This article was published in the Ergon Magazine SMART insights 2020. Order your free copy now ->
Caspar Andri Largiadèr, founder of FieldWalk, talks about how, by chance, he discovered a gap in the market, which led him to revolutionise the construction sector. He created an augmented-reality-driven app to navigate easily around large-scale construction sites. And the more complex a site, the bigger the app’s benefits – sometimes it even helps to save millions of Swiss francs.
GroupDraw is a digital platform established in 2013 to facilitate ship building. This collaboration tool simplifies communications between the many companies involved in building cargo vessels and cruise ships. As its effect on increasing efficiency at large shipyards became more apparent, numerous contractors demanded a similar tool to construct buildings. So FieldWalk was created – an easy-to-use app that centralises pending tasks, construction defects and all things quality management. Why make things more complicated, when you can make them simpler?
The power of large-scale building sites
As thrilling as large-scale building sites may seem, these are complex undertakings with a large number of players involved – and they need to be well-co-ordinated to get things done on schedule. It is the responsibility of construction managers, owners’ representatives and the various supervisors in specialist areas. They instruct service providers, workmen and suppliers; and supervise material supply, completion and reporting of their tasks. In short: these supervisors make sure all work is executed to plan.
The starting point is highly complex and deadlines are tight. The specialists depend on each other for timely completion of tasks. Take building a house; it includes all kinds of installations including electricity, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, sanitation, water pipes, elevators and ICT services. Once these systems are interconnected, they all work impeccably. This, in industry jargon, is called an “intelligent house”. The key to accomplish it is consistent quality control: defects need to be identified, recorded, processed and controlled as soon as possible.
Until now, such defects were recorded by taking photos and handwritten notes during walkabouts on site. Back at the office, it was all transferred to Excel sheets with thousands of columns, while photos were uploaded on a server. The resulting tasks would then be distributed among the stakeholders, often in chaotic ways – photos were lost on the server and descriptions lacked visual context. It was a lengthy and exhausting process, with huge potential for error.
Thanks to FieldWalk, this now takes just a few minutes. Supervisors photograph, take notes or record voice memos, and each task can be assigned accurately to the particular supplier in charge. The pending task is automatically added to the layout plan or the 3D model, and sent to all involved parties immediately.
Seamless integration of all suppliers
FieldWalk is a specialised app for construction sites, to facilitate collaboration and digitally manage defects and pending tasks for both internal players and external suppliers – plumbers, electricians and machine experts, they all receive their pending tasks via the app. And so no-one drowns in the sea of data, each supplier sees only the tasks specific to them. However, not all suppliers are keen to add a work-related app to their private mobile phone. This is avoided as FieldWalk sends out a link, similar to Dropbox, where all defects are displayed, neatly organised by sector. They can work with the tool immediately, without even having to log in.
“Our goal is to seamlessly connect all involved parties on a construction site. It is all about fast and simple exchange of information, from conception to completion of a building,” says Largiadèr. The power of visual imagination enhances the user experience, as a PDF plan is linked with a 3D model and allows crosslinked planning called Building Information Modelling (BIM). And thanks to the newly developed augmented reality viewer, 3D models can be displayed in real-time at the construction site. “It was such a highlight to demonstrate the AR engine on site to our clients, so they could experience its magic. And it all worked perfectly,” adds Largiadèr.
The app enables the current state of construction to be aligned with its 3D model and gives access to accurate information regarding construction units. And by doing so, it reduces errors and their resulting defects. Now there is a new feature in development, called Indoor Navigation. It tracks the location of the user in real-time and automatically displays defects and pending tasks on the 3D model.
“Our focus is on user-friendliness. In order to be efficient, the tool needs to be easy to use for the target group.”
The brilliance of simplicity
FieldWalk is user-orientated; one can register errors and defects for single rooms, floors or entire buildings – whatever is required. That way, a construction supervisor can precisely plan his walkabout and save precious time. The tool also works in offline mode, which is automatically switched on if there is bad reception.
“Our focus is on user-friendliness. In order to be efficient, the tool needs to be easy to use for the target group. The construction industry has huge potential in terms of digitalisation. But since the work takes place outside and under difficult conditions, construction workers rarely have time to learn how to use digital tools. And you also need to consider the mix of generations – everyone must be able to use the tool intuitively, and want to use it. The app has to be selfexplanatory, quick and easy to use,” says Largiadèr.
Room to grow
Analysis has proved that FieldWalk can save up to 50 per cent of time – to record, compose and send out a defect report usually takes 20 minutes; with FieldWalk it takes barely ten minutes. If we spin that further and calculate for a large-scale construction site, millions of Swiss francs can be saved – not to mention the reduction in stress levels. This is confirmed by Paul Hitz, manager at the construction site of the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen: “We are two to three times faster at managing defects and pending tasks of building services engineering.”
Adding value to facilities management too
FieldWalk replaces pen and paper, and allows the user to digitally capture the state of construction, while sharing it with all the involved parties. Every pending task is highlighted until it has been completed by the person responsible. The user can easily grasp the current state by viewing its related reports and spreadsheet, which adds transparency and has economic benefits.
According to a study by ETH and Swiss Builder’s Association, defects in structural engineering in the Swiss housing market amounted to 1.6 billion Swiss francs per year, which is eight per cent of the total construction costs. And this is primarily to be blamed on poor or non-existing communication between the various parties.
There is also huge potential in the related field of facilities management – after all, a building is constructed only once but needs maintenance throughout its life span. This offers plenty of opportunities for such an innovative tool, in addition to its Indoor Navigation and BIM models. The system can tell in a heartbeat which socket in which of the 250 hospital rooms was photographed by the janitor.
The secret to success?
There is great value in challenging the status quo and finding new solutions, to make our everyday work lives simpler and more efficient. “Vision and strategy alone are not enough, you need to execute them in a timely and costly manner. Ergon accomplished just that. They work extremely quickly, efficiently and in such an interdisciplinary way, like I have never experienced before,” says Largiadèr.
Code to Success
Trust from the start
We were able to get clients on board at a very early stage, which allowed us to tailor the tool to our target group. It fills me with pride that respected firms such as Amstein + Walthert trusted in us from the start.
Business value is key
If you develop a new product, you should never lose sight of its core benefits and values – they are crucial to its success. Your solution should be developed in close co-operation with your client. This helps you to develop it step by step in a much more focused way.
Creative, efficient and interdisciplinary
I have high expectations of IT service providers. They need to grasp the assignment quickly, contribute their own ideas, demonstrate expertise and share their thoughts passionately and constructively. Only then can you achieve the ideal outcome and build a highly-efficient, innovative tool. And that is what Ergon has done.