Towards paperless construction
As I toured construction jobsites and trailers, I was struck by the amount of paper consumed by the process. In the trailer, entire desks and cabinets were dedicated to storing rolls and sheaves of large-format construction drawings. Every trade had their own separate sets of drawings. People flipped through stacks of drawings during meetings. In the field, foremen spread out the drawings on any available flat surface and consulted them frequently during building.
The use of paper extends beyond the on-site construction process as well. As I was securing the necessary licenses and permits to set up shop in our new office space, I spent a lot of time in the City of Mountain View’s planning department. Architects and builders would come in, carrying enormous rolls of blueprints under their arms. The permit techs behind the counter laboriously stamped hundreds of sheets (flip-stamp-flip-stamp) to indicate that the plans had been approved. Every inch of free space behind the counter was covered in stacked rolls of paper.
A common pain point I heard from many GC’s is the difficulty of managing all of this paper, given that the plans are constantly in flux. New rolls of drawings must be printed and distributed to each of the affected teams. Smaller changes are disseminated via email and word-of-mouth communication. But errors happen when crews perform their work based on outdated information. One GC invented a creative solution to this problem: they used different colored file folders for each week’s plans. If they saw a crew using the red folder, it was instantly evident that they were using outdated information.
The reason that paper is everywhere is because construction drawings are the lifeblood of a construction project. The drawings capture the best work from architects and project engineers, spec’ing out exactly what the project will be and how it is to be built. The drawings must contain all the information needed, by thousands of craft workers, to do their job correctly and produce the desired result.
Paper is so important that Construction Business Owner reported that a whopping 70% of businesses would fail in three weeks if they had a catastrophic loss of paper due to fire or flood.
Fortunately the digitization of construction is already underway. The vast majority of builders I’ve spoken with in the commercial construction industry are designing projects in CAD using BIM software such as Autodesk Revit. Autodesk’s BIM 360 aims to consolidate all construction data in a single unified cloud store. Startups such as PlanGrid (recently acquired by Autodesk) have developed products that make construction drawings available in the field on mobile tablets. Trimble's Mixed Reality team has even developed a solution using HoloLens AR goggles to overlay BIM information live in the field.
In other industries, digitization has increased efficiency, decreased costs, eliminated mistakes, and enabled new innovations to take root. Yet construction is still one of the least-digitized industries, second only to agriculture and hunting. To rein in the rising costs of construction, digitization is one of the pillars that industry leaders look to for transformation. We’re excited to be shaping this future.
What do you think? How does your company use paper today, and how have paper challenges impacted your business? Tell us your story in the comments below.