Steve Lehmann used to drive hundreds of miles each week shuttling around paperwork; now he flips back the cover of his iPad.
“Sometimes I’d drive an hour and 45 minutes from the office to the job site, then go back and forth with new blueprints,” Lehmann says. “That’s just a lot of time.”
Lehmann, an ironworker working as a project manager at Bennett Steel Inc. in Sapulpa, Okla., can access updated sets of blueprints or revised drawings on his tablet through a handful of apps—a big change in how paperwork is handled in the construction industry.
Dave Bennett, president of Bennett Steel, estimates that his company saves about 500 work hours on a 10,000 man-hour job—or about 5%—thanks to mobile technologies.
“We can also sign up an ironworker right in the field using only the iPad. We can put together his personnel profile, fill out his W-4, his I-9. He can read every policy and sign it right there, and the forms go directly to payroll, safety—wherever the forms are supposed to go,” Bennett says. “It’s instant gratification.”
It wasn’t always so. Bennett spent years trying to make his company more efficient. In 2005, he brought the detailing and drafting department in-house and even considered buying a plotter—a printer for blueprints—to reduce the lag time between document revisions.
But that still didn’t solve the problem of document delivery. Bennett estimates the average distance between Sapulpa—a city just outside of Tulsa—and their job sites is between 100 and 150 miles.
“At that point, we had a vision. To stop printing so many blueprints and shipping them out to the field,” Bennett says.
In just a matter of months, all project managers, site superintendents, ironworker superintendents and foremen had iPads and smartphones. Bennett brought in Harvey C. Swift to oversee the program and train employees on apps they would be using, such as Dropbox, GoFlex and Type on PDF. Swift gained a reputation as an expert on mobile technologies and applications as the assistant director of education and training at the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT).
“None of our guys had ever used GoFlex or Dropbox before,” Swift says. “But the interfaces are easy to learn and none of our field supervision has had any problem acclimating to the system.”
It also didn’t have any problems with their American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) certification. As an advanced AISC-certified erector and fabricator, Bennett Steel must keep copies of all current and voided drawings in the field.
Contractors all around the United States have to find new and creative ways to lower job costs while guaranteeing that their employees make a good living. “To do this, I’m seeing more and more general contractors going paperless. It’s definitely a big time-saver,” Bennett says.