Four or five years ago, just as the industry was emerging from the recession, PCL Construction Services Inc. President Deron Brown and his team decided to invest in a project-delivery software called PartsLab. The move caused a stir within the company. Despite a well-documented need to improve the collaborative use of virtual building models in the field to reduce rework and speed up schedules, BIM software development is expensive and not at the core of what PCL, a vertical, civil and industrial builder, does.

“It was not an easy decision to move forward [with the launch]. The request for a bigger R&D budget back then was a hard pill to swallow,” Brown, 50, says. “It’s hard to put progress in terms of dollars where technology is concerned.”

Deron BrownDeron Brown
ENR 1/23/17 p. 19
Led creation of innovative project-delivery software that allows changes to virtual models in a more collaborative environment.

The technical team, led by PartsLab creator Daron Denton and PCL virtual construction manager Nick Kurth, worked closely with the firm's field personnel to gather information for the software's research and development. PartsLab is an Autodesk Revit add-in that automates the creation, visualization and change management of Revit Parts, normally a manual process. It can reduce the time needed to create those parts, which sometimes number in the thousands.

“Our intent was to enable an entire workforce to leverage the [virtual] model,” Kurth says. “We wanted to repurpose it to make things easier for workers in the field. The industry needs to connect those dots.”

PartsLab removes the need to be a sophisticated modeler and allows field personnel, including subcontractors, to make changes to the BIM model, Kurth says. Early trials within the company showed promise.

Then, a year ago, Brown’s team elected to share the new software at no charge with the rest of the construction industry and solicit feedback on its performance, including from major competitors. That’s when the firm garnered the broader attention of the contracting world.

“We wanted to influence the way people look at [virtual] models and how they use them,” Brown says. “People tell us that PartsLab makes their lives easier, saves them hours of work. They are embracing it, even our competitors,” he adds.

PCL says early metrics for the shared PartsLab site reveal more than 1,500 unique downloads of the software in 50 countries, with more than 6,400 total site visitors. Users have created 485,021 parts using PartsLab, saving an estimated 4,041 hours of work over two and a half years. The PCL team recently fielded a request to translate the software for use in Germany.

“It’s our first step toward taking it global and perhaps into other industries, as well,” Brown says. “The entire process has exceeded our expectations, and it continues to grow.” 

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