Adaptability is becoming imperative within the construction industry because of the ever-changing technology landscape. However, while adaptability is important, it is just as vital for technology to perform in a way that is helpful in practice to team members. When technology works correctly, it demonstrates its own value and almost guarantees that teams will buy into its use.
Jay Mathes is the Virtual Construction Civil Lead at Miron Construction Co., Inc. and a 40 Under 40 Champion of Construction in 2021. He sat down with us to talk about the importance of paying attention to details and working in construction as technology evolves industry-wide.
First, Miron Construction is a large general contractor headquartered in Wisconsin, with six satellite offices in the Midwest. Miron puts work in place all over the country, and in 2020 we saw significant growth and brought in $1.3 billion in revenue. In previous years, we had hovered around $800 to $900 million, so this was a big jump.
At Miron, I specialize in virtual construction. Essentially, it’s my job to solve construction and design problems digitally before they have the chance to become real-world issues. I worked as a traveling project manager and superintendent in the past, so I’ve seen what real-world issues can do when it comes to stopping production.
I generally became interested in virtual construction after having field experience. Way before that though, I started my first internship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while working at Alberici Constructors. I hooked up with that company while I was studying construction engineering at Iowa State University.
While in school, I got to work with a really strong suite of software including products like AutoCAD and Revit among others which boosted my interest. From there, I went into product management and began working with PlanGrid and other project management software for construction. I was in charge of a project schedule and used technology often. I found that my favorite part of the job was to use the tools at my disposal to hyper-analyze the projects I was working on.
After meeting my now wife, we moved and I applied to Miron. That’s how I ended up in the position I’m in now.
There are three examples that really pop up for me. The first is a new expo hall project in Green Bay, Wisconsin. We had a lot of sway over the design development documents, sequence of the job, and bid packages. We were able to go back and forth with the designers and do extensive steel sequencing with the project.
The next thing I’d point out was one of our recent industrial projects. We were doing self-performed steel, so our crews were erecting the steel on site. We were taking the design files and steel directly from the steel detailer and pushing out to the field teams with information on plate numbers, how many bolts to use, connection details, and so on. They just had to click on a model on the iPad to get this high level of detail for the project. When they clicked on a beam, they’d get all the information including the sequence, assembly number, piece number, and piece shape.
The third achievement I’d like to point out is a site logistics and crane logistics plan that we helped develop for a large whey dryer tower project. The job site was tight, and they weren’t sure how to make the crane setup work. We had one person on site taking photos, got a footprint to drive the crane, and set exact parameters based on the company’s 2D plan. We pulled it into a Navis model, mapped out a swing radius for them and got a plan in place over the course of several intensive meetings.
To start with, there are many new cloud-based platforms that we’re using, so internet speeds need to keep up. As long as they can do that, there are many doors that will open. This also requires us to start at square one sometimes because not everyone has worked with cloud-based BIM platforms. So, the role is going to be a little more about training and not as much about doing the work.
With the growth of technology, teams are becoming more capable than they were in the past...
– Jay Mathes, Virtual Construction Civil Lead, Miron Construction
With the growth of technology, teams are becoming more capable than they were in the past, which limits how much work a Virtual Construction Lead really has to do. In some cases, newer foremen on our MEP/FP partner-teams have said, "I've never worked on a project without BIM," which is a very exciting prospect.
One of the biggest challenges in construction is that the industry is notorious for not always adapting or being willing to adapt to new technologies. The technology has to be really good for it to get adopted. In essence, the challenge is that people have to be willing to accept technology, but on the flip side, the technology has to substantially improve their lives as well.
In essence, the challenge is that people have to be willing to accept technology, but on the flip side, the technology has to substantially improve their lives as well.
– Jay Mathes, Virtual Construction Civil Lead, Miron Construction
Autodesk is the premier BIM software in the industry. As a result, the tools we use on a daily basis translate across the entire industry. We have the AEC Collection and Autodesk Construction Cloud (ACC). And we use Autodesk from the design-development phase through construction and in some cases through facilities management as well. So, we can do the entire project in Autodesk Construction Cloud instead of doing BIM coordination in a separate piece of software first.
Innovation is one of Miron’s corporate drivers. When we work with project managers and superintendents, we’re focused on helping to open an access door, or eliminate some of the silos, so they can just click on one link and get access to a model. We’re pushing for easier communication and collaboration through technology.
My advice would be to give yourself the ability to adapt to construction trends and technologies. Trends and technology are always going to be changing. For example, my job today is totally different from what it was four years ago. You need to be able to adapt from project to project and, even sometimes, week to week. Flexibility and adaptability are going to be very important.
Myself and team regularly sit down with construction leaders to promote knowledge sharing among our community. We cover what works, what doesn’t, and what the future holds. Check out our entire series of Behind the Build interviews, featuring some of the best in construction.