The Rise of Construction Tablet Apps

How field-ready technologies are changing the building industry
 Construction apps are building momentum

View this feature in our beautifully-rendered May issue of Construction Digital

Innovation is not exactly the construction industry’s M.O. – for centuries, the only major changes to the sector were minor equipment upgrades and the occasional architectural trend.

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The last few decades, though, have seen some stirrings in industry fundamentals, especially in the design process. The advent of BIM and 3D modeling programs has greatly increased building efficiencies and reduced project timelines by pushing plans into the digital realm – but an insurmountable disconnect still stands between the office and the field.

The introduction of powerful tablet computers, however, may help bridge the divide. Big, beautiful screens and powerful processors are opening up unprecedented possibilities for crews on the field to view, manipulate and manage plans in the field, take precise measurements, keep track of job hours, and much more.

PlanGrid, an innovative app for the iPad, allows for blueprint management that includes cloud storage capabilities, on-the-go changes, and pushed updates to ensure that the plans in the field are the latest version. Outdated project plans and printed blueprints are a multi-billion dollar expense for the building sector, so small investments like these can have a major impact on profit margins.

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Ralph Gootee, PlanGrid’s cofounder, says, “Most stages of handling blueprints (design, scheduling, bidding) have long been digital – except in the field.  The only catalyst missing was the tablet device. For the first time blueprints could be brought in the field via lightweight devices that have a battery that lasts all day and have wireless Internet connectivity.”

AutoCAD WS, another design management application for tablets, desktops, and mobile devices, allows users to manipulate AutoCAD drawings, syncing changes between various platforms and enabling sharing between clients and partners. FASTTAC, another tablet application, allows similar annotations on project designs, and lets project team members easily communicate, reducing build times, waste, and rebuilds.

In the endless modifications to expensive printed blueprints, building plans can often swell to nearly half a percent of a project’s total budget, making for some extraordinary costs on larger builds. Printed plans cost the industry up nearly $4 billion annually – not to mention the costs from rebuilds from mishaps following from outdated field documents.

One of the most promising aspects of tablet apps is the syncing between the office and personnel on the field, streamlining communication between designers, lead contractors, suppliers and even sustainability experts. These platforms also allow for on-the-fly logistical planning, obtain client approvals, complete inspections – and even provide valuable analytics to help improve future projects. As tablets continue to increase in power, durability, and capability, a new generation of apps may change how construction professionals access and share job information forever.

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