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Leveraging Trimble technology for construction with McCarthy Building Companies

We sit down with McCarthy Building Companies’ Virtual Design and Construction Manager, Shannon Lightfoot, to discuss how they leverage technology from Trimble across the entire lifecycle of their construction projects. From preconstruction to completion, see how they take their construction projects up a notch with 3D drawing software.

leverage technology from Trimble


How did you get started in the industry?

I went to Tennessee State University where I earned my architectural engineering degree. There, I learned a lot about the design side of construction and how to draft designs specifically for building projects. Fast forward to when I joined McCarthy Building Companies in 2006 as an onsite project engineer. Unlike our design partners, at the time, we didn’t use 3D models in our workflow. We quickly realized that using these 3D models would enable us to more effectively communicate our ideas and collaborate with stakeholders. I got started in SketchUp and picked it up really fast. I already had a working knowledge of other CAD programs so it didn’t take me long to get up and running.

What do you do at McCarthy Building Companies?

As McCarthy’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Manager, I am responsible for the management and implementation of technology on construction sites. I’m an integrated member of the project team and ensure team collaboration, and optimized usage of Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools. I also direct project teams in planning, integrating, and executing the VDC process. 

What does VDC mean at McCarthy?

Virtual Design and Construction is how we integrate technology and models into our practice and business, and we use that technology to execute work. With this, we strive to increase: efficiency, effectiveness, quality, productivity, and clarity. 

Ultimately, we want to enhance and streamline our processes using VDC tools. This means we first get our processes and procedures correct, and then continually improve through the integration of tools and technologies. 

What differentiates McCarthy from the competition?

We are considered a leader in BIM technology — ranking among the top General Contractors in BIM project revenue according to Building Design + Construction magazine. We proactively use technology to enable greater collaboration, reduce costs, and save time across all of our top markets including healthcare, commercial, higher education, science and technology, and solar to name a few. We never use technology just for technology’s sake; we strive to implement the right solutions for project challenges.

Utilizing technology to showcase the final build of a dental office.

How does SketchUp support your construction workflow?

We utilize SketchUp in all phases of our construction process, in particular jobsite planning, building envelope coordination, interior mock-ups, and 3D printing.

Jobsite Planning. For our logistics phase, we are tasked with communicating where all of the items on a project site will be located and how it will affect the surrounding businesses and areas. Let’s take a hospital campus for example. Since operational buildings are located right next to the construction site, the client will need to know where fencing will be, how current patients and staff will access those operational buildings, the flow of construction traffic, and so much more.

To begin our logistics plan, we start with SketchUp and use Match Photo to start the model. Match Photo uses a high-resolution aerial photo taken from a drone or Nearmap that includes the construction site. This allows us to get from napkin sketches to a working plan quickly. To efficiently build up the models and plans in this early phase, we use our internal library of objects, and add textures to give the model an element of realism. This allows for a quick turnaround so we can keep the project moving forward.

Once the logistics plan is finalized, we utilize LayOut and Photoshop to pull an annotated and branded presentation together.

3D Printing: For high-level client engagements, we model and 3D print the entire site. Mounting these 3D prints onto boards allows the client to get a holistic view of the project and site strategy.  It also becomes extremely useful for clients to showcase the project to potential fundraisers and key stakeholders. 3D printing in SketchUp is very straightforward and it allows for quick conceptual model creation.

3D printing McCarthy Building Companies
3D printing in construction

3D printing the full construction project.

Exterior Mockups (building envelope). Exterior 3D virtual mockups in SketchUp help us to understand the specific details of a building or project. It allows us to collaborate easily with other stakeholders in the office, and on the jobsite. We use these models in pre-installation meetings to investigate potential constructability issues and avoid the cost of rework. These models also help us identify scope gaps and figure out the installation sequence. This workflow requires an upfront investment of time and effort, but it gives us a huge benefit during the construction phase. 

Once we create the virtual mockup, we use LayOut to create a ‘lessons learned manual’ and integrated work plans to help determine the installation sequence. This is heavily leveraged out in the field.

Building enclosure work plan and construction phases.

Interior Mockups. SketchUp is equally invaluable during our interior mockup phase. We begin this phase early in preconstruction because it allows us to gather feedback from clients in time to influence the final design before it’s done. Clients want a clear sense of what the interiors will look like, how they will function for occupants, and if the space will ultimately meet their needs. These nuances can’t always be successfully communicated through 2D drawings. SketchUp is a great collaboration platform for showcasing interiors using virtual reality. Using our SketchUp models in VR has allowed us to engage our clients during critical beginning design phases, and also saves us time on rework.

interior model of a hospital using SketchUp

Building out the interior model of a hospital using SketchUp.

interior SketchUp model a step further with VR

Taking the interior SketchUp model a step further with VR.

How does Trimble’s wider offerings form part of your workflow? 

In the preconstruction phase, we use Modelogix and WinEst (Trimble estimating tools) to mine data from project estimates and actual costs. With this, we can quickly create accurate early cost models, all while reducing risk and removing guesswork. We often use these tools alongside Assemble (a model-based estimating tool), to leverage the data contained in the 3D models created by our design partners. Overall, we are able to keep a pulse on the project costs through each design iteration.

Outside the Trimble ecosystem, we leverage other modeling software, project management solutions, laser scanning, drones, VR and AR headsets, and glasses. Each tool has a specific application and in combination, they bring great value to our projects and stakeholders. They allow our teams to make better, informed decisions and help us minimize construction errors.


Utilizing other Trimble estimating tools, Modelogix and WinEst.

Has the holistic use of Trimble solutions been beneficial? 

Using all of the Trimble products together allows us to collaborate and communicate with our clients a lot easier. We can answer questions like: “How big is this room?”, “How will we interact in this space?”, or “How much will it cost if we change this material?”. Using them all in conjunction helps streamline our workflow and enables us to make more informed decisions faster.

With the addition of new technology like AR and VR, we have even more of an opportunity to enhance our projects and communication with stakeholders.

Through the lens of AR, highlighting a construction project before the final build.

Walking through a hospital project using VR.

What are your favorite SketchUp extensions?

Some of my top extensions are:

Solar North - allows you to set and display the solar north angle that SketchUp uses to calculate the sun location, and therefore shadow directions.

Instant Road NUI - allows you to create roads, pathways, waterways, curbs, etc. for logistics plans.

SketchUp STL - optimizes your model for a 3D printer.

SolidInspector - ensures sure your model is a solid, which is critical for 3D printing.

Enscape - is a rendering engine we use to add some photorealism to our models.

Artisan - is an organic modeling tool that helps to manipulate terrains and meshes.

Zorro 2 - Slices through one or multiple objects.


Favorite SU command?

Follow-Me is my favorite SketchUp command because it speeds up my workflow.

To learn more about Shannon’s workflow, check out his 3D Basecamp presentation.

About McCarthy Building Companies

Established in 1864, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. has a long history of building facilities that drive greater value. From exceptional levels of quality and safety — to ease of maintenance over time, we are firmly committed to helping our clients and partners achieve the short, and long-term strategic goals of every project we do.


About the Author

When Cara's not writing copy or learning about customer workflows, you can find her on top of a 14,000 ft mountain, hitting up those Colorado ski slopes, or binging Netflix shows on her couch.

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