PlanGrid BIM: How We Built Construction Project Management Software For the Field

June 27, 2019 Tristam Wallace

Recently, PlanGrid, an Autodesk company and a leader in construction productivity software, introduced PlanGrid BIM, a powerful new product integration with Autodesk Revit that enables users to immediately access Building Information Modeling (BIM) data, in either 2D or 3D, directly within PlanGrid on their mobile devices. 

Now, construction teams and facilities managers can utilize rich construction project management software in an easy-to-use 2D interface or a 3D environment, empowering the field to build with greater accuracy, avoid rework and make decisions faster and with more confidence. The release allows users to seamlessly push all model data from Revit to PlanGrid, without double entry and manual uploads, leverage BIM data in the field, and easily transition from 2D to 3D, even offline. 

To learn more about the release and what it means for users in the field, we spoke with the PlanGrid Product Manager who spearheaded the project, Rahul Shah. 



Read our interview below with PlanGrid Product Manager, Rahul Shah


Hi Rahul. Can you give us some background on PlanGrid BIM and why this new feature was built? 

RS: If you look at it historically, PlanGrid was founded in 2011, and the goal at the time was to get field information into a digital format and make it easier for people in the field to access that information. It was done in a way that was simple and easy-to-use, but also very powerful. If you talk to some of our longtime customers, they say the reason they used PlanGrid was that on the one hand, it was actually faster to use than paper, but on the other, that it was very powerful in bringing the right information at the right time to enable their job. For this release, we thought: how do we take the same ease of use and overall strong user experience and bring it to the world of BIM data?

In a nutshell, our mission was: how do we do for BIM what we did for PlanGrid Sheets back in 2011? Clearly, BIM is where the industry is heading. There is more and more rich information being created in the design phase, but all this data is being lost as it goes to the field. The question for us was, how do we build a PlanGrid-level experience but for BIM data? 


How did you solve the problem of bringing BIM data to the field? 

RS: Let’s start with what that BIM data is. There is a lot of rich information in the design phase. You have information about exact objects in a plan, you have 3D models that are useful for visualization of information. All of this is valuable on the design front, but then when it comes to propagating this information to the field, we flatten it to a ‘dumb’ PDF then pass it onto the field. So the people who are actually constructing the building are working with the least amount of information of anyone in the information pipeline. To us, that seemed completely crazy. But we also respected the fact that if you take that firehose of information and bring it to the field, you can quickly overwhelm people, and they won’t want to use it because there’s just too much going on. 

The core question for us was: how do you expose BIM data in the right way, so that someone who’s been using PlanGrid or other construction productivity software feels comfortable leveraging that information? So that it isn’t a completely new and radically different experience that users have to interact with. It’s something that builds upon what they’re already doing. 


Why is it important for people in the field to access that rich data from the design phase? What value does it have for people during the construction phase? 

RS: Before we even started building this product, we spent about 6 months talking to every customer starting to build Revit models, asking them “What would you do with this data in the field?” There was some overlap, but we also got many different answers. But in general, the theme of it was this: In 2D, it’s about having the right information for all the different objects you have, so you can make good, quick decisions without having to guess on the spot. Whether it’s the exact measurements and dimensions of a door you’re about to install, instead of having to measure on-site or dig up that information from different plans, you can just click on that object and get the exact dimensions you want.  

When it comes to 3D, we live in a 3D world. When you think of all the complex trades coming together to build something in a congested area, it can be a pain to have to look at a 2D view to see how they all overlap and find the best way to organize installations. If you have a 3D view, you can use the extra dimension in the product to help order the trades, because you can see the complexity of the installations. 

Fundamentally, the higher fidelity information you have and the more ways you have to expose it, you’re able to avoid situations with rash, quick decisions that will eventually lead to rework or other mistakes. It comes back to the core PlanGrid principle of having the right information at the right time to increase productivity and save rework. 


How were you able to solve that challenge of exposing users in the field to BIM information in the right away? 

RS: PlanGrid has been well-adopted in the field for its 2D experience. Everyone who uses PlanGrid uses the Sheets product. People have become very comfortable with it. They have built the skill of navigating 2D drawings very quickly and are used to orienting in 2D space, so we had to respect that.

So for us, a big part of the user experience creation was to start by supercharging the 2D experience. We took all that BIM data and figured out how to layer that on top of existing PlanGrid sheets, as long as they come from the Revit model. For sheets exported from the PlanGrid Revit plugin, now you can tap on objects, get more information, and start to leverage BIM information without having to fundamentally change how you think about drawing navigation. 

This was our approach for bringing BIM to 2D but we knew that 3D was also a critical component to the experience. The question for us there was, “why haven’t we seen good field adoption of 3D?” We talked to a lot of customers about that question. “Do you think 3D could be valuable, and why isn’t it?” Repeatedly, customers said that they think 3D could be valuable, but no one in the field is using it now. So we kept digging into that. What’s the break in the chain that’s preventing adoption? 


So why aren’t people leveraging 3D in the field today?

To answer that question, I like to use the analogy of Google Maps. Google Maps is a product that has a rich 2D experience. You use it every day almost, to see where you’re going or to find restaurants nearby. There’s a rich data-filled experience in 2D. But then you have Street View, and they allow you to seamlessly swap between 2D and 3D. 

That’s what we pinpointed as the issue in the industry today. 3D isn’t valuable when it’s isolated into its own product. There’s just too much activation energy for someone to say “well I’m in 2D, but I’m gonna pause this, go and open up a different app or module where now I’m in 3D, then start from the entire building and then pinch and zoom back to where I was in 2D.” Pinching and zooming in 3D is hard, it takes a lot of time. So it was important to us to create this Google Maps-type experience where people can easily go back and forth between the two. 


What could this new functionality mean for the future of PlanGrid and for construction technology in the field? 

RS:  You can see the industry rapidly evolving as people get to understand the value of BIM. As an example, I was in Houston last year and I met some customers, and they were just starting to dabble in the world of BIM and Revit. I came back to Houston two weeks ago, and they said it went really well and they’re now starting to commit almost all of

their projects to a Revit workflow. At the macro level, there’s this shift to creating high-fidelity BIM models in the design phase that are updated and used throughout the entire construction process. People want to invest in creating high-fidelity models because they realize the impact that can happen on the preconstruction, construction, and post-construction phases. 

What does that macro trend mean for PlanGrid and our customers? It means that for the first time, we can create this tight information loop between these different parties. Before, you had information silos between design, field, and owner. But now when you have this product and an ecosystem where you’re working with BIM data throughout the entire construction process, you get an open information flow. You start with a rich BIM model in the design phase, and you continue to add information to it throughout the construction phase, and leverage it to be more productive. We see a future where the field is not only leveraging the information model but contributing back to it. They can say, “I just installed this HVAC equipment, let’s take a picture of it and attach it to the BIM model,” so there can be a feedback system back to design, as well as information that is catalogued there for the facilities team. 

Throughout this iterative design, you come up with a really rich as-built that can be handed to the owner. The macro trend that we’re looking at is there are these distinct information silos right now throughout the construction process, but by leveraging BIM as this layer of consistent data throughout the process, you start to smash down these silos. You get information flows that were fundamentally not possible before. For the owners and facilities team, you get information exactly about what every object is, and how and when it was installed. Not only do you save time and money during the process, but for the next hundred years or so the building is being used, you get to leverage this information to make great decisions throughout. 


This is the first integration between PlanGrid and Autodesk since Autodesk acquired PlanGrid last year. How was the experience for working with the two teams?

At PlanGrid, we’ve been wanting to make a product like this for a while, where we leverage BIM data. We were doing research on it before the acquisition. It was something we wanted to build. Teaming up with Autodesk and joining the Autodesk family allowed us to move at a pace that was unprecedented in what we thought was possible in delivering this to the market. 

For one, leveraging their industry knowledge and their engineering team’s knowledge about how to execute on delivering a product like this was invaluable. Beyond that, we could pull in a lot from the technology stack at Autodesk and use that to supercharge our roadmap. The rate of product delivery would not have been possible if we hadn’t teamed up with Autodesk. It’s a really good indicator of what’s to come by having the two teams work together. 

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