Swinerton Renewable Energy Saves PMs, Foremen Time with Raken
David Whitt, a Project Engineer with Swinerton Renewable Energy, showed us around the enormous Mount Signal 2 site in Calexico, California recently. The sprawling 200-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm currently under construction sits on 1,200 acres of desert just north of the US/Mexico border in California's Imperial Valley. The size of the project alone is staggering and add to that the sheer complexity of building a next-generation solar facility. For example, Mount Signal 2 includes the NEXTracker single-axis tracker system which allows the 460,000 solar panel modules to reposition themselves depending on the weather conditions and time of day. Once completed, Mount Signal 2 will provide power to approximately 70,000 homes in Southern California.
And Whitt, with his team, is in charge of organizing and building it all.
An Old Problem for a New Industry
Just because Whitt is working in renewable energy, one of the nation's newest, fastest-growing and tech-centric sectors doesn't mean that they were able to avoid some of the old problems that have hindered smooth progress on jobsites for generations. "One of the jobs I had early on was collecting all the dailies that our foremen generate," Whitt told us, "Oftentimes these dailies are written in the field, and they can get messy dealing with things like water or even just penmanship in general. It can be pretty crazy to collect all that information in a timely manner. Then, just to track it all, I would create spreadsheets and all sort of complicated stuff to make sure I was getting all that information."
One would think that because Whitt is working in one of the industry's newest sectors that it would attract a workforce that was more comfortable with technology, but that just wasn't the case. His superintendents and foremen out in the field were still working with pen and paper, and that was causing more work for everyone. Already, Whitt was spending a lot of time trying to decipher penmanship on a paper daily report that got smudged with rain, then he was having to refer back to Excel documents just to make sure that he got all the dailies he needed in the first place, and that they had all the information he needed on them.
But that wasn't all. "It could take a lot of time, consolidating it all and making sure we had it," he says,"With anything physical, anything that's physically written up, you usually have to type it up as well, so either myself or an administrator would do that to make sure we have it all online."
Not only did Whitt have to hunt down, check, and consolidate everything he or an admin then had to type it up again in their system. It was easy to see how quickly the time can add up.
knowing that there's one place I can quickly look to and say 'is this filled out, okay yes it is' means I don't need to bother them. I don't need to track them down, I don't need to try and call them on the radio or the phone. That's where I save a lot of time, and then them stopping what they're doing, coming up here, talking to me in the office, or me going out in the field and finding them.
— David Whitt, Project Engineer
Saturated with Apps
However, because Whitt is younger and working in a relatively new industry he was well aware of something that many in construction is still working to figure out: there are apps out there that speak directly to those pain points. But in Whitt's case, that knowledge came with a caveat.
"As a millennial, I think I'm kind of saturated with apps all the time, so oftentimes I hear about a new app that’s going to change everything and I'm like 'okay, sure.'" We figured that there were plenty of other people in the construction industry, especially Project Managers and Project Engineers, who knew exactly what Whitt was feeling at the moment. The construction technology industry seems to be full-to-bursting with software options to make field management easier. Everything from astronomically expensive all-in-ones to smaller, niche apps that all promise the same thing one way or another: an end to all your reporting troubles.
Whitt knew that you don't get easy field reporting without hard, grinding work, and he knew it from experience. As he was looking for a technology solution he said "One of the reservations I had, in the beginning, was 'okay, is this going to be a new system? Is this going to be complicated? Is this even going to be worth me learning it?'" He was well aware that construction technology, before it fulfills its promises, usually comes with a steep learning curve.
So what convinced Whitt to go with Raken's field management solution when he was clearly wary of lofty claims? When someone he knew gave him the recommendation.
After having another Project Engineer tell me 'this is definitely the way to go,' I decided to try Raken," Whitt said, "and I agree, it has been really helpful. Those reservations are gone for me.
Definitely daily compliance has gone up. It's just hard to remember with the dailies the next day, and if guys forget they are way less likely to do them, because they have to think 'okay, what was I doing last Wednesday, or what was I doing three days ago?' It's just hard to remember and it's not usually as clear, so a lot of guys are all-or-nothing, so they wouldn't do it if it wasn't the day of. But now with it being easier I’ve seen a lot more foremen be more compliant.
— David Whitt, Project Engineer
No More Hunting
When Whitt implemented Raken on the Mount Signal 2 site, he noticed a couple of improvements right away. "Raken has been really great for penmanship. I don't have to worry about how people's handwriting looks," he remarked, "and now I can track who is turning in dailies, when they're turning them in, and I can make sure I'm collecting all the information: weather, man counts, it's all in one spot for me."
It was in collecting the information that Whitt noticed the greatest savings in terms of time spent. "We use Raken to track man counts and weather, but we also use it to make sure that each activity has someone responsible for that daily report and someone is getting eyes on it and is reporting what they're doing as far as progress goes," he said, going on to state "and it's all in one spot, so I get a daily email that shows how many reports I got and how many people are on site. Even if I'm not on the project necessarily, I can keep a pulse on it now."
All of the benefits that Whitt and his team saw happened because Raken was designed to be easy for the guys in the field to use, which encourages them to use the app and opens up the flow of information from the field to the office. "I’ve worked with foremen of all different age groups, and everyone’s been very well adapted to Raken," he said, "they like it because they don't have to sit in the office and do their dailies to turn into me so I can verify it's all done. They can go home and do it either at home or if they're commuting with someone else, they can do it on the ride. It's really nice for them to get out of here quicker."
What Whitt found out was that by implementing a solution that was designed to be easy for the end-user he didn't have a huge fight to get it implemented for his superintendents and foremen. Rolling out Raken was so easy that he is now implementing it with his subcontractors as well.
Raken has helped the entire Mount Signal 2 project move forward more smoothly because it eliminates the need for back-and-forths. What are back-and-forths? Whitt explained it this way, saying "I think one of the biggest time sucks I'm avoiding is tracking the information. I don't have to go hunt down my foremen anymore and find out where the hell they are and where their daily is, and even remembering to do all that," Whitt said, "because oftentimes I'm getting pulled in a hundred different directions and just knowing that there's one place I can quickly look to and say 'is this filled out, okay yes it is' means I don't need to bother them. I don't need to track them down, I don't need to try and call them on the radio or the phone. That's where I save a lot of time, and then them stopping what they're doing, coming up here, talking to me in the office, or me going out in the field and finding them. I think that's been the biggest time suck is just the tracking of 'is it getting done?"
Because he chose a tool that the superintendents and foremen in the field actually enjoyed and wanted to use, Whitt has noticed not only time saved for both himself and his superintendents and foremen, but a noticeable increase in compliance, which saves everyone a massive headache. "Definitely daily compliance has gone up," Whitt said, "it's just hard to remember with the dailies the next day, and if guys forget they are way less likely to do them, because they have to think 'okay, what was I doing last Wednesday, or what was I doing three days ago?' It's just hard to remember and it's not usually as clear, so a lot of guys are all-or-nothing, so they wouldn't do it if it wasn't the day of. But now with it being easier I’ve seen a lot more foremen be more compliant."
While it would be easy to just say that ease-of-use was responsible for the increased compliance on the Mount Signal 2 site, it would only be partially true. Because everyone on the site has access to the real-time dashboard everyone can see what's been done, as well as who is missing a report for their work.
The result of this increased transparency has been incredible. Whitt said "It's easy to remind people, and everyone can see it too. When you go into Raken and you can see what activities have had a daily put in, it's crowdsourcing accountability. Guys will say 'oh, he didn't put his daily in, what's up with that?' or when, as a group when we have our plan of the day meeting in the morning, they'll say 'hey, where's your Raken? Why didn't you fill out your daily?'"
What Whitt is describing is essentially the finish line for any Project Engineer or Project Manager: he no longer has to go out into the field and bug his guys to get in their reports, they see what's been done and the tool takes care of the rest. "I've seen compliance go up because rather than just coming from me tracking that person down and saying 'hey you didn't fill out your daily...' they might say 'David, why are you on me for this? I have other stuff to do...' but if we're all together and other people are seeing it too, then that leads to higher compliance."
We're proud to be a part of Swinerton's field management process and can't wait to see what else they've got planned for the future. To find out more about Raken, check out our construction daily reporting or dive into another construction software case study. To find more about Swinerton, be sure to check out their incredible renewable energy construction projects.