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By Erica Konieczny
May 12, 2016
Everything from the site plan, to punch lists and RFIs, to detailed call-outs are part of construction drawings—the life blood of the AEC industry. Drawings convey the physical reality of a design concept that construction teams then bring to life. In most cases, however, the vision constantly shifts as the project progresses, outdating the original plans on a daily basis.
Just as architects and engineers rely on their own record systems for managing construction drawings, so too must contractors. Whether it’s a small residential project or a large commercial project, as long as drawings change during construction, there must be a system to manage them. But not all systems are created equal. Oftentimes they can lead to further inefficiencies and mistakes if not managed properly.
Depending on your role in the project, you may not have any control over the decision to use paper-based plans or not. You do, however, have a choice in how you manage those paper drawings. Best practices begin with maintaining a single repository for the most recent plans as well as dedicating time to keeping the plans updated and properly circulated to key stakeholders. As construction drawings undergo constant mark ups and changes, it’s essential that project team members have immediate access to the most up-to-date version of project plans to eliminate working off of outdated drawings.
Even if the distribution of current drawings is managed well and the construction team maintains a redlined, RFI-posted copy of plans in their trailer, the drawings workers build off of in the field won’t reflect the most recent version hanging in the office trailer. This leads to expensive errors and delays as drawings must be altered and in some cases, redone all together. Version control continues to be a major pain-point within the construction industry, contributing to an estimated $15 billion spent annually on rework, according to the Construction Industry Institute. A large part of these rework costs are directly related to the multiple drawing sets issued throughout the course of a construction project. If you control the system of record for plans, it’s a mistake to continue using paper drawings. Besides needing the space to house paper drawings, redlining, reprinting, and redistributing paper-based drawings is expensive and almost impossible to manage in a timely manner—often leading to outdated material where changes have fallen through the cracks.
With paper-based drawings, an individual must physically receive supplemental information, make duplicates, collate, annotate, and disseminate it to everyone on the project team. This requires a large effort to keep drawings up to date in the trailer, as the only current set resides on the plan table with smaller, outdated, half-size sets in the hands of employees spread out across the job site, or even in remote offices.
Digital drawings save thousands of dollars in reduced printing costs from drawing revisions and hundreds of hours lost to manual distribution of new drawing sets to project team members. Initially, many people in the industry began converting paper drawings to PDFs. But, while PDFs are digital documents, they can be just as onerous to manage as paper if they’re not handled within a drawing management system. When the plan set is one large PDF file, there’s a lot of work required to implement changes. If a single sheet in the PDF file changes, someone is responsible for finding it, replacing it, saving it, uploading, and redistributing it—leaving a lot of room for error. So, while simply converting documents from paper to digital is a good first step that allows for more rapid distribution, a drawing management system will be the best solution to save you time and money.
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From a design, engineering, and viewer perspective, drawings managed through a cloud-based software solution are more digestible and role-specific. It’s not necessary to cram numerous notations on a single sheet to save on printing and distribution costs. RFIs and submittals become supplemental sheets, reducing the need to create entirely new ones. Collaboration is simpler and more timely because everyone on the team retrieves plans from the same repository and are immediately notified via email when changes are made. Digital plans are also more accessible as they can be retrieved from the cloud with any Internet-connected device.
Moving your drawings to a cloud-based management system eliminates many costly mistakes by keeping your entire team up to date with real time drawings. When you manage digital drawings in a cloud environment, project teams can not only review sheets, but also mark up drawings with annotations or text comments, approve changes, and distribute updated plan sets out to the entire project team in a matter of minutes. Cloud-based applications o er even greater potential for increased efficiency with the ability to manage projects anywhere, at any time, with any Internet-connected device including iPads, iPhones, Android devices, laptops, and desktop computers.
From an industry perspective, poor version control drastically increases the total cost of rework across the AEC sector. Part of the problem stems from the multiple drawing sets issued throughout a project’s lifetime. It begins with the bid set, followed by the construction set, which is then revised throughout construction. Changes that occur after construction begins are the greatest culprits for poor performance on construction projects, according to Aberdeen Group’s paper, “The Impact of Project Management Technology in the AEC Industry.”
The primary advantage of having effective version control is ensuring teams are working off of the most recent plans at all times to eliminate costly rework. With cloud-based platforms like Procore, construction drawings are organized into one master set and automatically named and numbered. Automatic version tracking prioritizes the most recent drawing set to ensure project teams never work o of outdated drawings. With this type of drawing management software, the entire change history for a drawing set is available, allowing users to see exactly what has changed across versions as well as documentation of who made those changes.
Best-in-class construction software also increases transparency and accountability by allowing project managers to track if anyone has failed to view the most recent set of plans. Regardless of the portion of a project, inaccurate documentation creates rework, safety issues, and contributes to litigation.As construction continues moving to manufacturing principles—where assemblies are built off site to be assembled on site—version control becomes even more critical. Changes at the factory often require changes at the site. Those changes might include changes to materials and parts, but oftentimes they also include changes to processes. There’s a key aspect to version control that, if missing, quickly negates any version control advantages.
Having a central repository for files, however, doesn’t guarantee that people will check this central hub of data. Version control used to require workers to check the plan table housed on site to find the most recent drawings. But now, with digital drawings and drawing management systems, teams receive automatic notifications via email when markups or annotations are made.
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