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Lights, Camera, Productivity

PHOTO DOCUMENTATION TECHNOLOGY SAVES TIME AND MONEY

BY DEBRA WOOD

Construction remains a competitive and challenging industry, frequently leery of new technologies, but Suffolk Construction, in Boston, embraces innovation, invests in start-up companies to drive efficiency and productivity, and benefits from the savings associated with new products, including OpenSpace, a jobsite photo capture technology.

A Suffolk superintendent wears an OpenSpace hardhat and camera, walking a job and creating photo documentation.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUFFOLK

“While most industries have grown more productive over the past 100 years, the construction industry has remained generally stagnant,” says Parker Mundt, operating director of Suffolk Technologies, a venture capital arm of Suffolk, a member of multiple AGC chap-ters, including The South Florida AGC. “Ultimately, we want to change the industry for the better. There are efficiencies to be gained. Open-Space is a partner to help us get there.”

USING OPENSPACE

OpenSpace, based in San Francisco, was founded in 2017 by three former graduate school classmates at Massachusetts Institute of Technol-ogy’s Media Lab, and two of them worked on a graduate-school project to take video and map it to locations in a house.

“It pioneered the idea of being able to do indoor location with just computer vision,” says Robert Shear, vice president of OpenSpace.

The company provides users with a 360-degree camera, with two lenses, worn on a project team member’s hardhat. Those images are matched with the building’s plans, automatically tracking the person’s path.

“Photo documentation on a building construction project site is critical,” Mundt says. “It creates a sense of accountability.”

OpenSpace can capture 150,000 square feet per hour. Contractors have captured 3 billion square feet to date, with firms in 33 countries us-ing its system.

“The images are uploaded to the cloud,” Shear says. “Then OpenSpace stitches the high-quality images together, within about 30 minutes, into an easy to view Google Street View-style interface, creating a comprehensive view of the project.”

The contractor can walk the entire jobsite every day and create the report, available as a PDF or JPG export. It also can integrate with Pro-core, PlanGrid and BIM360.

“We are the leader in doing [photo capture] every day and doing it quickly,” Shear says.

Teams can track critical milestones and activities, alert subcontractors to incomplete work and address safety concerns. The superintendent can make field notes and take still photos if something is amiss, such as a missing window or a scratched mullion.

Suffolk also uses the OpenSpace photo documentation to monitor safety.

“Anyone at Suffolk reviewing the photo documentation can call out any potential safety issue,” Mundt says. “They can tag the safety manag-er, who will address the concern directly with the trade partner.”

OpenSpace’s second benefit is remote project management and coordination.

“Remote team members stay up to speed about what is going on at the jobsite,” Shear explains. “They can use the images as a single source of truth about where the project is and what issues need to be resolved.”

The images can be shared with subcontractors or owners for increased transparency. Jobsite meetings progress faster and with fewer de-bates, since “the camera does not lie,” Mundt says.

“Our clients, trade partners and the Suffolk team are gaining efficiencies using OpenSpace,” Mundt says. “The technology puts all of the stakeholders on the same page. No one can argue or dispute the photos or debate about any work that is incomplete. It takes the ambiguity of what has been completed off the table.”

Mundt reports that clients like the online images, so they can monitor construction progress without having to visit the actual site, which has been especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone involved works off the same photo documentation, so it drops any ambiguity, allowing everyone to get to a resolution faster.

Shear, at OpenSpace, encourages contractors to share the images with the entire project team, including owners, whom he has found appre-ciate the transparency.

The images remain in OpenSpace cloud storage and available for 10 years. If an owner wants to see what is behind a wall, the images are ready to view.

A BIM viewer comparison from a Lee Kennedy project.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LEE KENNEDY, AN AGC OF MASSACHUSETTS, INC. MEMBER

OpenSpace offers three levels of service. “Photo” is free and enables users to manually take 360-degree photos and pin them to the build-ing’s plans.

“It’s a good way to get exposed to the technology and can be good for small projects,” Shear says.

The “Project” level of service includes the platform’s powerful analytics and automatic pinning to plans. OpenSpace charges a percentage of the project construction value for unlimited use, Shear says.

And OpenSpace’s “Portfolio” offers a company-wide option, with reports, training and expert insights.

PARTNERING WITH OPENSPACE

“As the built world shifts to accommodate more inclusive, environmentally friendly spaces for humans to live and interact, the desire to in-novate as a general contractor becomes critically important,” Mundt says.

Shear called Suffolk a true partner.

“It’s unusual to have a company that has so much credible investment in technology, how they operationalize it and how they evaluate it,” Shear adds. “Suffolk has woven it into their business, and they will benefit tremendously from that. As we come out of the pandemic and into a construction boom, Suffolk will clean up.”

Suffolk has established a process for evaluating new technologies and rolling out the more successful ones company wide. The company be-gan piloting OpenSpace in 2018 on about 25 projects and has more than 5,000 walks on file. Now, the construction firm is rolling OpenSpace out to more projects.

“If you want to build faster, cheaper and better in the future, which is what clients will continue to demand, then technology must be a part of your strategy,” Mundt says. “The impact technology will have on efficiencies and productivity, coupled with the incredible young talent and seasoned professionals in this industry, is something special and will allow builders to deliver value for clients like never before.”

Suffolk invests in startups that align with the construction firm’s strategic goals, create efficiencies and provide value. The photo documenta-tion product from OpenSpace does just that.

“As the built world shifts to accommodate more inclusive, environmentally friendly spaces for humans to live and interact, the desire to innovate as a general contractor becomes critically important.”

~ Parker Mundt, operating director, Suffolk Technologies, a venture capital arm of Suffolk, a member of multiple AGC chapters

Recently, Suffolk deployed OpenSpace on its 53-story Ritz-Carlton Residences project in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. A team member walked the job four or five times weekly. Mundt estimates the company saved approximately a month by using OpenSpace, because it was not neces-sary to write documentation reports, travel to the jobsite and attend many meetings in person.

Suffolk also serves as a beta user for OpenSpace, offering suggestions to enhance the product.

“The OpenSpace team has been a great partner,” Mundt says. “They are eager to understand the nuts and bolts of what we do. They want to know about the daily issues faced by general contractors and will work together with us to help solve them.”

OpenSpace is pioneering Object Search to help contractors find a ladder, sprinkler head or other object in the images.

Mundt is working with OpenSpace to enable the software and images to determine work-in-place quantities during the walk. ClearSight Pro-gress Tracking, a beta system, uses machine learning to teach the system to identify framing, drywall, counter tops, flooring and other items to further automate progress tracking and percent complete statistics.

“It will let you know what was done today vs. yesterday or what is late.” Shear explains. “It brings another level of objectivity to construc-tion.”

Suffolk remains committed to testing new technologies and implementing and scaling those that bring real value to the firm and its clients. The company often relies on tech tools adapted from other industries and is leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to solve field issues. Predictive analytics is helping to keep workers safe and schedules on track.

“As projects become more sophisticated and complex, clients continue to challenge us with the impossible,” Mundt says. “We rely on our technological solutions and project team expertise to deliver the impossible every day. We believe innovation is our path to becoming the best contractor in the world and more importantly changing the industry forever.”