VOL. 115 | NO. 136 | Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Technology quickens the pace of builders
Memphis companys technology quickens the pace of builders
By SUE PEASE
The Daily News
Technology invades all businesses and pushes the pace, even with truly brick-and-mortar operations such as construction.
Often the image of a builder involves design plans stretched out on the back of a pickup truck where the project is managed from the field.
Onsite management will always be part of the job. However, new computer software is quickening the initial phases of construction.
One such computer technology was developed in Memphis, home base to VP Buildings Inc.
Its product, called VP Command, is pushing the construction market, an industry often mired in convention.
Henry Kelly, Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. president, said technology is starting to change the way many builders do business.
"The construction industry at times has seemed immune to change. But, the revolution in technology that is transforming much of our society is changing the way we in the construction industry do business," Kelly said.
"The Internet and information technology are at the heart of this revolution. Developments in these areas have made what at one time seemed like science fiction, reality, and we in the construction industry would be wise to stay abreast of these developments as we enter a new technological age."
That same thought is behind the VP Buildings computer software. The company designs and manufacturers pre-engineered metal building systems, for the low-rise commercial and industrial markets. Ten years ago, it started building VP Command to assist its builders with the construction process.
The proprietary software can cut the tedious process of design, cost estimating and engineering from weeks down to minutes.
Creating a project design and price estimate that quickly doesnt seem possible, but Rocky May, VP Buildings director of sales and engineering, said he has used the program to come up with a project bid in 30 minutes.
May, who has been in the industry for two decades, sees the technology as quick and flexible, and now, wouldnt do it any other way.
"I can remember spending a whole day doing pricing for a building and compiling an estimate out of product and pricing books," he said.
After a projects information is entered into the software, including loads and codes, design shape and framing, the software churns out a design plan and pricing estimate in all of two minutes.
It has been a marketing tool for many of the companys authorized builders, May said.
"A builder can come back tomorrow with a price and drawings for a customer," said Richard A. Brow, VP Buildings director of marketing.
The software is used by 900 of the more than 1,000 of VP Buildings authorized builders.
The software was created in-house in 1992 as a product used on a Unix system. Over the past decade, it went through many evolutions and was released last year as a Windows application.
VP Command 3.0 is expected to be released in October, company officials said.
About 30 information technology staff work on VP Command as their primary focus, Mays said.
Over the years, he estimates that "many millions of dollars" have been spent on the softwares development.
There are many steps to the software that include entering general information, loads and codes information, and choosing a design shape of which there are 57 pre-determined designs.
A builder also can input a custom design, then pick a frame type, covering type, insulation package, and place the doors and windows.
Then the software processes the information and outputs everything a builder would need to begin the ordering of parts from VP Buildings.
The software outputs a design even noting where the boltholes should be placed.
All orders are double checked, too.
"Our system does the design, but it is always checked by a designer," Brow said.
The company has 100 engineers on staff throughout its seven manufacturing locations and in its Memphis office.
After the software creates a plan, it then can be submitted to VP Buildings through a secure intranet site and materials ordered online from VP.
Builders can log on and track their project, from approval, manufacturing date to ship date.
There are 6,000 VP Buildings erected each year ranging from light industrial and warehouses to schools and churches.
The price of the software package is $1,600 initially, plus a yearly maintenance fee, officials said.
Scott Riedel, vice president of sales at Riedel-Wilks Building Structures Inc. in Huntington, W.V., has used many manufacturers products, but prefers VP Command because it is quick, flexible and accurate.
"In a typical building, after you put all the requirements in the computer, it only takes 10 to 15 minutes to totally design an entire building," he said.
The difference with VP Command is the software designs the building instead of using a template, he said.
"Most other manufacturer information is generic when it comes off. It pulls from tables from historical data but with VPs computer, it actually goes in and designs. It is a custom design per every input building. Its not going out and grabbing templates from library files," he said.
He has been using the product since 1993 and has seen all evolutions of it.
"It benefits us as a general contractor, because it is designing the building. It gives me loads and reactions, so I can design my foundations that support the building and I can give the customer complete information based on accurate information, not just guesses," Riedel said.
"Its a wonderful piece of technology."