Ask any construction professional or architect if they have pain managing their contract drawings, and you are more than likely to hear an enthusiastically frustrated, “YES!”
Ah yes, the old 2D contract drawings, also called “plans” or “blueprints” or just “drawings.” They’re bulky, difficult to read, and hard to manage between the site and the office. But even with all of this newfangled 3D modeling and augmented reality technology, these blueprints continue to plague the construction industry!
Well, there is a reason they won’t go away. It’s because they are a part of the contract for every entity involved with the project. As construction professionals, we need a static version of a document, which clearly outlines our respective scopes of work. Consequently, new versions of these contract drawings come out frequently on most projects.
Unsurprisingly, we struggle to keep the scores of full-sized and half-sized sets of paper plans updated.
Picture a project engineer who has just received an addendum to the contract drawings, which replaces 50 of the 500 sheets in the set. Imagine him taking the three bolts out that bind the sheets together and then having to find where each sheet goes, leaf them in one by one, and then dog-ear and mark each outdated sheet as “VOID.”
Think about how long and monotonous a task this is, and, if you are the manager of this project, you are paying $50 per hour or more for the work.
What’s worse, this is not the only set of prints your team needs to update. Can you imagine how many other teams on this project have to do the exact same thing for each change that comes out?
This image is not only unpleasant; it is costly, frustrating, and very unproductive.
What you just pictured is the reality of contract documents. I should know, because that project engineer was me.
Pictured Above: My team at a topping out ceremony. I’m on the far right.
So why, with all of the digital drawing solutions available, are we still using paper at all?
The answer is that there are several use cases for viewing and manipulating (marking up) drawings. For example, tablets and smartphones are great for references while walking the jobsite, and typical PC displays are fine for many tasks involving the drawings. However, for some activities, such as takeoffs, group discussion, or even “learning the project,” construction professionals tend to prefer a full-size format, in which we can view larger portions or all of the drawing without excessive zooming and panning.
One tool we now have available are touch-enabled LCD panels, provided by companies such as BoxLight and iPlanTables , which have served as a digital solution for large-sized drawings for several years and are good at what they do. However, to put a 70-100lb, cart-mounted system in your office or cubicle may require some rearranging or it may not be possible at all, which is why many construction and architecture firms may purchase just one or two to place in a centralized location in the office, if they buy any at all.
Resistance to behavioral change is the reason most attributable to the AEC industry being slow to adopt new and better technology, so what may resonate better with folks like me is a paper-like experience, flat on your desk or plan table. However, using tried and true paper has its costs on today’s fast-paced and ever-changing construction projects.
So, the real question is, “How much are paper blueprints really costing you?”
Statistics show that cost of rework from poor document control can range anywhere from .12% to .72% of a construction budget. This equates to roughly $9B annually in the U.S. alone.
Below is a quick rundown of the costs associated with keeping up with paper contract drawings, as well as the savings that may be achieved with going digital:
- We’ll look at the cost savings for one architect or o construction professional.
- We’ll assume he/she is working on an average of ten projects per year.
- Assume the average project is 300 drawing sheets for one set, including all revisions.
- At $2.00 per sheet to print, that is $600/project x 10 projects/yr = $6,000/year on paper for drawings.
- Assume a burdened rate of $63/hr for the professional’s time.
- Assume the professional spends 2 hrs per addendum to update a paper set.
- Assume 3 addenda per project.
- That is 30 addenda updates x 2 hrs/update x $63/hr = $3,780/year updating paper drawings.
- We will assume mistakes and confusion due to outdated drawings will waste 4 hrs per project.
- That is 4 hrs/project x 10 projects/year x $63/hr = $2,520/year on time wasted due to confusion.
- We will disregard the cost of rework due to outdated drawings, as it may not directly apply to architects, however, this is statistically 0.42% of the construction budget on
- Total cost of paper drawings for one professional is $12,300/year
It’s obvious that we need to get away from using paper drawings and move into digital, but those digital solutions don’t always cut it for us. Tablets address the use case of walking the jobsite and quickly referencing parts of the drawings, but they are just too small, as are desktop displays, for those use cases such as quantity takeoffs, project review sessions, or just learning the project.
Those large touch screen LCD panels are great at addressing this use case, but they are heavy, sit on a rolling cart, are not very portable, and they take up a lot of space. Many individuals can’t use them for everyday tasks simply because they can’t fit them into their office or cubicle. There seems to be a gap in the technology for the everyday personal workspace use case with large format drawings.
One way to fill in the gap is through a new combination of existing technologies, bundled into a product called PaperLight, a projected interactive display, which is portable, lightweight, and sits flat on your existing desk or plan table without an office renovation. It’s basically a pico projector mounted on a stand that projects onto an interactive whiteboard surface, giving you an iPad-like experience, flat on your desk or plan table.
What can going digital with a large display save you compared to paper?
- Remember that $12,300 cost of paper per year from above?
- Assume a 5-year useful life of PaperLight, and a cost of $5,000 per unit.
- Assume straight line depreciation of $1,000 / year for PaperLight.
- Assume a cost of $20/month for a drawing management software = $240 / year for software.
- Using digital drawings viewed on a large display rather than paper will cost $11,060 LESS per year.
- That is a 90% savings annually.
Construction professionals like me aren’t the only ones to benefit from this technology. Architects are stating use cases involving the combination of PaperLight with their trusty old tracing paper, as well as for viewing and working with 3D BIM models, schedules, and anything else they or their clients would like to do on a big interactive screen.
PaperLight is launching a crowdfunding campaign soon in which those interested can get PaperLight at a discount as well as other fun perks for participating in the campaign. You can find more information here.
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