MG McGrath Inc.
- Written by: Christine Fisher
- Produced by: Nick Randall
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
When Mike McGrath is on a plane, he’ll flip through the inflight magazine. Inevitably, once or twice a year he spots a project MG McGrath Inc. has worked on.
“Thankfully, a lot of the work we do ends up being iconic for various cities,” Mike says.
It’s not uncommon for MG McGrath projects, like the innovation and science building at Florida Polytechnic University, to appear, for instance, as the backdrop in commercials for brands like Dodge Ram.
Based in Maplewood, Minnesota, MG McGrath, an architectural sheet metal and structural glass contractor, has had a national impact. Since Mike’s father founded the company in 1985, it’s worked on projects like the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) in Berkeley, California; Under Armour’s flagship store in Chicago, Illinois; and storefronts at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida.
MG McGrath owes its success, in large part, to its significant investment in technology and a people-first mentality. Those have allowed the company to tackle complex projects, like one building that had 53 curved surfaces. Another had 84 pergola frames, 94 60-foot-louver arms and 94 hydraulic cylinders. Those are just two of the more than 12,000 projects MG McGrath has completed to-date.
Looking in the rearview mirror
Mike joined MG McGrath 22 years ago and spent the first half of his career traveling the country as a project manager and superintendent. Working with forward-thinking businesses like M.A. Mortenson Company, Mike realized, early-on, the power of virtual design and construction, or VDC, which uses computer models to detail, design and fabricate construction projects.
When Mike returned to work at MG McGrath’s Maplewood headquarters, he had a rally cry for the company: “We’re going to get in front of this,” he told them. “We’re going to commit to it. We’re going to go in head-first because if we don’t, there’s going to come a time when we’re forced to. We’re going to be trying to play catch up, and I would much rather be looking in the rearview mirror at everyone else.”
To get ahead, MG McGrath spent a lot of time and “made significant capital investments.” It purchased advanced hardware and software tools, added automation capabilities and built a tech-equipped, 15-person VDC team.
A hyperloop of improvements
Today the VDC team has created a type of feedback loop that means MG McGrath is constantly improving its processes.
First, the VDC team uses Catia software—the same software NASA and Boeing use—to create digital designs and mockups of each project. When the project is complete, the VDC team uses 3D point cloud scanning to scan the physical product. It compares the initial designs to the final, so on future projects, the first mockups are truer to what the team can fabricate.
“It’s easy to think you can build just about anything with a computer today,” Mike says. Projects are easier modeled than built, though, so it’s important to keep virtual designs grounded in reality by comparing them to the final product.
“The process that we’ve tried to put together has [VDC] folks so tightly integrated with the people in our shop and in our field, with the craft workers, because you have to prove that we can actually make something,” Mike says.
MG McGrath’s combination of VDC and automation allows the company to offer custom work at a more affordable price. Mike says. “What was $150, now you can do for $80, so it’s opened up a whole new realm of possibilities.”
Compressing 18 months into four
The company’s tech-heavy approach allows it to complete projects in record time.
In 2016, MG McGrath fabricated a complex metal sculpture, “The Horn,” in just three-and-a-half months. Designed by Alliance Architects to resemble the Vikings’ famous Gjallarhorn, it is a sweeping monument of intertwined, curved steel ribbons that stands 25 feet high, stretches 108 feet long and weighs 38 tons.
It stands at the main gate of U.S. Bank Stadium. That stadium, built for the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings, is MG McGrath’s largest project to-date.
When MG McGrath won the bid in March, “The Horn” was little more than a concept. The company had to model, engineer, build and fabricate it. Then MG McGrath disassembled it, transported it to the site and reconstructed it. The firm had to determine cladding and paint specifics and install both the ADA rails and LED lighting.
It took several 100-hour weeks by MG McGrath’s craft workers to complete the million-dollar project in the compressed timeline. What would have taken 12 to 18 months was done in just three-and-a-half.
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” Mike says.
Only as smart as its people
For Mike, what makes projects like “The Horn” worthwhile is the satisfaction MG McGrath employees get.
“For these men and women who work here, they get to show these [projects] to their families and their kids,” Mike says. “It’s really cool, and we’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of a lot of projects that are very iconic for whatever city they’re in.”
MG McGrath doesn’t shy away from complex projects. As Mike says, “every time you stretch, you grow a little bit,” so it’s empowering for the craft workers and other team members to try new things.
While MG McGrath embraces technology, Mike says, “Certainly we could do none of this without all the amazing people we have on our team. Computers are pretty dumb without someone smart running them.”
The company has been rated one of the best companies to work for in Minnesota year after year. While it’s earned its fair share of awards, including being ranked the sixth top specialty contractor in Engineering News-Record’s Top 600 of 2016 list, Mike says being rated a top employer is the best award the company could win.
“We truly believe more in our people than anything else,” he says. “We are committed to treating them right and training them well.”
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