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​PlanGrid brings cloud software to work sites

The construction industry has always been a late adopter. While other major U.S. industries have gone digital, builders have clung to paper.

PlanGrid co-founder and CEO Tracy Young made a bet in 2011 that contractors were ready for the digital leap — and it has paid off handsomely.

PlanGrid makes an cloud-based app that construction crews use to view blueprints, instead of using plans printed on paper. Contractors that worked on Levi’s Stadium, the Yelp headquarters at 140 New Montgomery and San Francisco General Hospital have used PlanGrid, increasing efficiency and ensuring that employees are all literally working on the same plan.

The company has raised nearly $60 million from investors, including Northgate Capital, Base Ventures, Sequoia Captial and Tenaya Capital. Plangrid’s application, which has been used on more than 500,000 construction projects, has users in 72 countries.

Additionally, Plangrid’s construction collaboration platform has become the world’s largest digital blueprint repository, with more than 40 million blueprints.

“We’re incredibly lucky,” said Young, at PlanGrid’s 28,000-square-foot office in San Francisco’s Mission District.

PlanGrid’s 180 employees in San Francisco work amid exposed brick walls, interior arches and high ceilings. “It has that construction feeling,” said Young.

By replacing physical blueprints with digital files, the company allows workers to access plans on mobile devices or tablets, rather than carrying bulky books, that can run to 70,000 pages for the largest projects.

It also allows version control, cutting down on mistakes. Every minute saved on the job cuts costs, but it also benefits workers by cutting down on long days.

The challenge now for PlanGrid is to apply machine learning to the PDF files of the blueprints, allowing their system to understand where doors and walls are, rather than simply reproducing the images. PlanGrid has already figured out a way to hyperlink blueprints to each other, allowing workers to move seamlessly from one to another.

“Rather than thinking of these as dumb drawings, how can we apply machine learning to this?” asked Ralph Gootee, chief technology officer and co-founder.

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