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DIY Modern Piping Software Connects Field to Fab Shops

DIY Modern Piping software
connects field to fab shops

by ROB McMANAMY | Oct 16, 2015

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It's a problem most firms would die for, but winning too much work, too fast can pose just as many challenges for a specialty contractor as vying for scraps in lean times. "Like trying to drink from a fire hose," quips one AEC pundit. But since a contractor's reputation is still on the line with each and every project it takes on, no individual owner will be forgiving if they discover that the firm they hired has spread its resources too thin.

"In the years following huge flooding in 2008, we saw massive growth in a short amount of time," recalls Britton Langdon, director of support operations and business development for Modern Piping Inc., Cedar Rapids IA. "Management realized then that it needed to step back and ask, 'How dow we effectively manage all this growth?'"

Langdon

Langdon

One of the answers the 76-year-old mechanical contractor and pipe fabricator came up with was hiring Langdon, who came on board after five years as territory manager in the Denver office of Victaulic Co., a global producer of pipe joining systems. There, he had led a team doing strategic construction process analysis, aimed at reducing overall costs and labor risks, and increasing client value. "As a result, I saw a lot of the best and not-so-great fabrication shops around the country," he notes.

Joining Modern Piping in October of 2013, he continued researching processes and soon discovered several actionable areas that needed to be addressed. "We had great welders, but our former facility was inadequate with regard to flow, so we were too inconsistent in responding to all the orders we had," he found. "Also, communication among our BIM team, field management and the fab shop was cumbersome and slow, and it often led to confusion."

Drawings typically would be printed out and delivered or e-mailed out into the field, but invariably, as soon as they came back approved, they would disappear into 'organized chaos' in the fab shop, adds Langdon. So his fact-finding mission concluded that everyone involved needed to be able to track the process of multiple orders and to communicate their respective status in real-time. The fabrication process and the design process needed to be better connected. But how? 

can't find what you need? build it yourself

"We went out looking for software to use that would address this, but the closest thing that we could find was used in manufacturing, and it could only track a couple of status or productivity variables at a time," recalls Langdon. "So we decided to build our own cloud-based software that can track as many as five items at a time. We also incorporated computer workstations at each fabrication station that could queue up approved drawings and track labor."

This month, that new software, FabPro1, after considerable internal Beta testing, officially joined the industry. Langdon unveiled it last week at the SysQue User Group 2015 conference in Chicago and it is now available for sale, even to competitors. "We wanted to make something that would be valuable to everybody," explains Langdon. "Is it a competitive advantage for us right now? Absolutely. But this is not the last thing that we're ever going to develop on our own. Our goal is to keep improving ourselves, and the industry." 

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Modern Piping has more than doubled its productivity in the last 18 months using the embedded labor-tracking software

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Toward that end, Langdon says that during FabPro1's Beta testing, Modern Piping has more than doubled its productivity in the last 18 months using the embedded labor-tracking software. Meanwhile, the firm's tech team of virtual designers has soared from four team members to 13, just since Langdon came on board.   

Also, to ease competitor concerns, Modern Piping set up FabPro1 as a separate entity, co-founded by Langdon. So, now, FabPro owns the new software, but it is sold via a third party, Technical Sales International (TSI), an Austin TX-based Autodesk Gold Partner.

Shared dashboard: "Estimated completion times are right there on the dashboard for all our guys to see," says Langdon. So far, the widespread availability and accessibility of the data has greatly boosted productivity, he adds.

Shared dashboard: "Estimated completion times are right there on the dashboard for all our guys to see," says Langdon. So far, the widespread availability and accessibility of the data has greatly boosted productivity, he adds.

For Modern Piping, the software so far has "dramatically reduced" the number of calls and e-mails associated with each order. Each project also has its own dashboard, where every team member can see real-time updates to punch list items. "As things change on a job, we also have the ability to go in there and change the spool priorities... So, overall, guys in the field aren't waiting around as much, or having to do unnecessary rework because of poor communication. As a result, man-hours are reduced, and that's huge for us," says Langdon.

Not surprisingly, Modern Piping believes most other firms are anxious to solve the same problems. In this sense, its approach to the new software evokes the "one-for-all, all-for-one" approach of the ongoing AEC Hackathon phenomenon. As the FabPro1 website explains, "While it was developed for one fabrication shop, we always kept in mind what would be best for the industry." 

Decide for yourself if they have advanced that noble goal. 

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