PlanGrid allows construction workers to access PDFs on iPads and iPhones. (Image courtesy of PlanGrid.)
Autodesk announced that it has purchased PlanGrid, the San Francisco startup that made the iPad the preferred method of viewing construction drawings, for $875 million.
PlanGrid started in 2011 with a simple mission: to make construction paperless. PlanGrid’s CEO, Tracy Young, had worked as a construction engineer and had to wheel a cart filled with blueprints from room to room in order to check construction documents against on-site progress.
"One of the foundational problems of construction is that there's this massive disconnect between the people who design buildings and structures and the people who build them, even though design is the front end of every construction project in the world," said Young.
PlanGrid accepts PDFs, photos and other information (punch lists, RFIs, submittals, etc.) so that contractors can view them on their iPads. The setup enables construction professionals to carry their paperwork around with them easily and ensures that everyone on a worksite has access to the same updated files. Back in 2011, the idea of digitizing construction paperwork and putting it on the cloud was considered "far out.”
PlanGrid has been used by 12,000 customers on over a million construction projects worldwide, according to the company.
Jim Lynch, vice president, BIM Product Line Group at Autodesk, and Tracy Young, CEO and cofounder of PlanGrid. (Image courtesy of LinkedIn.)
Autodesk’s move to digitize construction is no secret. Both Autodesk’s Jim Lynch, vice president & general manager of Autodesk Construction Solutions, and PlanGrid’s Tracy Young, who discussed the acquisition with engineering.com, recognize that software use in construction is lacking, a situation that needs to be remedied. The PlanGrid acquisition brings something entirely new to the table, said Lynch. "There's a little overlap, but there's much more value added in terms of things like automatic submittal logs, the performance of their system, the things they do around online and offline, data syncing, [and] their search capabilities."
PlanGrid's Automatic Submittal Log scans a project's specifications books to automatically generate a submittal log, a process that can take weeks to complete by hand. Their offline capabilities enable users to make markups while they're offline that will automatically be uploaded to the cloud once the device is within Wi-Fi range. After interviewing users about their workflows last year, the company also implemented a Full Sheet Search figure, allowing users to search for text across all of their project sheets, even when they're offline in the field.
Autodesk was attempting to do what PlanGrid does with its BIM 360 Docs, which also stores and manages PDFs on the cloud and displays them on iPads.
Both Autodesk and PlanGrid emphasized that PlanGrid will continue to exist as a separate entity from Autodesk, and that Young will continue to run PlanGrid's 400-person team. Young will report directly to Lynch, and will most likely have a title of VP.
There’s no plan to take PlanGrid and make it a module of BIM 360, said Lynch. "The intent is to provide interoperability. What we do want to do is quickly connect their technology with ours in areas where it makes sense, for things like BIM360 and Revit."
The PlanGrid acquisition was announced the week after Autodesk University (AU), in keeping with the theme of digitizing construction. On the first day of AU, Autodesk announced it was funding a Dodge Data & Analytics study into how the construction industry can find and track its key performance indicators (KPIs). Throughout the conference, speakers mentioned Autodesk's push to "industrialize" the industry—to standardize construction workflows so that they look more like manufacturing processes.
Both PlanGrid and Autodesk are banking on the industry following their digital leadership. Autodesk expects PlanGrid to bring in $100 million in revenue in fiscal year 2020.
Tracy Young is optimistic about the joint venture: "This changes the technology landscape in a huge way, and it only means great things for this industry."