Architects, engineers, sheet metal contractors, building managers and property owners all know Trimble’s building solutions in their respective fields. Now, Trimble is helping them know themselves by transforming their workflows.
“In the context of construction and the building industry, we have evolved from a company that was focused on individual products (usually hardware based) to a workflow focus that encompasses software, hardware and services across many domains and disciplines,” says Lawrence Smith, general manager of the Trimble MEP Division. “It’s a huge change in terms of the size of the company and the types of solutions we offer.”
In the MEP division, an interest in BIM is driving the company’s constructible modeling and field solutions.
“Contractors are choosing to model to higher LOD (level of detail), this enables better prefabrication and manifolding as well as model coordination with the general contractor,” says Smith, a 28-year veteran at Trimble. “Our managed content is industry leading and enables contractors to detail with a high degree of confidence. In turn, it only makes sense to lay out in the field using a high accuracy tool like our total stations to get the full ROI from that process. Contractors who have figured that out continue to consume these solutions at a high rate.”
Last month, Smith, gave an update on the MEP division’s direction at the company’s MEP Basecamp Conference in San Diego. The following conversation is an extension of that.
What was your pathway into the company?
My path to Trimble was an accidental one. I started my career as a land surveyor in the UK. I worked on a variety of projects, but I was always attracted to the jobs that were at the actual construction phase. I started my winding path to Trimble when I joined Carl Zeiss’s Survey division in a sales role. That led to a product management role in Germany, and eventually an acquisition by Trimble. After the acquisition, I moved to the United States, and I have been in a variety of marketing, sales, and management roles in construction since. I never felt the need to look at a different company. Trimble has been a compelling place to work: always moving, and adapting as a technology company, with a high focus on the construction industry.
As it relates to solutions, what is the main function of your role as general manager of Trimble’s MEP division?
At a high level, my responsibility is running the MEP division as a business: overseeing all facets of R&D, marketing, sales, finance, customer support, and, of course, our personnel. We have 750 personnel globally as well as several hundred contractors working diligently on solutions for the MEP industry. Finding the right balance between short-term issues and our long-term vision is critical. One thing we are never short of is great ideas. I see my primary role as focusing on the best ideas that will benefit our customers and enabling our team to deliver that benefit as fast as possible.
How much is the MEP division investing in forthcoming technologies such as IoT and augmented reality? Do you think they have practical applications now?
We are right at the forefront of all these technologies. Earlier this year we announced our partnership with Microsoft to bring their next generation HoloLens in a construction ready hard hat version. Trimble’s software enables us to take MEP models into the field and see in real-time how the design fits and is impacted on the job site. IoT technologies are particularly useful on a construction project. Right now that involves tracking tools and humans on the job site in the form of our tool tracking solution (AllTrak) and our workforce management and access control solution (CrewSight). Combined with big data and AI, our solutions bring a number of safety and compliance benefits in addition to automation and reporting. Many of our solutions are either cloud based or moving to the cloud. This enables us to consume IoT information more easily, and I expect the demand to grow. Much of the HVAC industry is really focused on BIM and trying to master the integration of that process into duct fabrication and installation. However, there are still shops who do things the old-fashioned way.
What do you say to people who are on the fence about working new processes/technology into their production?
The principles on which BIM was introduced and the intended benefits are sound, and it should be for everyone. Our view is to move beyond BIM and focus on constructability. We want to enable MEP contractors and engineers with the process and solutions to construct better buildings. We do that through trade-specific modeling and production tools, managed content that is manufacturer-specific, and integrated, connected workflows. Any process change isn’t just a matter of buying some hardware and software. It needs to be thought out in the context of the solutions you select, the impact on your personnel and the plan you put in place. It is definitely a journey, and one that we see companies sometimes struggle with. New technologies and processes always have early adopters and laggards. Our customers are realizing tangible benefits of working with a constructible mindset. Having an open dialog within the industry is important, and publications like SNIPS can really help.
A recent webinar between Mestek Machinery and Trimble focused heavily on improving certainty on the job site. Would you say that is the number one goal of Trimble’s solutions?
Absolutely, and the goal of most of Trimble’s businesses that have a balance of office and fieldwork. The reason is simple — almost all the risk is in the field, and mistakes on the job are costly for everyone involved. Trimble has evolved from the field, and it is why we understand that aspect so well.
What makes the Trimble customer unique? Are they in many different sections of the industry?
Oh, that is a good question. Yes, we have a lot of customers in all sorts of industry sectors, and each of those is very different. So no one real persona, but a resounding trait is our customers’ interest in using technology to improve their business. Some are really early adopters. Others will wait and jump once they see the benefits in action.
Considering Trimble’s many customers in many sectors and on many software platforms, do you see or have there been any efforts from Trimble to unite the trades and help different professions understand their roles in the building process better?
Absolutely, and I think we are in a good position to help there. The MEP division is part of the Buildings group at Trimble, and we seek to provide collaboration and integrations that span trades. For example, our eBuilder acquisition has allowed us to bring easier movement of data and better visibility between the trades and the building owner they serve. Our Trimble Connect solution allows trades to share and collaborate on project files and viewing models. Building projects are highly complex with many moving parts. The more transparency and collaboration the more effective the process.
This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of SNIPS magazine.