System of Systems

We’ve identified BIM as a potential game-changer for production homebuilders—whether they’re building onsite or offsite. And we’ve noted that it can only realize its full potential in a company that already has its house in order or that intends to use the BIM conversion as a way to rationalize its processes and workflows.

Take the example of Payne Family Homes, the fastest-growing homebuilder in the St. Louis metro region. After investing considerable effort to create a lean, efficient operation using the latest software, the company is now leveraging its component manufacturer’s BIM models by integrating those models into many other aspects of their business, from sales and optioning, to estimating.

Building The Foundation

Payne is so efficient that BIM will be a bonus. Between 2007 and 2018, in fact, it grew annual volume from 32 to 280 homes without adding staff. “Today, we build in 18 communities with the same six supers we had three years ago,” said Eva Fryar, Vice President of Construction Operations. “Our design center staff for all 280 starts this year is still just two people.”

The company actually needs fewer employees per start than it did a few years ago. In 2016 it had a staff ratio of one employee for every three starts but that has since fallen to one for every four starts.

They credit these efficiencies to a reliance on processed-based methods in every part of the operation, from customer prospecting and sales, to the roof trusses and engineered floors that its component manufacturing partners make on a lot-specific basis. Payne has organized these processes into a system of systems that runs on a highly integrated MiTek software suite, including the Sales Simplicity solution for CRM/sales and BuilderMT WMS for workflow.

According to Cyndie Roche, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, the software seamlessly passes data and documents from the design center—where sales, options, and contract data are generated—to estimating, design, purchasing, accounting and warranty. It also transmits design and engineering data to component manufacturers like Pioneer Truss, which runs SAPPHIRE Structure, MiTek’s manufacturing software.

Technology has also helped the company grease the sales process. A new Sales Simplicity plug-in, Options Online, lets prospects choose options over the web, and ensures that they only see the specific options allowed on the model they’re looking at. This has helped reduced errors. “It has driven our ‘contract deficiencies’ to zero,” says Roche. A cloud-based tool, Options Online allows homebuilders to sell a home over the web without the need for a live sales person.

The goal is a completely virtual sales process, and Payne’s staff is willing to consider any technology that moves them toward that goal. That includes using Apple’s Facetime app to take prospects on virtual walk-throughs of model homes. “We have already sold out a community without having anyone on site,” says Roche.

Once a home has been sold and a contract created, option and house plan information pass to the company’s BuilderMT software, which manages estimating, purchasing and construction scheduling. That information also drives a purchase order process that ensures accurate materials delivery because it’s based on the lot specific plan set.

Scheduling has improved, too. If a construction phase goes longer than predicted or if a delivery gets delayed, the affected trade sees an automatic reschedule in BuilderMT’s Builder Portal, which helps them become more efficient and eliminates dry runs.

What are the payoffs from Payne’s technology investment? According to Fryar, the above systems have helped shave a full two weeks off of cycle time. Using a conservative figure of $1,000 per week savings, that’s $2,000 per house thanks to tighter scheduling, better trade coordination, and most importantly, seamless integration of data across the various sectors of Payne’s operations, from prospecting and sales all the way through to punchlist. With 280 predicted starts, the company expects to save $560,000 this year on cycle time reduction alone.

And of course the reduction in cycle time also puts the company in a position to increase revenues by building more homes per year.

Growing The BIM

Payne’s systems approach is the first step toward a full BIM implementation.

The SAPPHIRE software its manufacturing partners use relies on lot-specific BIM models to drive the automated saws and equipment that make roof trusses and cut engineered wood products. Now Payne is making use of these models in its own operations.

The first step is to load the free SAPPHIRE Viewer module on estimators’ and purchasers’ computers so they can review these BIM models. The software can ping the BuilderMT vendor/price database for real-time material costs when options are locked down; margins are applied by product category. This allows the builder to make highly accurate margin predictions.

BIM models can be shared with trades, inspectors, engineers, or suppliers that have downloaded the Viewer. The trades can see the exact materials list for each house, adjusted for the chosen options. If the customers choose a four-foot bump-out the living room, the material lists—including square-footage of carpet and squares or roofing—will automatically update.

The result is a near-perfect harmonizing of product, culture, technology, manufacturing, and construction. Software systems speak directly to one another. Prices auto-calculate as changes are made. Purchase orders and schedules dynamically adjust to events as they happen.

What’s next for Payne? Most likely, it will be further growth without the need to add staff, so more of the additional revenue will go right to the bottom line.