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OCR Technology Brings Dated Specs into the Future


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Construction teams are leveraging  built-in cameras on their smartphones to capture punch list items. Flying drones monitor remote job sites, and drawings are marked up  in the fields on tablets to create Real Time As-Builts. Let’s be honest, construction isn’t behind in technology, we are ahead of the curve. So there's no excuse for building off of outdated drawings or missing the deadline of an RFI. With today's sophisticated construction software, the entire job site lives and breathes within the confines of your mobile device! And the latest and greatest makeover award for 2016 goes to...the digital spec book.  

Why the change?

Not only has the sheer volume of architectural drawings increased over the past years to cover technological advancements and more intricate design patterns, so too has the amount of specifications grown to match the rise in drawings. Specifications are the notes accompanying the architectural drawings that outline, describe, and further expand upon the information covered in the Contract Documents. 

By separating the written notes from the blueprints, it reduces and even eliminates much of the textual clutter on the drawings. Neither the drawings nor the specifications are designed to take precedence during the construction phase, and these documents are intended to supplement each other, providing more context, details, and a greater clarity of design.

The need for speed...I mean specifications

Architectural drawings are complex works depicting a wide range of measurements, symbols, and notations. However, all of this is not enough to fully translate the information needed to construct a building. That's where specifications come into play. These sets of documents work in tandem to communicate the intentions and needs of the owners in a graphic and written format to those workers responsible for the building. Using detailed specifications, construction firms can also better ascertain an accurate perspective on the projected cost of a job, according to the Whole Building Design Guide.

As noted by the the American Institute of Architects, the data included in regular drawings will typically cover the quantitative side of the project, such as size, form, generic descriptions, the relationship between these, and the visual images of construction materials. Specifications, on the other hand, are the accompanying descriptions that define the qualitative aspects of materials, products, workmanship, and the administrative procedures needed to implement the drawings and specifications.

By creating a standardized and unified set of specifications that all construction firms in the U.S. and Canada can use, contractors can all stay on the same page and speak the same language when it comes to communicating what each detail on the architectural drawings means.

What's in a spec?

In order to ensure that all construction, architectural, and design firms were operating under a uniform code, The Construction Specifications Institute implemented the MasterFormat, which organizes all building specifications into a standard publication that every company can follow.

Originally, the CSI MasterFormat delineated 16 divisions of construction, and specifications were broken down to sections and titles within each division so as to organize the information, requirements and associated activities necessary for completing various aspects of the commercial, institutional, and industrial construction process. These divisions included general requirements, site construction, concrete, masonry, metals, wood and plastics, thermal and moisture protection, and more.

However, due to the increasingly complicated design of modern buildings, the CSI upgraded its MasterFormat in 2004 and expanded it to 50 divisions. The latest MasterFormat edition organized the divisions by subgrouping and created more nuanced divisions that could further regulate and standardize the construction process.

The architect typically creates the book and creates these divisions and subgroupings based on the particular trade it covers, such as electrical, plumbing, masonry, etc. This makes it easy for PMs and Supers to locate and distribute the correct information to specific subs. The architect also assigns a spec section number for easier referencing.

So what's this makeover?

Since specifications explain all of the minute data contained in the architectural drawings, these documents can be rather extensive, which can also make them expensive. Spec books can be hundreds or even thousands of pages long, and construction firms may have to print out several versions of specs for each relevant team member that needs them. In addition, incorporating change orders and other design alterations can necessitate having to print out even more copies. After a while, these printing costs add up!

With Procore’s cloud-based project management solution, workers can review specs from anywhere on the job site in order to make immediate, informed decisions, and eliminate the need to hike back and forth to the trailer.

Using Procore's newest Specification Tool, general contractors and project managers gain a significant improvement in spec book management as well as a major reduction in the overhead costs associated with printing, reviewing, and sharing the information in a spec book. Instead of fumbling through hundreds or thousands of pages trying to locate a particular spec, Procore's Optical Character Recognition (OCR) names and divides spec sections as the files are uploaded. This unique OCR technology means GCs and PMs can easily search for the division, section, or related key term and Procore will populate the results within seconds.

In addition, general contractors or site supervisors typically store the spec books in the trailer on the job site. When different team members need to look up something or review numbers, that person must stop what he or she is working on to go to the trailer and verify with the spec book. But with Procore’s cloud-based project management solution, workers can review specs from anywhere on the job site in order to make immediate, informed decisions, and eliminate the need to hike back and forth to the trailer.

Since Procore stores each project's spec book in a single cloud-based repository, it eliminates the need to print these documents over and over again. No matter how many change orders are implemented, managers can upload the most recent spec book––eliminating confusion over which version should be referenced. Managers can also track who has accessed the most recent set of drawings, so he or she knows whether workers are referencing the most up-to-date iteration.

Ultimately, by eradicating the costs for printing out voluminous and expensive spec books, streamlining the search function, and reducing the need to travel back and forth to the job site trailer, construction firms that leverage Procore's latest Specifications Tool will experience greater project performance and productivity.