A young Boston-area start-up, ManufactOn has entered into a non-exclusive partnership with Autodesk, which plans to integrate ManufactOn's cloud and mobile software for optimizing materials and prefabrication supply-chain management with Autodesk's BIM 360 construction management platform. The partnership was announced on Sept. 18.

Raghi Iyengar, founder and CEO of ManufactOn, says his software-as-a-service platform is the first of its kind built specifically for construction, as opposed to being co-opted from the manufacturing industry. He says the "No. 1 thing" is optimizing the supply chain across different companies.

Jim Lynch, vice president for Autodesk's BIM product group, says the partnership aligns with Autodesk's ongoing investment in industrialized construction. While manufacturing typically has a much "cleaner workflow" than construction, with a "clear identity between supplier and the receiver," construction's supply chain is muddied by the fact that hundreds of subcontractors could be working on a single project, he noted. "Where Raghi's IP comes in," Lynch says, "is in the ability to manage the complexity of that [construction] workflow and that work environment." 

Shad Brook, director of quality assurance and quality control at Boston-based constructor Suffolk, says the firm used ManufactOn to manage supply, prefabrication and delivery on a Nantucket Cottage Hospital project that had no on-site materials storage space. "We have never seen a tool that informs the supply-chain process like this in construction," says Brook, whose background is in manufacturing. "This is the best collaborative tool to engage our trade partners we have yet used." 

ManufactOn's cloud and mobile platform is designed to make the supply chain more transparent to general contractors and their specialty-trade partners. Iyengar says it lets the entire team see who is doing what and when, how much progress has been made on each prefabricated unit and the time those units will be delivered. Coordinators, detailers, shop foremen, field superintendents and project managers track the supply chain and update it exclusively via a mobile app, eliminating streams of emails and phone calls. 

"Our subcontractors and partners are mostly still using Excel—that's the level we're at," says Brook. "ManufactOn gives them the opportunity to manage their processes and allows us to see into the status of material, fabrication, scheduling and delivery."

Specialty contractors sign onto the web-based platform after bids and selections. Subcontractors set up their own production runs and workflow before construction begins. A general contractor also can set a production schedule for individual activities within the project. The execution status of prefabricated or on-site-fabricated assemblies is updated through stages, including final assembly, shipping status and delivery. QR codes are tracked when a product, raw material or assembly is moved from supplier to the shop and to the site. 

"They can see who was supposed to deliver what and where they are in production. Is it 50%, 25% complete?" Iyengar says. "Are these things still waiting for some design decisions to be made or are they waiting on materials to be delivered … to do their production? That's the level of detail and visibility given to the entire production across all the different prefab shops involved in the process." 

Integration Plans

Iyengar and Lynch say a timetable for ManufactOn's integration into BIM 360 has yet to be set. A pilot program with existing mutual customers will be developed first. About a year and a half after its launch, ManufactOn has about 50 users.

Lynch says a priority will be to link BIM 360's documents to ManufactOn's items and orders so that users can navigate the coordinated model in BIM 360. "We think there will be some foundational work to support common project lifts for authentication and access, things like that," Lynch says. "There's a lot of things we believe we can do to really pull the entire workflow together from the supplier and from the fabricator directly to the jobsite for installation and for assembly." 

The software is sold to the general contractor at either the project or enterprise level. Access is deployed by the GC to the subcontractors and fabricators for free. The annual subscription or per-project cost is a negotiated price based on total construction value.

In a Series A investment round, also announced on Sept. 18, ManufactOn raised $2.5 million from investors that included Autodesk as well as Brick & Mortar Ventures and WND Ventures, two venture capital funds focused on technology for construction. 

The Genesis of ManufactOn

Iyengar, ManufactOn's 53-year-old founder, is the grandson of a famous Indian architect, B.V.S. Iyengar, and he says the idea of focusing on industrialized construction has "percolated in his mind" for many years. Trained as an industrial engineer, he worked at Intel for a decade until 2006, when he moved on to product development at Autodesk. In 2014, he left Autodesk to work on his start-up. "The BIM 360 portfolio was getting to be pretty stable, and a good road map was laid out," he says. "Similar things were happening on the Revit side. That's when I thought, 'Now would be a good time to really focus on understanding what the industry really wants to do around prefab.' "

Before taking ManufactOn to market in 2015, Iyengar spent a year and a half tuning it up while "embedded" with the Boston-area general contractor Consigli Construction Co. Inc. and Cambridge, Mass.-based mechanical subcontractor TG Gallagher Inc., which has a large prefabrication shop in Andover, Mass.

Consigli used ManufactOn for a phased renovation on an occupied hospital wing at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital and a 35,000-sq-ft arts building and a 20,000-sq-ft clinical building at Boston University.

"ManufactOn has provided us real-time access to fabrication and delivery dates," says Todd McCabe, Consigli's vice president of project services. "This knowledge has increased our project team's flexibility and improved our chances for schedule success."

"The time spent with these two companies was fantastic," Iyengar says. "That's how we were able to pull something together."

Lynch, who originally hired Iyengar at Autodesk in 2006 and continued to mentor him after he left, says the fact that Iyengar developed ManufactOn hand in hand with the industry gives the product credibility.

"There are so many nuances. So, if you can bring a team together that has construction knowledge and expertise, as well as supply-chain management expertise, marrying those two things together can be extremely, extremely powerful," Lynch says. "I'm thrilled that we reached this point. We shared a similar vision, and we supported him going out to do this 100% because we knew it was important. Raghi was the right guy to do that."