Since 1969, Helm Mechanical has supplied expert mechanical design, engineering, installation and service to the construction industry. From construction of the smallest industrial process projects to the largest hospitals, Helm places their focus on safety, quality and building value for customers that span over a dozen different industries.
Early Technology Adopters
Helm’s early technology adoption has always been focused on productivity improvements. They find that when they can give the field the same real-time information that their project management staff has access to, they improve not only the efficiency on a project, but the quality and safety as well. Much of their productivity enhancement using technology comes from having easy access to the building model. In addition, their paper-less system and digitization of all project information allow them to always work off the latest information and speed the flow of data between members of the project team.
However, there was one more step to take. Digitizing project installation tracking in the field had yet to be adopted. The current process was still manual and often was just a set of prints in the jobsite trailer. Every day or so the foremen would mark up the drawings as to what had been installed or placed. This resulted in a lot of redundancy and time spent going through prints to review and cross check what was installed in the field. Date accuracy was also a challenge with the manual method as they lost the sense of when the work was done because there was no consistent way to highlight and date the installations as they marked up the drawings.
Helm was looking for a solution that would leverage the BIM model and still be easy to use by field teams. It was also essential they had accurate and timely data to run the right analytics for what the job required.
Finding a solution:
Helm Construction Technologist, Travis Voss, was tasked with finding the right solution. His role at Helm is one that many progressive contractors are adopting, by utilizing the talents of individuals that not only understand technology, but also construction. Travis evaluates current processes and the hardware and software technology platforms available to make recommendations to the management team to support Helm’s commitment to technology. He recruited Micah Schlesselman, a tech-savvy Helm Project Engineer, to integrate their latest technology endeavor in the field. In this case, ICT Tracker.
“Intelligent data is the reason we really pushed hard on the data driven path. We are not looking at ICT Tracker to be a ‘one off’ on one project. We want to collect and analyze data to bid more intelligently on future projects and execute on them better and keep the data flow circular," says Travis Voss, Helm Construction Technologist.
ICT Tracker was first used on a large 900,000 square foot data center. The need to accurately monitor project status, integrate with the ERP data, and provide reporting updates to project executives was key.
Micah is leading the adoption in the field and works along with other project engineers, foremen and supervisors. They track sometimes daily but most often two to three times a week. It fits easily into their daily process as they can quickly mark what has been installed when walking the site.
Training and implementing ICT Tracker went very quickly with ICT working closely with Micah and Travis on how best to set up the model with Micah leading the charge in the field and reporting. During the process, ICT worked closely with Helm by training, supporting, and building meaningful reports that were key to the success of this project.
Ease of use by the field teams was one of the primary requirements for adoption of any solution that Helm selected. The project field loads the models from their VDC team to their iPad and since the files are cached locally, they are quickly accessible in the app and the status is easily updated in the field or back at the trailer.
The power of data:
Helm had specific reporting requirements and leveraging ICT Tracker’s data was key to getting the reports they needed. ICT Tracker allows users to view standard or custom reports online or integrate the data into other systems via CSV downloads, such as, in Helm’s case, custom Power BI reports.
Helm is pulling data from multiple locations, specifically their ERP system. The custom reports that Micah built allows them to review the data with the other project managers, project execs, and superintendents. This gives them immediate visibility into areas that may need clarification or immediate attention. One of the critical metrics they watch is the earned value vs hours spent on a specific activity. One of the biggest drivers is leveraging the true model element data for pounds, length or piece and applying the earned value vs actual hours vs their estimated value to manage and adjust their estimating factoring for current and future projects.
“Since using ICT Tracker we are able to increase our awareness of certain areas that may not have been obvious to us before and allows us to dial in and make adjustments as we move forward in a job," Schlesselman says.
The most immediate ROI Helm realized was the elimination and savings of the manual work they were doing before i.e., the markup of drawings. They now have digitized the workflow and are no longer just drawing on a piece of digital paper. Being able to quantify and analyze the data was critical. In the past, the only way they were able to really look at productivity and how they performed was after the job was complete or after major scopes were completed.
“It’s hard to make adjustments when you have already done the work," Schlesselman says.
One area they are realizing the biggest benefit is identifying repetitive tasks. An example is one activity that is around 100,000 manhours. They now had the data to track that activity and how they are performing in the first month as compared to subsequent months. This allows them to make adjustments and better understand how to improve and quantify the benefits.
By using ICT Tracker, they can now review progress updates or percent complete in real time with accurate information for either billing or internal decisions. Previously, projects superintendents, foremen, and project engineers would sit down and go through the project phase by phase to guesstimate how far they think they are. Did the progress on the project line up with the time charged to percent complete of the build? They met either weekly or bi-weekly and a job of any reasonable size takes a significant amount of time to review phase by phase.
“In that meeting alone was 15 manhours sitting there (5-6 team members for a couple of hours). Time is specifically something that everybody is short on so not having to have to allocate that time is a HUGE relief," Schlesselman says.
Helm’s implementation of ICT Tracker now gives them intelligent data to understand the true percent complete for their billing process and gives them data for bidding and managing future projects.
“We are very appreciative of the work ICT has done with us. Their team has been very accommodating and potential customers should know they are making a solution that is broad across the industry, but they are willing to work with their customers to fine tune some parts to fit unique needs," concludes Travis Voss, Helm Construction Technologist.