McCarthy Improves Quality of Construction for BioMed Facility
Quality Without Question
McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., has a guiding corporate philosophy of “Quality Without Question.” For them, “quality” is a series of linked activities in the daily construction and project management process that adds value to all projects. “An emphasis on Quality is integral to who we are,” said Chad Dorgan, McCarthy Vice President of Corporate Quality. “It’s how we deliver the certainty our clients have come to expect.” Owners get clear documents, lower bids, faster and more accurate completion, and reduced operating costs; architects and engineers participate in the inspection process and spend less time reviewing and approving project components; subcontractors have a clear understanding of quality expectations, a streamlined workflow, and fewer end-of-project issues; and end-users receive a project that meets their needs without delays.
McCarthy was founded in 1864 in St. Louis, Mo., and has developed its reputation for quality building for almost 150 years. Currently they have nine regional offices and experience in 45 U.S. states. One of the top ten commercial builders in the United States, McCarthy brings in more than $3.5 billion in annual revenues. Their philosophy of long-term relationships has resulted in 80% of their work coming from repeat customers.
McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., put their philosophy of “Quality Without Question” into practice with the Latista Field mobile quality and collaboration solution on a unique biomedical research facility project in 2009. The 190,000 sq. ft. research support lab will cost $80 million and will be completed early 2010. Its 22 labs will employ more than 150 technicians and research scientists studying cancer, immunology, and tissue growth and repair when fully operational in 2016.
Building biomedical research facilities is a challenge for any construction firm. To produce accurate research and develop safe pharmaceuticals and chemicals, a laboratory facility must be constructed with strict attention to systems’ quality and standards. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) become extremely important, as water and air purification system functions are critical to proper laboratory functions. Ensuring specifications are met and plans are followed is a primary goal for owners, architects, and the construction team. In the case of a recent McCarthy Building Company project, automating the project team’s quality and inspection processes will lead to faster production and reaching a zero defects goal.
Owner and A&E Collaboration
Because quality is so important to all of a research facility’s stakeholders, McCarthy wanted to include the owners, architects, and engineers on their quality solution. However, coordinating issue input from all of these sources was a chore. “We had a lot of people walking the jobsite, creating conformance issues,” said McCarthy Project Manager Jeff Fuller. To clarify and organize the incoming deficiency lists, issues from the project team, owner, and architects had to be organized into one system for tracking and subcontractor correction.
Owners and architects were using a completely different tracking system from the project team on the jobsite. “We were using a system where owners and A&E would create a walkthrough observation report,” said Fuller. “We’d create action items in our systems from that.” Retyping issues into the Prolog® databases they used initially cost McCarthy project managers and quality inspectors hours a day in the office and increased the chances of issues being neglected through miscommunication.
When inspections were complete, the project management team compiled issues into reports and emailed them to subcontractors for correction. This often required filing and organizing issues in Prolog®, attaching photos, and ensuring that all necessary email copies were made. If the report was also to go to owners for review, the process might include even more office work. “Before it was a lot of typing, printing, copying, emailing,” said Fuller. “There’s a lot of chance for missed communications if someone overlooks entering an issue or forgets to include someone on an email.”
And though the Prolog® database was powerful, Fuller admitted that managing the issues was difficult and time consuming: “Prolog® is a good database. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of customization; you have to do everything manually.”
Latista Field Automates Collaboration at All Stakeholder Levels
When McCarthy saw how much time its project and quality management teams were spending on simply communicating issues, they quickly realized the need for an automation solution. The Latista Field web-based and mobile solution was brought in to help. “Latista allowed for a one-stop job,” said Fuller; “everyone was in the same system rather than miscellaneous issues and reports coming in and going out at odd times. It helped us streamline our processes.” McCarthy used Latista for its quality management, punchlist inspections, and watchlist.
Latista is a web-based and mobile platform that allows project managers and other inspectors to enter issues directly into a database using Motion® tablet PCs in the field. The tablets weigh only three pounds but possess all of the computing power of a laptop or desktop. They accept data entry through an electronic pen that allows users to interact without a keyboard or mouse. Tablet screens can be viewed anywhere, even in direct sunlight, and they can connect wirelessly to an Internet connection. Once data is entered, users can create detailed reports at the push of a button.
McCarthy had three system administrators and nine employees conducting inspections using Latista Field on the research facility jobsite. Six architects and engineers represented the owner in the Latista system and could add non-conforming issues of their own to ensure that plans were followed and specifications were met. The Latista software organized issues as they were entered on the tablets and associated them with the appropriate photos and marked-up drawings automatically.
Once the inspection was complete, the Latista database was synchronized, and the new inspection record and issues would be available to everyone with permission to see them. Having the data available in an instant allows communications and corrections to proceed immediately. There was no delay in waiting for inspections to be retyped, processed, or printed because Latista Field automated those steps and managed data electronically.
Automatic report creation and distribution through Latista saved the McCarthy quality team hours every day, and helped prevent miscommunication of issues on the jobsite. “Latista’s automatic email report distribution made our communications with subcontractors easier,” said Fuller. More than forty subcontractors received notification emails of the issues for which they were responsible. These emails contained a link to a PDF customized to contain only issues relevant to that subcontracting company or trade. These emails could be scheduled daily or weekly, or the project team could generate and send them as necessary, even within minutes of finishing an inspection. “Latista’s reporting was very useful, especially being able to filter by status and drill down to condense our report contents,” said Fuller.
Communicating non-conforming issues was also made more comprehensive by Latista’s photo management system and Motion® tablets have a built in camera option.“We had clearer communications because of the photographs,” said Fuller. “We took the photos with separate cameras, but they attach to the issue right away in Latista.” Photos could be assigned to a specific issue and would appear alongside that issue in the Latista software and any reports it created. “That was a great feature,” said Fuller.
Another helpful Latista Feature for the McCarthy project team was being able to establish a “watchlist” for issues that required project team attention but not subcontractor correction. “What we found (and this is typical of other projects) is that inspectors would record issues that weren’t really non-conforming deficiencies but were just adding scope to the project,” said Fuller. Latista could keep issues marked with a “watch” status separate from those that were part of the corrections process. Watchlist items would not show up on subcontractor or owner reports, reducing the number of issues to sort to find deficiencies to correct.
The watchlist also saved time on quality correction: “We saved a lot of time on reporting, and since we could do quality tracking before sending corrections out to subs. We could see that the issues we were sending them were valid and needed corrections,” said Fuller.
Time and Money Saved and Improved Customer Relations
“With Latista, we could focus on getting issues resolved rather than communicating,” said Fuller, which improved quality throughout the research facility’s construction. Latista automated deficiency notifications and communicated responsibilities to subcontractors instantly, allowing them to work faster and make corrections as the work progresses. Owners and architects could also participate in the quality process and punchlist using the same system as the contractor, eliminating the need to create separate reports for those groups. All these construction records were maintained in the Latista database.
As construction on the research facility continues, the streamlined communications will prevent the bubble of issues that typically builds toward the end of a project. As a result, turnover will likely come sooner and easier. “There were a lot of things that needed to happen before punchlist, but portions of the building were easier to sign off because of Latista Field,” said Fuller.
The McCarthy project team, the research facility’s owners and eventual users, the architects, and subcontractors were pleased with the Latista Field solution’s helping them save time on and improve the accuracy of their communications. “We reviewed outstanding issues weekly with owners, and it was helpful to see the overall correction trends—who needed to pick up the pace on corrections,” said Fuller. “We reviewed open punchlist reports, closed-item reports, and pending-approval reports. The reports were very useful in communicating the status of all non-conformance items.”
Latista Vice President Chris Ramsey commended McCarthy and the research facility stakeholders for working together seamlessly on the project: “Facilitating communications and collaboration between all members of a construction team, on and off the jobsite, is one of the major strengths of Latista Field. McCarthy did a great job using the Latista solution to save time and improve quality in the field before this biomedical research facility opens, helping to ensure that the work performed there is accurate and safe.”