RedBuilt Sheds SAP for the Cloud

Many of you are no doubt familiar with Trus Joist, I know I’ve specified its products many times to cut down on weight and to increase spans. In August 2009 its commercial division got a new name with its separation from Weyerhauser. Now called RedBuilt, it had a laundry list of needs that caused it to move to the cloud, not the least of which was lower cost. This is a one-page overview of what it wanted from the cloud and what the results were.  The star of this one is NetSuite, and while the case study is not very in-depth it will be especially beneficial to those who might be considering migrating from a SAP on-premise solution.  RedBuilt LLC case study

(This category is a service for those who are already here at the site and who want examples of how construction-related firms are using and have adopted cloud offerings. These case studies are provided by companies that sell cloud services. There is no intention to endorse any of the products or services and companies do not pay to have their case studies placed here. Some companies that provide case studies that are posted here may also buy advertising on this site. The case studies are provided for informational purposes and to supply balanced coverage of the topics.)

Spray-On Solar Power Material Makes Windows Power Generators

New Energy Technologies, Inc. researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind, spray-on technology able to transform everyday surfaces, such as windows, into energy-generating devices using both natural and artificial light sources, outperforming today’s commercial solar and thin-film technologies by as much as 10-fold under low-intensity irradiance. The company developed a working prototype of its SolarWindow™ technology in preparation for eventual full-scale production. Low production costs, improved manufacturability, and increased power performance are objectives researchers are now targeting. Key to these advances is the development of new methods and technologies for applying New Energy’s electricity-generating coatings to glass surfaces.

Electrical power is generated on glass when New Energy’s SolarWindow™ coatings are sprayed onto surfaces using commercially available equipment. This patent-pending process enables researchers to spray SolarWindow™ coatings onto glass at room temperature, eliminating expensive and often cumbersome high-temperature or high-vacuum production methods typically used by current solar manufacturers.

Until now, most solar modules have remained opaque with the prospect of creating a see-thru glass window capable of generating electricity limited by the use of metals and various expensive processes which block visibility and prevent light from passing through glass window surfaces.

Researchers are also working to bolster the electrical power output of SolarWindow™, generated from both natural sunlight and artificial sources such as fluorescent lighting typically installed inside commercial offices and incandescent bulbs inside residential homes. Unlike conventional solar technologies, New Energy’s SolarWindow™ generates electricity from both natural and artificial light sources, outperforming today’s commercial solar and thin-film technologies by as much as 10-fold under low-intensity irradiance.

Read the rest of the story here.

Construction Compliance Finds Home in the Cloud

Businesses in construction and related fields face a daunting list of items requiring compliance with regulations and standards. Requirements for compliance apply not only to building and fire codes, but also to safety, environment, labor laws, green house gas emissions and energy use. Requirements for compliance come not only from government entities, (including federal, state, county and local), but also from the owners, architects, engineers, partners and interested or invested parties such as insurance companies, banks and subcontractors.

A joint effort by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlights how the federal government views the compliance landscape. The pair established the Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center as a “source for plain language explanations of environmental rules for the construction industry.” Included in those pages is a Compliance Summary Tool where you can select a state, the type of construction and how the project might impact the environment. It then produces a page with a list of each environmental compliance item along with specific compliance steps and contact information.

It’s been common for contractors, architects and engineers to handle compliance in silos. So there’s a safety program with checklists and compliance requirements reminders, and there’s another one for storm water management and other environmental compliance issues. All the labor compliance items are handled under the HR processes and compliance on subcontractor insurances is dealt with in the accounting processes. If you move compliance tracking to the cloud there are providers who consolidate the tracking.

“Our technology is basically a $40 million relational database workflow management engine that the largest companies in the world use to automate compliance,” explains Larry Goldenhersh, CEO and founder of Enviance. “It automates the workflow of compliance including data capture and data management, whether you’re talking about core drilling, permit sign off or an overtime issue. We provide compliance workflow automation in the cloud, over the Internet.”

While there has been reluctance by construction firms to use the cloud for compliance management in the past, John (J.J.) Castner, business development executive with CMO Compliance sees more acceptance these days.

“We originally offered our construction audit, risk and compliance solution as cloud only,” Castner says. “However the industry pushed back and we had to provide an on premise solution as well. But that was a few years ago, and now the construction industry is more open to cloud solutions.”

He says the sensitivity of audit, risk and compliance data that his company’s solutions capture for construction clients, and other industries such as financial, aviation and food safety, means many clients may be reluctant to host such data off premise. However, as internet banking and other cloud based technologies are more widely adopted, the industry has been more receptive to cloud solutions for compliance.

Goldenhersh uses the example of Chevron, one of his company’s clients, to illustrate the kinds of complex compliance management tasks being handled in the cloud.

Chevron uses the Enviance system to manage the permitting for the construction of the largest liquid natural gas facility being built in the world today in Gorgon, Australia. Chevron also uses it for environmental compliance and permit compliance in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California where Chevron operates exploration and production activities in a 6,000 square mile area. Within that area Goldenhersh says Chevron manages 2,000 air permits and has 50,000 monthly compliance obligations. Thirty-thousand of those obligations are data capture, and more than 25,000 are tasks. Chevron also uses Enviance’s solution to automate the collection of the data, compare it against allowable ranges, and establish tasks that are required by statute, or by the company, to get things fixed. The system also handles all the reporting to local, state and federal authorities.

Both Enviance and CMO Compliance typically work with very large construction enterprises that operate globally and it’s exactly because of their global operations that companies like these turn to cloud solutions.

“Given that our construction audit, risk and compliance solution sits in the cloud, it can be accessed anytime, anywhere – and we now even provide support for iPads and iPhones, so information can easily be logged or reviewed onsite,” explains Castner. “ If you can make a phone call on your iPhone or PDA/Smartphone, you can do a construction site safety inspection on your iPhone or PDA/Smartphone using our cloud solution.”

Compliance also requires interaction with many different players on a given project, and they all need access to project data and have the ability to interact with it. Goldenhersh says the interoperability is transparent.

“Those involved in projects would want separate access and so we have a security system that allows the architect to have access to the system and the architect can see only what the architect is supposed to see,” explains Goldenhersh. “The contractor can also have its own subscription and do exactly what it wants, but all the data can be common in the system. It’s truly a collaboration platform because construction projects are not well executed in stove pipes. You have to have the architect and engineer talking to the contractor, and somewhere in there the construction manager too, otherwise everything hits the fan.”

Of course, the cloud depends on connectivity, so for projects out in the boonies where there is limited, low speed or nonexistent Internet access it’s not going to be a viable solution. But for those who have to manage modest to difficult compliance tracking and reconciliation where there is Internet service, doing so in the cloud can make the task timely, efficient, accurate, accessible, scalable and inexpensive.

CI Podcast for September 26, 2010: Fires, Oil and Railroads

Play The Podcast
Welcome to the Construction Informer. The Podcast for September 26, 2010


Full Podcast Transcript (for those of you who still read)

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released some interim guidance on using anti-freeze in residential fire sprinkler systems. Apparently, research has shown that glycerin and propylene glycol solutions might ignite when the sprinkler systems go off to put out a fire.

A report prepared by Code Consultants Inc., and published by The Fire Protection Research Foundation, outlined how two different test were performed and gave the results. One test type (Scope A) used six models of sprinklers at elevations of 8 feet and 20 feet “to investigate the potential for large-scale ignition of antifreeze sprays at pressures ranging from 10 psi to 150 psi. Scope B consisted of room fire tests, similar to UL 1626, that were designed to investigate the effective(ness) of sprinklers discharging antifreeze solutions, and their ability to maintain tenable conditions,” according to the report.

Scope A showed that solutions with more than 40 percent propylene glycol, and those with more than 50 percent glycerin can ignite when they are released from sprinklers. Apparently the deciding factors include the ignition source, sprinkler model, sprinkler elevation and the discharge pressure. Scope B tests showed concentrations of propylene glycol lower than 40 percent, and glycerin lower than 50 percent, performed like water. The report also suggested that solutions of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol should be “limited unless testing is conducted to establish that they are appropriate for use in home fire sprinkler systems.”

For existing systems the NFPA advised “owners and contractors to take immediate steps to review the status of their existing residential sprinkler systems and take appropriate action.” Actions include investigating alternatives to antifreeze to keep pipes from freezing, like using pipe insulation. If there is no alternative then factory-mixed propylene glycol or glycerin solutions of less than 40 and 50 percent respectively should be considered, and in all cases the lowest concentration that will protect from freezing should be used. There is much more at the links in the transcript on the blog.

When it comes to fires, sometimes you just need to light a fire under your team but you can’t seem to efficiently get them all together for a meeting. Well, right now you can try GoToMeeting for free just by visiting GoToMeeting dot com slash podcast. Sometimes the personal touch is required to really drive home the point you are trying to make. And while it is fashionable to avoid using meetings sometimes they are necessary and beneficial. With everyone logged into GoToMeeting dot com, whether they’re across the country, or across town, they can see your computer desktop on their computer screen, regardless of the operating system they use. So why not try it out and set your team on fire the easy way. (Of course I’m talking figuratively there.) Try GoToMeeting free for 45 days by simply visiting Go To Meeting dot com slash podcast.

Well, T. Boone Pickens has jumped back into the oil debates by issuing a call for the U.S. to switch large portions of its transportation sector to natural gas to help get the country off the foreign oil spigot. Keep in mind that Pickens was bullish on alternative energy until last winter when the wind went out of the wind power sails, (that’s sails as in sails on boats), at least that’s according to Jeff Carter, a market commenter for several media outlets. And, Pickens admittedly has a large investment in natural gas through a company called Clean Energy Fuels, claimed to be the largest provider of vehicular natural gas in North America, according to text on a BP Capital Inc. Website. Pickens is CEO of BP Capital. So his rhetoric may well be slanted just a bit, and some have called him on that. But it’s most interesting what appears on the Website, because it evokes the fear of the looming oil crunch that many have been predicting, in order to advance a concept that is near and dear to the oilman’s heart. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’ve been an oilman my whole life, but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.” His scribbling white board presentations, in which he outlined the impact of Peak Oil and the U.S. dependence on imports, became water cooler talk throughout the nation.

And so, only talk continues in the face of this looming reality, making it even more clear it is very hard to get people to accept change that requires them putting their own self interest a few steps behind that of the self-interest of the whole. Pickens’ outcry mirrors 48 percent of the American mindset that is so enamored with money that it has never found a way to view the world within a context that doesn’t include profits. Perhaps it’s time for some inspiration that doesn’t depend on money?

So the global economy continues to beat and we are seeing places where construction melds with agriculture. They are very dissimilar activities but if you follow the money you can see how they easily become bedfellows. Ethiopia has vast amounts of fertile land for growing crops, and agriculture accounts for about 84 percent of its GDP and 80 percent of its total employment, according to a reasonably well-sourced article at Wikipedia. The European Union and major food retailers are very interested in sourcing food from the area. China and India have been on a land-acquisition-spree across the globe because they realize their own land will not support their growing populations. Ethiopia needs cheap transportation for all the agricultural products. So, it is building a 3,100 mile railroad that will go from the capital of Addis Ababa to the outlying regions. At its peak 305,000 people will be laboring to build it but it will only cost $336 million per year. This gets into calculations with more than six zeros which my readily-accessible calculator doesn’t handle well, but it looks like each worker might make about $1800. That doesn’t take any other project expenses into account, so I think we must be looking at really cheap pick and shovel labor here. In May the project got a loan of more than $100 million from China. From my reading there are no U.S. companies involved. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Ethiopia is also on track to boost its power output by 10,000 MW. That’s more than a few billion dollars worth of construction. I can see the estimating pencils getting sharpened already.

And, that’s it for this edition of the Construction Informer podcast. Until the next time…build it well.