DETROIT — It’s not completely uncommon in these modern and advanced times to find Thomas Friedman the-world-is-flat-style disaggregated work that is sent to various locations all over the globe to be completed, re-assembled, and sold to a customer.
But you don’t expect to find it in the construction industry.
Detroit-based Greenlancer, however, is doing just that, starting with green energy projects. I spoke to co-founders Patrick McCabe and Michael Sharber on a recent trip to Michigan.
“We’re taking traditional engineering services and turned them into a product,” Sharber told me. “We have a virtual network of engineers, and so instead of hiring an engineering firm, our customers can simply fill out a web form.”
And, McCabe adds, Greenlancer accomplishes the task at about a third of the cost of a traditional engineering firm — in just a fifth of the time.
Not quite believing my ears, I asked for a rundown of the process.
A typical project for Greenlancer is a new solar plant for a building or a city … something like 200 kilowatts in size, with a price tag of perhaps $750,000 to $1,000,000. Hiring the company, and qualified, certified, and insured engineers will show up onsite to collect any needed site data. A CAD modeler will draw up architectural charts. A technical writer will create a technical report, and another engineer will run calculations for system load, tolerances, and so on. Yet another contractor will review and certify the entire report.
And none of them ever need meet.
“This is a revolution in the construction industry,” says Sharber. “We’re starting in green tech, but if we’re successful we’ll move to bigger markets as well.”
Greenlancer calls it an “assembly swarm.” The company website is, essentially, a factory, which breaks down each project into modules, each of which is responsible for creating a specific component of an engineering report. The software identifies all needed components, lays out a plan of action, and assigns tasks.
Then engineers come on to the site to bid on those tasks.
“We do it all,” says McCabe,” from feasibility and site assessments to concept designs — what components will be needed in which configuration — to a 25-year cash flow analysis, to the hard-core engineering with blueprints and regulatory compliance.”
It’s a remarkable model, perhaps not so much for the actual technology — which is impressive — as for the application to an industry which, Farber told me, hasn’t changed in decades.
Greenlancer has already completed 290 projects in 25 states, and has raised $160,000 in a private seed round after graduating from Detroit’s Bizdom accelerator. The company will be seeking an initial round of institutional funding in January.
Here’s Greenlancer’s introductory video: