of the benefits and some of the risks for applying AI to job projects and how do you establish best practices when you start to go down these advanced paths with companies like Alice?
MIKE: I’m still on the learning curve of establishing best practices, so I’ll be light on the full answer to that, maybe a little political, but really the benefits for us are speed and efficiency, and figuring these things out. I mean, we look at a lot of really complicated projects. Everything from huge pools to 50 story towers to deep holes in the ground. All sorts of different ways. I mean, concrete construction inherently is somewhat basic and hasn’t changed in in a whole lot of way.
JAMES: It was in 2000 years since the Romans did it. I mean, you mix rock with you mix a bunch of rock with some binder, right?
MIKE: We have crazy seismic crews’ requirements out here on the West coast. Of course. I mean, our reinforcing in seismic code out here is, is different than where you guys are in the deep South, I’m seeing four inch spacing on ties and rebar where you guys might be seeing eighteens and no vertical bars in your stuff, so getting consolidation, that kind of thing, the technical side of making our concrete Structures work is a little different, but really being able to use our tried and true ways, I worked in pre-con I love figuring things out and it’s really where it all started and looking at, how to skin the cat, if you will. Some of the traditional ways marking up PDFs, blue beam, whatever you have, running through schedules, sitting with superintendents, looking at just different ways. Where do you start, where you finish, how long is that going to take? What needs to be done before the next step? It’s time consuming, and then when you’re looking at a concrete project it’s worth a hundred million dollars in scope. These things are big and you may be the smartest guy in the room, but if it takes you six months to figure out what the best path is, and you still may not have the best solution at the end of the day. And using some tricks and partnering up with Alice has really just increased our bandwidth to come up with solutions. Looking at things really quickly on the fly. Hey, I want to want to shift what this building looks like. Work in some overtime. I want to add a second crew on a shift. I want to limit my formwork resources, my crane resources, equipment resources, et cetera. I can make a lot of changes, really quickly, click buttons as we go. And all of a sudden, I’m presented with just a platform of solutions to evaluate, look at inefficiencies, idle time, how it affects my productivity, my self-performed concrete world is so reliant. My risk is in labor. That’s, that’s really what we’re doing. We’re running labor, carpenters and laborers. These are our really talented carpenters and laborers that are good at building formwork. Good at pouring concrete. The more efficient that I can make them the happier they are not having to go different directions on projects, their employee satisfaction is greater. They like coming to work. They like having a plan and it helps your bottom line. We can be more profitable the more risk I can take out of out of labor.
TAUHIRA: Well, I think also with powerful too, as you mentioned, this is a tool, right? You’re not taking yourselves out of the decision-making process, it’s just something to free up your analytic time and give you more options that are presented. At the end of the day it’s all about the people. It’s all about the labor. It’s all about this is this is the most precious resource we have. And that I think is a really powerful thing too, because so many people think AI robotics, machine learning is replacing people, but it’s more of elevating the decisions you can make.
MIKE: Alice just doesn’t work to the level that it’s really capable of without the experience input from an actual human that’s built, it, seen it done it run into problems with it, without that experience and input and setting parameters to make the AI work it’s just not as valuable. And that’s what really drew me to it was that it took my talent of being able to plan and pre-construction and just elevate it with the computer software
JAMES: For the uninitiated, let’s tell them what the heck Alice does first off. I mean, it’s AI for scheduling and planning. But what the heck does that mean? In your own words, what does it actually do?
MIKE: It does math. That’s what it does. It runs some pretty complicated mathematical equations that you can balance a ton of parameters from crew sizes, crew numbers, equipment resources, quantities, estimating factors. You can capture costs in it as well. It’s really taking all the parts of the puzzle and putting together a million different possible ways in about 10 minutes and presenting you with the 10 best solutions for the parameters you’ve given it, something that would it can take months and months and months with just human resources, manually drawing out schedules, sequences, pictographs, if you will, and then putting pieces for Microsoft project schedules together, it’s exposing, with a little bit of input or honestly you can put a ton of input into it if you want, really quickly what the best path is.
JAMES: Does it actually form a schedule and a plan for you? It’s iterating millions of times and then it’s looking at optimal paths and then it’s presenting the best option set to you.
MIKE: Exactly, so I can load it with all sorts of different parameters. Of course, I can be very specific and say, I want this section of foundation done first. And then of course the vertical, it follows a deck above, and I can be very specific within breaking up our model within their solution and linking predecessors and successors. Providing equipment input, material usage crew sizes, comp rates, all that type of factors, parameters to this thing. And you can kind of crush it down a little bit within your own parameters, or you can just blanket give it the model, give it some more basic parameters and turn it loose, hit the button, and it will pick and pull some of the basics that you’ve done and give you on a high level, this is what the machine thinks, and it’s really quick at your fingertips and, and with a model based solution. So you can look at a Gantt chart schedule right next to your 3d model. You can look at it hours, days, weeks, months, years, however you want to break it down and, and quickly check yourself, go back, make an adjustment, hit schedule again, analyze boom, you have 10 more results. Pick a new one, see if it fixed and you can play very quickly and see which way you want to go
JAMES: What are you using it instead of?
MIKE: Not instead of anything really, just to supplement and increase our bandwidth, be able to get through some complicated projects a little more quickly.
JAMES: So you’re still using Primavera?
MIKE: Still using Primavera, actually, to be honest with you more often Microsoft project, it’s simpler for the hands that the schedule needs to go to once we’re done with it.
TAUHIRA: I think what’s really exciting there is again for our listeners who might be thinking, well that all sounds great, but my machine can’t make my decisions. I need specifically this amount of labor, or I need this consideration, you can flex, or you can be as constrained as you need to be within the program, and that I think is the importance of when you look at a solution like this, it’s got to have some flexibility to be more practical.
JAMES: Inputting parameters in it from just the expertise and experience standpoint. Crew flow is very important to me, to run and labor crew flow, not having massive increases and decreases of like on this day, I need one carpenter on the next day I need 60 carpenters. That doesn’t happen in the real world. I need to need to find the sweet spot. What does it look like for 30 consistent guys? How fast can I do this element? When does the transition work to do the next element and so on and so forth, building this structure out? Working with those types of parameters that just come from being a superintendent and building projects, this is how crew flow works is how it needs to work setting those limits up in it is really powerful.
TAUHIRA: That’s so powerful. And speaking of we’ve gotten a lot of different directions around everything from the technology of being a pilot and leading self-performing concrete and things like AI, that’s the fun of the show. So we’re nearing the end of the year. A lot of people are very excited to get this one in the books and move on to the next one. So Mike, what are your predictions for how construction technology will continue to evolve as we hit the uncertainty of 2021, especially as we look at this continued situation that we’re in with the pandemic, but also there’s some light on the horizon, right? Potentially a vaccine, potentially some normalcy will be renewed, but we’ll never be back to where we were before. It’ll always be different. As a construction technologist, what are you most excited about?
MIKE: I’m really excited about this AI and really seeing us as a company and even just the industry but adopting it more it’s still new. We’re slow to the take and we’re kind of hard-headed builders. Concrete’s been around since the Romans of course. And we’re slow to take on new things and there’s a lot of old mindset that comes with the experience of people involved in the industry that this is just the way it’s been done. It’s not broken. Why do we need this? I don’t need the computer to tell me that the columns go after the deck and then the next deck, that’s just how it works. But I’m excited to see us adapt and adopt this kind of resources and increase our ability to really see from a high level, some better paths and break some of those molds of how long it takes to build a concrete structure, just because it’s taken that long for the last 12 years for us in 30 years, whatever we’ve been working here, kind of in the West coast with these types of Structures, just because it’s taken that long before, doesn’t mean we can’t get smarter. Doesn’t mean we can’t get faster. Doesn’t mean we can’t have better quality better employee satisfaction, better owner satisfaction. So breaking that. I’m excited about that, I’m excited to see, I know some scanning technology’s been around for quite a while, I I’ve seen the MEP trades of course use it quite a bit more. Some retrofit work building in existing structures is utilized it more than my specific self-performed concrete industry, but I’m excited to see that the cost of the technology has come down substantially it’s quicker, it’s easier, it’s more accessible for us starting to utilize scanning and how we take as built information. There’s a lot of stuff that we do very manual pulling tape measures, what I’m talking about, to check and verify the checklist is the embedded in the right location. You’ve checked it two directions off of grid line in an elevation, but being able to use technology and establish trust in it and just breaking that mold that yes, this machine has quickly taken an entire floor as built and proven to you in a model what’s right, what’s wrong. And even just how far it’s off to just fractions of an inch, I’m excited to see that that happened moving forward here at through 2021.
JAMES: I want to wind back and talk about scheduling. We talk a lot about technology and software and hardware, but I always like talking about the actual return on investment that you get, because it has to be cooler than just a cool toy. Now for me, it doesn’t, cool toys pass the muster for me all the time. I love a cool technology toy. I mean, my house is filled with them, but that being said, to make it into the field, to make it into the back office, it’s got to actually deliver a return on investment, and you haven’t mentioned the actual ROI dollars that the money you got back either in the big bucket preventable mistakes, right? That’s the big bucket, and hopefully when you have better scheduling options and better, ideally when you’re using a technology like Alice, you you’re reducing preventable mistakes by identifying problems before they actually cost you a hundred thousand dollars or a million dollars or $10 million. That’s the ultimate goal because those are the big-ticket items. The smaller ticket items are staff time and hard cost savings. I want to focus in and dial in on Alice and AI in general and where do you get the money back that you’re spending on this technology, right? Cause you don’t want to use AI for the sake of using AI, so where are you getting the money back? Are you shortening your schedules? Are you reducing preventable mistakes? Where’s it coming back?
MIKE: Right now we’re in the early stages of this of course, fully realizing where all my ROI is coming from. I’m just not quite there yet, but where I’m seeing now and expect to continue to see it grow is definitely one on the big bucket, identifying the bigger mistakes, the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars mistakes before they even happen. I know everybody would like to think that we’re smart, we’ve done this. There’s just an inherent opportunity to make a manual mistake in creating a Microsoft project or P6 schedule, we’d be foolish to think that they’re not there. And there’s plenty of checklists and things that you can go through, but they’re done a little slowly and done by humans and just adding another layer of opportunity to make mistakes. Those are fairly low hanging fruit on the ROI where even though it is a little smaller, all of my profitability is in labor. It’s how fast and how efficient our quality level that we can build these projects. And if I can make efficiency and productivity increases even on the basic structures, that is just so, so valuable. That labor aspect is really what moves my bottom line.
JAMES: I’ll be interested to kind of stay in touch with you and get further feedback as you go through the use of this technology, because ideally, you’d win in a couple of fronts, right? Ideally you would have fewer measured, preventable mistakes, mistakes you used to commonly make and budget for when you were director of pre-con. As director of pre-con you and your proposals and bids, you have to budget for mistakes.
MIKE: We don’t though. We don’t want to work out here, budgeting for mistakes. There’s a little bit of comfort. You want to create some opportunity for your team to win but work just doesn’t happen without competitive the market is, we’re not here to do stuff wrong or build stuff twice. We’re the experts at building these types of structures and we’re supposed to know. And we do know.
TAUHIRA: What’s really powerful is just seeing how this unfolds for you. That’s a great takeaway for our listeners as well, that when you are going through this process there are some immediate ROIs and there are some things you want to track long-term and you don’t ever make a good business case upfront that doesn’t evolve as you use the technology and as you learn from it, and that’s the powerful thing is you got to go and do eyes open. You got to go into it with, this is what I get ROI today, but this is what it could be, and that’s how you continue to evaluate whether or not you’re hitting success.
MIKE: Exactly. So eyes open it’s a hard attitude to change in the industry. I mean, there’s some tried and true ways. Like we’ve been saying that this stuff’s just been done forever, keeping eyes open a core group of people being receptive to these types of technologies, introducing them into our business and industry and constantly looking eyes open on the big picture and even smaller picture items, evaluating that ROI as we go.
TAUHIRA: Mike, what about trust and AI? We hear so many times people are like what can a machine do that I can’t do? And all three of us are tech enthusiasts, but not everyone is how do you build that, that confidence that the machine is giving you the best possible scenarios?
MIKE: I’ve said this to Alice a few times now, I had a great relationship with a really good friend over there that went to work for Alice. That’s how I was introduced to them and being a technology enthusiast. The idea sounded cool. But working in pre-con and developing so many different schedule sequences for how these projects go, there was a little bit of me that liked the nice new toy, it’s a pretty cool piece of technology, but what is this able to do that I can’t do, so I went in and I really just tried to break it. I went in it with the pilot program, it was a very specific project I had done all of the pre-construction work for it, developed schedule the sequence validated against our estimate budget. I knew the job. It’s fairly simple. 22 story building two levels down, a small footprint here in San Francisco logistics opportunities that they just don’t exist when you’re building a big city. There’s, there’s only so many places you can access the job from where you could put your tower crane, where you can put your manlifts. How do you service ready-mix trucks? You’re just kind of limited. You’re not on a big acreage site where you can put whatever equipment you want everywhere. These things kind of only happened with a few options. So I had this schedule, I was fully convinced, it was sequence that we’ve done many times on many other projects. I just knew this thing to the core. So I went in and I took this project in our pilot program with Alice and put all of our parameters in, our recipes, our sequences, equipment, labor, everything, all the parameters go along with it and really tried to break it. I wanted it to provide a solution that I knew just wasn’t possible. See, I told you there’s nothing that this AI thing can do that I can already figure out kind of thing. It couldn’t do it. It didn’t give me this just kind of silver bullet, of something that I didn’t know or hadn’t thought of, but we found opportunities. I wasn’t able to break it. It verified, validated our approach that we were right. AI, thanks. You told me I’m right. I already knew that like, didn’t need a pat on my back for it, but it gave us some, some ways to look at how to get even better within that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re making up weeks or even months on the schedule or anything like that, but we’re getting smarter with our manpower. We’re getting smarter with our form work, the amount of material resources and the efficiency of our crews. It may not make the project deliver substantially faster, but it helps protect my core risk and labor.
JAMES: I really appreciate the conversation about this. We do need to move to our news, and we want your feedback on that, but exciting use of pretty advanced technology at a company building with a material that’s as old as the Roman empire. It’s pretty awesome to see what’s being done with concrete I’ll be honest, just kind of in wrapping our conversation, Mike, I think the coolest stuff in concrete is what we’re seeing with 3d printers doing with concrete. It’s takes it to a completely different level.
MIKE: It is pretty cool. I’m not I’m not seeing it in practice out here in, in our area yet, I’m hopeful though. There’s some really cool stuff coming down the pipeline with 3d printers. When I first started 3d printing, we were just printing a models of our structures so we could play with them, physically move parts and pieces, put these things together more with the model instead of just on paper, but now we’re printing structures and buildings, who would have thought?
JAMES: It’s a completely different ball game and it certainly takes concrete to a completely different level. Tauhira Ali, what you got with news?
TAUHIRA: Well, I want to start with something that I think again, we’re all kind of living through this is an article out of construction dive earlier this week actually came out on Wednesday about video fatigue and how we’re all kind of feeling this exhaustion with video calls in this remote life we’re living now, and so according to Robert, half 38% of employees are reporting experiencing video call fatigue since the start of the pandemic. And so that’s not to be unexpected. And we’re seeing a lot with the same rules applying that always applied in work. Determine if your meetings are actually the most efficient use of people’s time, what’s the goal that you’re setting out and can that goal be accomplished in different ways? And at the same time the videos are a way for us to have some shared experiences that we no longer get. In this new disconnected world where everyone’s not just working from home but forced to do it. And so I’m excited to, to kind of have a dialogue with you all on it because James, your company has been remote for so many years, and Mike, you live in the industry where you have to be face-to-face. So how have both from a JBKnowledge and a Pacific Structures standpoint, how do you intentionally create opportunities for employees to stay connected and cohesive in a world like this and just in the world as it reopens?
JAMES: It’s been tough. We have two offices in Argentina, and one in South Africa, one in here in Texas, we’ve got 230 people that we try and keep connected, but I’ll be honest. Most of our employees worked in an office, we have supported remote workers for quite a long time. Ever since the beginning of the company we’ve had people working from home. And so we had the infrastructure created in place. We were already paperless. We were already fully digital. We already had a global VPN. We already had point to point tunnels everywhere. We’d been checking these boxes for a long time. We have a cloud-based ERP, we had a cloud-based PBX phone system, we’re on Office 365. So if you run through all the steps, we were that we were as well-prepared as you potentially can be for something like this, other than the fact that we had never tested everybody going home at once, which in retrospect, that would be probably the only other thing we could’ve done is a system-wide test of everyone working from home for one day, but man, I’ll tell you the cultural challenge is deep and wide. I have video fatigue. I am tired of it. I like being around people. I am an extrovert. I am not an introvert. I do not get tired by hanging out with large groups of people I get energized. And so this is a giant succubus. So that being said, I like hanging out with people and it’s tough. So I’ve had to like to pour my time and attention into developing a bunch of hobbies. I picked up the guitar. I rebuilt my Lego city did a whole bunch of projects around the house. I got two more flying ratings, I had to burn this energy off. I’d say about half of the people in my company really want to be back in an office and the other half are kind of cool with working from home. And that’s really what I’m seeing from a lot of our clients too. It’s kind of half and half, people are one way or the other and they really either relish social interaction or they don’t. I have employees that closed their door and never talked to anybody at the office anyway. They’ve done exceedingly well at working from home. Cause this is just like what they create for themselves at the office. I’m ready for this to be over so my team can get back together in person. I’m seeing video fatigue across all organizations that I deal with. I’m seeing work from home fatigue in some countries that we operate in, the federal government has not resumed any in person schooling, which means that I have a lot of people whose kids have been home schooling for nine months. And that is tough. So you combo that with having to be on video conferences. I’ve seen a lot people just moving just to doing phone calls now, just to get off of video and just going back to conference calls because they don’t have to be seeing each other. Mike, what about you guys? You’re obviously in your office, construction companies have to get things done and in person because they build stuff
MIKE: This has been really tough, fortunately kind of two aspects of this, one we were considered an essential business. So that allowed us to keep doors open, but when there weren’t guidelines, when this all first came down, they were kind of running around like chickens with their heads cut off. A lot of people wanted to be home scared of the pandemic and what the repercussions were. And there was absolutely an element where there, it wasn’t our entire business, but a lot of it a lot was working from home. And I think it was effective for maybe the first month. But then it just wore off and we instantly needed to be in person, and I’m very thankful. We have a very progressive and forward-thinking executive team here. And so we were really on the industry side of things here in San Francisco, we were on the forefront of how we were going to set up parameters of how to work safely. We were very quick to the table with COVID policies. Not because they were required, but because they weren’t yet, we were making these policies because we needed to be in person with each other, we were quick to the table to provide COVID testing for all of our employees, every single person in our company, both field and salary staff and offices. Plus our subcontractors get tested every single week by our company that were taken on privately, it’s not the testing that’s preventing anybody from getting sick, but confirming that we have negative tests is building confidence in people we’re still full masks, still full face shield policy. Every single one of our field employees is required to wear a face shield full-time out in the field, plus a mask and maintain a six foot distance Cal OSHA has guidelines of how you got to document and create certain safety setups to the very few activities that need to be worked within less than six feet of each other for the 15 minutes for 24 hours a day. But the video fatigue was super, super real. I still see it. Of course, I still have phone calls people are spread out and. And just like Jim was saying I’m seeing less and less faces on the actual video calls. They’re more just the names now so they’re not being seen. It’s more treated like a phone call, but fortunately what I’m saying is, is we’ve just been on the forefront to create a safe way for our employees to work in person and continue to drive and move forward.
TAUHIRA: Yeah. I think the, the ability to be agile is, more than ever, it’s pretty critical. And I think we’re seeing that across the board. So kind of moving on, speaking of San Francisco the next kind of topic that I wanted to share about is this is an article from last Friday November 27, about San Francisco trade unions being at odds over the modular construction of a supportive housing, so a homeless housing facility. And so we’ve definitely seen the housing industry, especially the homeless housing part of the industry kind of stretched at its max with the COVID pandemic. But we’ve companies like factory OS who are working in California, working in San Francisco on a 143-unit modular supportive housing. And this’ll be San Francisco’s first, a hundred percent affordable modular project. So it’s going to be a hundred percent modular start to finish they’re projecting that it’ll be $385,000 per unit. Versus $525,000 per unit with the conventional stick-built methods. And they’re looking to have this completed 40% faster. So you talk ROI, there’s some pretty clear things here. However, there’s the other side of the coin, right? You have the San Francisco building trades leaders are pushing back that modular construction, it lowers construction standards. It pushes down wages. It reduces the amount of work for, for our skilled craftsmen and women out there. And the San Francisco building and construction trade council, their position is they’re against modular housing unless it’s built in San Francisco with union workers and craft specific employees. So not the, the generalists, but by specific trade those who are certified. And I think that’s something we’ve touched on a little bit today is how do you balance the thirst for innovation with established industry practices and almost that fear people have about losing out their ability to continue to be competitive in a space that is what they’re best at
MIKE: The balance is hard. I have seen this pushback on the modular construction at the same time, we’ve built quite a few modular projects ourselves. Things are going to change. Humans are innovative. That’s what our brains are designed to do. It’s what we do as a species, things are going to change, I think most of these things are validated with a little bit of time as things happen, nobody likes change, things are hard and you see change you get scared. You don’t want to take your job over your wages, lower standards of construction, that type of thing. But there are ways to make all of these things work that I think in the long run, more often than not are actually beneficial to the, the global community as a whole, that all of those things that we’re concerned can be maybe maintained and often even optimize, maybe even better.
TAUHIRA: Awesome, that’s a really important way to look at it. And to kind of flip things back the other side of the coin there the last piece of news that I want to cover off on is NECA, my future organization, and GoCanvas are collaborating on bringing digital tools to electrical contractors. So the National Electrical Contractors Association NECA has entered a strategic alliance with GoCanvas. And GoCanvas is essentially a way to create digital workflow forms, so digital applications, and they kind of help sub-contractors to be more customized and creating ways to evaluate process and productivity. So you establish not just best practices with forms, but also how do you start to track some of those KPIs, the key performance indicators to gain that competitive advantage through intuitive data collection, not adding more work, but still remaining paperless. And so what’s really cool here is GoCanvas is offering one free vetted out process application to all NECA members and they’re also offering support so that NECA members can look to create customized forms to benchmark their own project progress. James and Mike, you both kind of brought up the fact that you gotta look at ROI, you gotta look at KPIs. So how does something like this help to push things forward and create more success for some of these new tech options?
JAMES: Well, I think one of the things I like about GoCanvas and other tools like it, cause there are certainly other solutions out there that do something similar to what GoCanvas does, but when you have mobile forms apps in general allow citizen coders, I first heard this phrase from Intuit regarding their QuickBase application, which is also mobile forms application, citizen coders, the people who don’t like waiting on IT to develop a solution. They go out and they build their own solution. These are the same folks who hack on Microsoft access, who learn VBA so they can write scripts in Excel. But that’s the group that you’re really dealing with here, and they’re a good group. They’re an innovative group and it’s certainly a group you want to support in a big way. And so that’s what I think is so important is giving construction companies tools that they can build their own solutions rapidly to solve low-hanging fruit problems
MIKE: A lot of our measurements of KPIs are self-created. These things didn’t exist, so we manned up, figured it out and we build structures. We can build solutions from the software standpoint that do what we need and they’re not perfect. That’s not our background, not our talent, it’s in the structure. So these things have their flaws. They have their hiccup. And I’m excited to see that there are industries and people out there providing more streamlined solutions. Cause that’s where my pain is right now. These things aren’t as streamlined as I’d really like them to be.
JAMES: Well thank you so much Tauhira, anything else on the news?
TAUHIRA: Like I said, I’m going through a big personal and professional change myself, at the same time Milwaukee is hiring like a wildfire. So it’s interesting to see the types of companies that are really building things up, even preparing for the future and what comes ahead to sell. What about you, James? What do you got going on?
JAMES: Well, there’s a few interesting news stories that I ran across. This is out of the United Kingdom from bimplus.co.uk. I always like to put my British accent on whether I read from this application, the Queen’s English. I had an English teacher, a senior year who taught us Queen’s English. Robert Bird has done something interesting that they named RBG Reveal, gives project stakeholders access to nav, explore interrogate, interact with design and construction solutions. Robert Bird group is not a small firm. And they’re looking at how they can revolutionize virtual design and construction services. So they’re trying to really take VDC collaboration to the next level, they’re already using on a bunch of projects to try and deal with their complex project delivery challenges they are saying that RBG Reveal that it offers high quality visuals while being data rich. In other words, it’s pretty pictures and it has a bunch of data behind it. And it allows people to interact with the model and the building virtually it’s an interactive interface but it also captures the data that you need and allows you to look at the objects and the models and see what’s behind them, pretty interesting use of a VDC collaboration platform by a major UK contractor and they’re trying to really step up the game on collaboration with their outside and inside parties. So kind of a cool, cool selection. Good to see people actually putting this into play.
Our next story is about Mixed Reality. I’m a Mixed Reality addict. I shot the video this week for mechanical contractors’ association with the new Trimble XR10, the HoloLens 2. I love the HoloLens 1. I love my VR Oculus quest and quest 2. And there’s a lot of really, really good hardware on the market now. I mean, really good hardware. All of which fits my head, by the way. I really should be the universal beta tester for all had headwear. Cause if it fits my size eight trapezoidal head, then it’ll fit anything. So top five MR startups impacting the engineering industry. This is fromstartus–insights.com. Arvizio, this is an AR platform it’s based in Canada. They are an MR platform that assistant workflow design site plan and site planning for engineering and industrial it gives applications, enable 3d vis multi-user sharing, that’s a really big one in, in mixed reality, by the way, is the ability to have many users on the same model at the same time. That’s kind of really fun, especially when you get into like onsite AR all being able to see the same model pinned to the same location you can use Azure spatial anchors for that, which is a technology Microsoft rolled out that allows you to anchor a specific GPS point in altitude, and then have everyone referenced the same spatial anchor so that you can place 3d content and everyone can see where you placed it from their own, their own viewer instead of wearing yours. Side note, there’s some really cool tech around that area, so no programming required. It’s compatible with a bunch of IOT devices. Meshicon – holographic visualization. That’s pretty cool it’s a German startup, and they develop holographic human machine interaction tools for engineering companies. So it allows you to gaze gesture and voice inputs. And production designs are checked with digital twin overlays in real time. So you can actually overlay what was built versus the digital twin and see if it’s correct. We call that modern QAQC. Some other good ones like Holo – Light. It’s another startup from Germany that does AR and MR software for engineers It helps remote engineers visualize interactive manipulate 3d objects. Spiral Technologies is out of Singapore it’s coupled with mixed reality glasses. They have a platform called Spector to use a contextualized intelligence for engineers. So it’s voice controlled assistance, hands free access to reference materials. And you’re seeing this a lot with field and service staff that needs to access service manuals when they’re going out the repairs. Imagine there’s a worker out there, an electrical contractor that happens to be a union electrical contractor member of NECA. And they’ve got this red and black, power tools says Milwaukee on it and they need to access the manual on something they need to do with that particular power tool because it’s Bluetooth enabled and they need to pair it, imagine that they could just do that with voice and pulling that reference manual. That’s really what we’re talking about. If you don’t change the world at NECA, I’ll be shockingly surprised you’re going to have a lot of fun over there.
My next article is from CNBC. It’s always good to see the mainstream, or if some call them the lame stream media. That’s my favorite one. Lame stream media. I’m not talking about politics; I just think it’s a hilarious riff on a word. It’s always fun seeing the mainstream media cover construction tech. It’s a super cool article and it’s about one of my favorite construction technology companies Built Robotics, so this is CNBC covering what Built Robotics is doing and with automating construction equipment there’s some really cool companies out there, obviously Caterpillar and Komatsu, startups like Safe AI and Built Robotics, Canvas. I mean, there’s some really, really neat players in the space. Now go read the article from CNBC. I just wanted to mention that we have some mainstream media. MSM coverage on construction tech that is out there right now. I haven’t actually seen an in-person demo of Built, I’ve seen a bunch of video demos of Built Robotics. Tauhira, have you seen this one in person?
TAUHIRA: I think part of the challenge was seeing Built Robotics in person is the scale. It’s so big versus construction robotics, and some of the other companies we talk with. And I think that’s the challenge for those of you from Built Robotics who are listening, that’s our challenge to you is when the world opens up, start bringing some demos out, whether it’s con expo or a world of concrete, or you can just come to James’s house on my own and, and show us the demos. We’re ready.
JAMES: Come on. We’ll go dig a hole in the backyard. Let’s do it.
TAUHIRA: I bought my first house this year. We can do some stuff in the yard, but I think the power of the autonomy is really important. To touch on really quickly with that mixed reality piece, I think that is so of how you overcome the mundane video fatigue and how you still bring people together is by having mixed versions of media and things like those practical anchor points to do QAQC. So a lot of really exciting things we’ve covered today.
JAMES: And just a reminder that Construction Executive does a really nice construction technology and software rundown. They did it on the fourth that is today, there’s some good announcements that they rolled out. I’m not going to go into depth on each of these, but. Safe site check-in has new advanced analytics offers a library of dashboards that we’ve talked about safe site before they have a check in web app. Safety tech, software, instant results workers complete a COVID-19 self-assessment. So we still have some more tech rolling out around COVID-19. Trucks drive features advanced scheduling tools and streamlined earnings reports, a one button communication on job sites, GPS assisted location. That’s for logistics and fleet and training. Procor, we’ve already covered this in the past, but they’re real-time pro labor productivity and time materials tickets, that’s a category killer by the way, Procor going after time material tickets and real-time labor productivity is a direct affront to a bunch of companies that are located down the street from Mike that only do T and M tickets and time labor productivity. So I want to point out Procor has just decided to jump right in the water there and compete against some of their, their current informer partners. Trimble Siskew 8.0 has some new and improved workflows for MEPs. Trimble connect for HoloLens version 3.2. I got to use this the other day, features the ability for users to load pre-made sequencing groups for easier fab workflows, super cool. Trimble connect is amazing by the way, I used it the other day to render some prefab construction models inside my lab, and it was awesome. It was really, really well put together. And you combo the XR10 and the Snapdragon quad-core processor that’s in the new HoloLens is super awesome. Trimble Connect in the original HoloLens. It wasn’t Trimble connect. The software hadn’t evolved as much and their original HoloLens was kind of underpowered on CPU, not the new HoloLens. It was absolutely spectacular. So go check that out. Our friends Blue Beam continued to expand the studio collaborative software they have and then Bridget Bench is now integrated with BIM 360, XOI technologies is integrated with Pinta, Tool Watch and Procor are now integrated. So you’re seeing a bunch of folks integrating out there and MSuite, somebody we recently had on the show is partnered with construction prefab consultants to help MEP contractors to capitalize on prefab. So, cool announcements go sign up for that over on constructionexec.com. That is all the news we have today and the end of our lovely show. Mike MacBean, thank you for joining us.
MIKE: Thank you guys. It’s a pleasure to be here. Really appreciate it.
JAMES: I want to see some videos of that black lab doing some retrieval work because the labs love fetching things in the water. My Catahoula is obsessed with fetch. It’s all she wants to do. Just fetch, fetch, fetch, fetch.
MIKE: World is 100% around his ball. Nothing else exists.
JAMES: With Zoe, it’s the Frisbee. I introduced it to her when she was one, she saw another dog do it. And she has not been the same dog since, it’s all she wants to do is fetch. So I get it. I get it Tauhira Ali, you are the greatest. We are excited about your new role at NECA. And we know that you have spent a lot of time innovating and building innovation teams. We know you’ll continue to do so at NECA, and you’ll continue innovating in 3d printing at home as well. You are truly an awesome human being and thank you so much for taking time away from raising that young whipper snapper to come in and talk with us. I know you’ve been pretty heads down with the new baby.
TAUHIRA: Oh yeah. And it’s great to come back up and great to be on the show. Mike, we had such a blast with you. Thanks again for the time.
MIKE: Appreciate it Tauhira, nice to meet you and congrats on your new role.
TAUHIRA: Do you mean the mom role or the NECA role?
JAMES: You got two full-time jobs, man. That’s a heavy job to take on both of them. So we know that you’re up for it because you’re awesome. So thank you for being on the show and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to geek geek-out today. Episode 246, our interview with Mike MacBean from Pacific Structures. Join us next week, episode 247. Ready for this? It’s Matthew Carly from Laticrete. We’re going to talk about concrete some more.
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