[heading_3]The Ideal Construction Command Center Has These 3 Screens[/heading_3]

Click to see Allen Preger working on an 84-inch screenIf you’ve seen me using a large, interactive touch screen, you know how enthusiastic I am about the potential this technology offers for construction coordination and collaboration. I’m not alone.

A few years ago, Stanford University’s Center for Integrated Facility Engineering conducted a preliminary study of the benefits of collaborating around a large screen. The sample size was small – just 54 team members – but conservative estimates came up with payback periods of mere weeks!

If Stanford’s 19-page paper is too long for you to read right now, touch screen maker SMART Technologies summarized the main points in this infographic.

The main point is this: After a few weeks of use, large screens generate pure productivity – and profit – to the organizations employing them.

What makes this claim plausible, let alone possible?

Click to expandBefore the convergence of large touch screens with touch-interface apps, working with electronic construction information was too hard – much harder than working with good old-fashioned paper – for two simple reasons:

  1. People want to view and collaborate over drawings at their full size.
    There’s a reason construction drawings have been roughly A0-size since people began designing on paper: Any smaller format, be it a monitor, laptop, tablet, phone or even 11″ x 17″ paper, diminishes our ability to work in groups and see the whole picture.
  2. Productivity halts if you have to find and open related files.
    Working electronically within the confines of a single document is fine, but when the information you really need is referenced by a sheet callout to an external plan, section, detail or specification, working with printed drawing sets is much more efficient than clicking and scrolling through file folders.

For these reasons, attempts to work with electronic construction document sets often end rather abruptly with the Print or Plot command– until now.

Large screens and apps address the shortcomings in electronic construction information

SmartUse crowd at Autodesk UniversityRegarding Point 1 above (the preference for full-size plan viewing): Large touch screens like the SMART Boards referenced in the Stanford study enable construction command centers to enjoy the benefits of electronic plan viewing and management without sacrificing size. Electronic documents and 3D models can now be worked on individually or collaboratively at 100 percent of their size, or larger!

Regarding Point 2 above (the need to have external references at your fingertips): Touch screen-optimized apps have made this information dramatically easier to open and navigate. For example, the SmartUse app’s automated linking of background sheets makes electronic drawing sets orders of magnitude easier to navigate than even their paper ancestors. Need to see that wall cross section? Just touch the hyperlink and it pops up on the screen.

With primary objections out of the way, project teams can now enjoy the full benefits of managing drawings electronically:

  • The confidence of knowing each team member is working from the same, current information
  • Reduced paper/printing/shipping costs
  • The latest documents and markups always at your fingertips, whether a tablet in the field or a computer workstation at a desk

Which brings us to the point of this post:

The optimum configuration?

What does your war room need to prevent disaster?My conversations with industry professionals suggest the optimum configuration to be a three-screen “war room” scenario:

  1. One screen displays the 3D model (running on something like Tekla BIMsight construction collaboration software).
  2. A second screen shows the current 2D plans (courtesy of software like our Newforma SmartUse app).
  3. The third screen functions as a whiteboard for capturing and annotating screenshots from the other two boards (made possible by SMART Meeting Pro 4 software).

The markups generated on Screens 1 and 2 are captured to the whiteboard on Screen 3, where the redlines are annotated, published into meeting minutes, distributed to team members for follow-up actions, and archived to the project record.

Most outfits will start with just one screen, of course, but the big players will want all three.

Of course, all this is all evolving real time. As I learn more about the way the industry is putting these new tools to work, I’ll pass along what’s being developed.


preger_allen 100 px croppedAllen Preger is a co-founder and vice president of global products for Newforma.