Customer Story: Independent Construction Improves Margins with TraceAir

Site intelligence software helps grading contractors operate more efficiently and stay on schedule.
Independent Construction has used TraceAir on over 40 projects!
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Technology for the Whole Team

Independent Construction Company (Independent) is leveraging technology across their portfolio of projects to maximize efficiency on their operations and empower their team. For Independent, TraceAir is the best solution for their workforce from the field to the office. Many construction technology tools require technical expertise and are only accessible by about 10% of the team. "When we started to use TraceAir and realized how user-friendly and accurate it was, we relied on it a lot more and benefited from it significantly. Unlike other software in the industry, TraceAir puts data analytics in the hands of field managers. So, now we do many tasks that previously were done at the office, including measurements," says Mike Jensen, Foreman. Independent has been using this technology since December 2016, when drones did the first test flyover at the Faria Ranch project in San Ramon. They've since adopted this technology on 44 projects to improve efficiency across their grading operations.

Less Waste, Better Margins

Dirt busts and double-handling are major margin killers for grading contractors, but without access to current, accurate topographical data, some waste is inevitable. Independent captures weekly surveys on their projects using drones, and uses TraceAir's software to measure, track, and visualize their projects. This allows them to measure site balance – at the fraction of the cost of traditional surveys – and course-correct when something goes wrong.

For Skyline Ranch, a 500-acre site, the developer wanted 27 million cubic yards of total cut moved in just 16 months. Some approvals were still pending and model homes were designed to be in the middle of the site, so the job had to be built out of sequence at the risk of serious dirt imbalance. Independent saw the opportunity to address project challenges using technology, and bid competitively to win the contract. TraceAir provided the team with cut/fill maps of the project every week, which showed accurate dirt balance of the whole site and to calculate an average for the bulk/shrink coefficient of excavated dirt. Using this information, the construction team was able to see early that with the current final grade design, the project would end up long by 600,000 cubic yards, an extraordinary cost to the project. By identifying this issue early, the team was able to revise the design to avoid this catastrophe. Ultimately, Independent finished grading ahead of time by two months with only 20,000 cubic yards of long haul. This is less than 0.1% of the total cut – accuracy that is unheard of in the industry.

Using TraceAir, Independent finished grading two months early and balanced the site within 0.1% of the total cut on Skyline Ranch.
Learn more: Skyline Ranch Case Study

Accurate Progress Tracking

Prior to using TraceAir, planning weekly operations took Independent's foremen a few hours. Their planning required a site inspection, reviewing project plans, and consulting with engineers to determine the most efficient grading strategy. By adopting drone technology and software, their foremen are now able to reduce their planning time to less than an hour. Using TraceAir's 3D topography, the entire team has a clear, accurate view of current site conditions. In addition to a visual representation of the site, Independent's teams have access to quantifiable data related to overall site balance, slopes, cut/fill in specific areas, and the amount of dirt moved daily or weekly.

When you're moving half a million yards a week, and you're working in five or six locations at one time, there's a lot of changing going on. TraceAir gives us real-time information about how much material we move”.

Bob Ogier, Superintendent

Reducing idle equipment

Ineffective sequencing and delays can create challenges for grading contractors. For Independent, one sequencing error could force equipment to remain idle on one project and potentially delay another project dependent on that equipment. By allowing them to plan their operations effectively and minimize waste, TraceAir allows Independent to utilize the full potential of their equipment.

Faster Payment

While contractor-owner disputes are common, Independent uses technology to eliminate disagreements about work performed. Being able to show accurate quantities moved between time periods gives owners little to contest and results in faster payment. In some cases, it even allows them to recoup costs that owners may not have paid because TraceAir provides the proof. On a recent project, Vice President of Operations, Ron Nooteboom, recalled a billing dispute with the owner. His team sent a bill for the quantity of dirt moved, and the owner disputed the amount. If they didn't have site intelligence software that provides a visual and volumetric record of the project progress, Independent would have a hard time proving their case. "With TraceAir, we resolved this issue in days instead of weeks, and we recouped tens of thousands of dollars that otherwise would have been lost," Ron recalled. Because of this advanced site technology, they were able to calculate the exact quantities of dirt moved per week, and were paid promptly.

Independent uses TraceAir to calculate exact quantities of material moved to expedite payment and protect at-risk revenue.
Learn more: Why Contractors Need Site Intelligence Software

Better Outcomes with Technology

For Independent, using technology to operate more efficiently has allowed them to reduce waste on their projects, minimize disputes, and make better, more informed decisions in the field. Ultimately, it leads to more successful project completions and allows them to stay on schedule. "Schedule is money. An extra week is an extra week of cost. With TraceAir, we were always ahead of schedule," states Project Manager, Mark Chaddock.

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