Bringing structure to the urban anthills: construction sites

3 December 2019

Daily chaos was unavoidable on construction sites around the world. Now Struxhub Deliveries is bringing order to that busy chaos. High-profile construction sites such as Uber and Facebook offices in Silicon Valley have already benefited, saving time and money.

 

If you stop and observe a busy urban construction jobsite, you’ll likely see a typical scene that looks like a busy anthill from afar: impatient drivers queuing to get on-site, frustrated crews waiting to get their materials, and an overloaded superintendent trying to restore order. This daily chaos stifles productivity and wastes time and money. StruxHub is a startup from LafargeHolcim that seeks to bring order to this chaos.

Their first app, StruxHub Deliveries, streamlines logistics on jobsites through real-time delivery coordination between general contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers. Since its launch in early 2019, StruxHub has served over 10,000 trucks and is being used daily on high-profile projects such as the Uber HQ in San Francisco and a Facebook office in Silicon Valley. Jeff Chen, who started his career as a building materials specialist at LafargeHolcim’s Research & Development Center in Lyon, France, has led StruxHub from its inception. He explains, “StruxHub was born walking jobsites around the world and repeatedly seeing the same pattern—amazingly sophisticated planning, but then amazingly painful execution in the field. You’d see $500m projects run on whiteboards and paper. But this wasn’t because of an aversion to technology. There just wasn’t the right tools on the market that matched the dynamic nature of construction projects. It’s our mission at StruxHub to change this.”

To realize this vision, Chen teamed up with Chris Schmidt, a seasoned Chief Product Officer and entrepreneur with stints at Autodesk and a Google-X construction technology startup. Schmidt explains what piqued his interest: “I loved how StruxHub Deliveries was so user-centric, so human from the start. Everything we designed and expressed in our app was to make it easier for builders in the field to collaborate and work more productively together. It was a refreshing change from all the technology-centric apps out there.”

StruxHub soon caught the eye of Justin Porter, Director of Construction Technology and Innovation at Truebeck Construction, a progressive contractor in the San Francisco Bay Area that aims to exploit technology to drive efficiency in their projects. Porter opened the doors to StruxHub on some of Truebeck’s largest projects, including Uber and Facebook offices. This turned out to be a pivotal collaboration for StruxHub.

“Being able to sit elbow-to-elbow with field personnel in the trailers allowed us to focus on what really mattered,” Chen recalls. “Very quickly we saw that the process for coordinating hundreds of trucks every week for 20-30 subcontractors on whiteboards and paper was grossly inefficient. Even with detailed planning, conflicts still arose since subcontractors had little visibility of what others were doing.”

In response, Chen and Schmidt created StruxHub Deliveries. Central to the app is a collaborative calendar where subcontractors can make requests for booking offloading zones and equipment for their materials deliveries, which the general contractor can later approve. Schmidt explains, “As all requests are visible to the entire project team, subcontractors can self-organize and steer clear of potential conflicts.”

In essence, StruxHub Deliveries does the heavy lifting of the delivery coordination process by pushing more information and responsibility to the subcontractor—that is, where the work is executed. “The democratization of information is a core philosophy of StruxHub,” Chen says. “We believe this increases accountability, reduces waste, and produces better results.”

StruxHub’s formula appears to be working. Teams that rolled out Deliveries saw an immediate impact on their site. Porter noted, “We used to have at least 30% of deliveries unplanned. Now, that’s dropped to 1%. As a result, supers are doing less firefighting. Sites are a lot quieter now too.” These benefits helped Deliveries spread from 1 to 6 projects within a span of several months. Much of this was spread by word-of-mouth between colleagues within Truebeck.
“What’s exciting now is that people don’t have to put all their energy into delivery management, but they can spend more time on actually building,” Porter says.

With momentum building up, StruxHub is now getting calls from other top contractors around the world. Chen adds, “We’re even getting referrals where a subcontractor will ask his general contractor, ‘Why aren’t you using StruxHub?’ For an early stage startup like us, that’s extremely rewarding to hear.”