It’s finally happening.
My name is Ian Hoppe. I’m the CEO and Cofounder of Con.doit. I thought I would use this first post on our blog to talk a little bit about who we are and what we’re trying to achieve with this product in the short and long term.
I’ll start with the genesis of the idea. For the last several years I have worked as a journalist and video producer for a regional news organization based in Birmingham, Alabama. Before that, however, I spent a decade working in and around the electrical industry. First, I spent several years of my late teens and early twenties working across the country as an electrician, mostly in commercial and industrial settings. I built a Publix in Madison, Alabama from the ground-up, spent quite a while overhauling drilling rigs in a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, worked offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, and everywhere in between. Eventually I got a job with an electrical engineering firm in Birmingham and worked there for several years as a designer and draftsman. Eventually, leading the way into three-dimensional design at the firm. One of my first projects in three dimensions was building the model for a coordination study of the Brookwood Hospital Women’s Center in Homewood, Alabama.
Because of my experience, I spent a lot of time doing surveys of conditions in the field for the engineers in the office on new and upcoming jobs. Usually when we got a new job, we would receive some semblance of electrical drawings or records of some kind. These were sometimes single-line diagrams or floor plans. Most of the time they had not been updated since the construction or design of the building. In many cases that meant these drawings were outdated and nearly useless. We needed to find out what was actually in the building we were going to be working on. So, we had to do field surveys.
Field surveys usually involved lots of pictures on my (at the time, primitive) smartphone and recording the details of the electrical system in a single line diagram on a large sheet of paper with a pen or pencil. Once I returned to the office I would take that drawing and put it into AutoCAD. I would also add the location of the panels to the architectural drawings and put all the pictures in a directory on the file server for the engineer’s perusal during design.
This process seems fairly straightforward and simple, and most of the time it was. Especially if the system was small or the records we had were mostly accurate, the process from data gathering to the beginnings of the design process may only take a few days. However, the larger the system was, the more opportunity for error arose. Mistakes could be costly. If I missed a part of the system or couldn’t read my own handwriting or wrote something down wrong I had to go back and get the accurate information. It’s of utmost importance to know what’s there.
Even more complex and important were field surveys for coordination, short circuit, and arc flash analyses. In these studies, the amount of detail required increases. Things like raceway type, conductor length, and breaker model numbers really matter in a way that a general field survey does not. Wrong or incomplete information can mean an inability to finish the analysis, or even worse, produce incorrect output of short circuit values which can lead to faulty coordination and posted PPE requirements.
One job in particular, on which I helped perform a coordination study and arc flash analysis, was a major hospital in the Birmingham area. Another designer and I spent nearly a month in the field collecting and verifying the details of this huge system which included two separate utility service entrances, three 1750KW generators, and nearly 300 panel boards. We removed the cover from most of the equipment and took pictures and infrared images as well. At the end of all of this we spent another three months back at the office putting all of the information into several different softwares. First there was an equipment schedule in Microsoft Excel, listing all of the pieces of equipment, their voltages and ratings and settings and details. Then we built a new single line diagram in AutoCAD and updated the floor plans we had to show where the equipment was located in the buildings. Finally, we built the single-line diagram again in SKM Powertools, which is a legacy software for circuit analysis, specifically for breaker coordination, short circuit studies, and arc flash analysis.
Copying information line-by-line from paper into software is a recipe for problems. Copying information line-by-line multiple times from paper to several different softwares is assured disaster. Copy errors abounded and sometimes we didn’t notice until late in the process. We went back to the hospital over and over again to verify information or gather information we’d missed the first time around. The software we were using, in particular the analysis software, was difficult and cumbersome to operate. The whole experience was laborious, costly, and frustrating. There had to be a better way.
Over the next several years I thought about the problem often, eventually coming up with some semblance of a solution. An application that would walk you through the collection of all of this information, with logic that could verify each part in the field and make sure you were collecting data that made sense, something that was watching your back when it came to collection. So, you’re efficient and practical at each moment in the process. Even better, I wanted the software to be able to handle processing the information in the cloud. No more trips back to the office to spend hours dumping and organizing data. I also wanted to be able to access the data from anywhere and have the ability to share the data with whoever I wanted. I wanted a central hub of information, a record of what was in each building.
The process of collecting this data meant that technicians would be required to disassemble some pieces of equipment in the field. This is a perfect opportunity to install IOT devices monitoring energy consumption and flow, humidity, and temperature. So when the technician has finished his survey, not only does he or she have a complete picture of the system, but they can run analysis on the system, monitor their system for possible maintenance issues, make decisions about energy consumption, and know momentarily when a critical piece of equipment goes down. Once we’ve spent some time gathering data from these IOT devices, we can use that data to train artificial intelligence on failure prediction, distribution practices, and other applications we haven’t even conceived of yet.
In late 2019 I was approached by Nate Schmidt, Birmingham-based entrepreneur and technology guru. I had written a piece on Nate’s technology company, Instagift, several years before and we stayed in touch. Nate told me that he had been slated to head up the Techstars program coming to Birmingham the next year and asked if I had any projects in mind. I told him about what would become Con.doit, what the problem was, and how I wanted to solve it. He told me to find a technical cofounder, someone who could actually build the software. I knew who I was going to ask before we even finished our conversation. Jim Crapia is a Birmingham-based software developer with years of experience across multiple industries including utility IoT, Automotive, Advertising/Marketing, Legal, Manufacturing (food and beverage, pulp and paper, and pharmaceutical), Natural Gas Commodity Trading, and Logistics. Currently focused in C# and ASP.NET/.NET Core/SQL Server environments as well as native mobile iOS/Android, providing marketing/advertising/IoT web-based and mobile solutions as well as back-end projects such as Data Warehousing/Business Intelligence.
Jim has spent time doing IOT development as a cloud services engineer for ADS Environmental working on Azure service bus ingestion systems and microservices delivery of 500 million readings a day. Before that he was the Director of Technology at Alloy as well as a Technical Team Leader at Intermark Group. He and I also got along famously and both have a love of good bourbon. What more could you ask for?
Jim spent a week or two mulling it over but eventually came onboard as my cofounder and the company’s CTO. We immediately set to work planning for the future and applying to the Techstars Energytech Accelerator. We called our company Arges Incorporated. Arges was the cyclopes who created the lightning bolt for Zeus for use in his war against the titans. The name ‘Arges’ translates to “Bright”.
To our great excitement we were one of ten companies that were accepted into the program, beginning on the 8th of September of 2020. We’ve spent the last several months quitting our jobs, registering our new company, planning for the future, and are on track for a beta release of Con.doit in mid September of 2020.
Thank you for your interest, and welcome to Con.doit.
We look forward to hearing from you,
Founder and CEO, Arges Incorporated