A couple years back, Tech Spec got its first hands-on demonstration of a three-dimensional building information modeling (BIM) system, ArchiCAD from Graphisoft U.S. Inc. in Boston. It was a marvel to behold, seeing an admittedly rudimentary home designed and spec-ed out, complete with elevations and materials lists—and costs.
It occurred to Tech Spec that someone, perhaps many people, would be needed to input the information into the system to achieve that comprehensive output and to maintain the system. As the housing slump was amid its dive, the concept of more people in the home building business was not realistic—and still isn't.
Todd Ullom knows this all too well. When he was an executive with the old WCI Communities, the company had 70 CAD (computer-aided design) drafters on staff, and they accomplished roughly 35 job starts per year. Today, Ullom is vice president of marketing for Simpad, a Woburn, Mass., unit of MiTek, a Berkshire Hathaway company. At the International Builders' Show in January, Simpad rolled out Blackpoint Builder Services, an outsourced BIM system run and maintained by a staff of specially trained professionals that, through a Web portal, offers builders the advantages of lean-design automation without the staff issues. Not only can Blackpoint handle more than 35 job starts each year, it can do so on a site-specific basis, meaning that every change or option selected by a home buyer gets reflected in the plans before construction.
Ullom and Simpad CEO Richard Kashian took Tech Spec through the guts of the Blackpoint system, which is a combination of AutoDesk ACA CAD and Blackpoint's patent-pending technology. By working off a master model plan, then customizing that plan to each home with a single site-specific plan that is managed through the Web portal, sales teams can create buyer-specific brochures, designers can produce lot-specific plans for permitting and construction, and estimating teams can verify budgets based on detailed materials takeoffs for every home to be built. All on demand.
Blackpoint is not a solution in search of a problem. Most builders, including the biggest, “never see the house, what it's going to become, before they do it in the field,” said Ullom. “We leave decisions up to the $10-an-hour framer.”
Kashian chimed in: “Blackpoint gives them the best chance of getting the house right … [by building] the house before the field.”
Blackpoint also can output directly to parent MiTek's Truss Framer software, which in turn talks directly to Weyerhaeuser's iLevel systems. That allows for lumber and other materials to be ordered to fit, minimizing waste and streamlining the construction process.
The current pricing schedule charges builders $1,000 per story per master plan, then $500 for each site-specific home on the system. Assuming 100 separate two-story master-planned designs and 1,000 actual homes, the bill would come in around $750,000. That would be the rough equivalent of 10 experienced CAD operators.
A host of big builders are showing interest. Privates Oakwood and Inland Homes have jumped in with both feet. And private Drees Homes and several public builders are testing the system.
Sounds like a plan.