It’s a typical construction site scene: guys in hard hats huddled around a makeshift table looking over stacks of blueprints.
Each subcontractor on the job has a set of those blueprints and the hundreds of pages of instructions and change orders that accompany them.
Now, Bryan Construction is changing the scene. In two major projects, the Colorado Springs construction firm has gone paperless. Instead of dozens of rolls of blueprints, crews are using 15 iPads that hold building plans, change orders, job specifications, photos and meeting minutes. Instead of flipping through big clunky blueprints on the job site, crews gather around a large touch-screen monitor to review changes and discuss the project.
It’s a new, green, electronic world and even the pipefitters, electricians and roofers have ditched the paper plans.
“It was harder for the guys who have been in the trades,” said Doug Woody, Bryan Construction project manager. “It’s a different way of thinking.”
In July, Bryan started a 155,220-square-foot manufacturing plant for Bal Seal, a California-based company with operations already in the Springs. The $45 million project, off Interquest Parkway and Federal Drive, is expected to be done by mid-January. Bryan Construction simultaneously is working on a project at the U.S. Olympic Training Center — also sans paper.
Both projects would have generated file cabinets full of paper, which would have been archived in a storage warehouse. Now, all those papers will be saved on a thumb drive, Woody said.
Already the firm has saved more than $8,000 on printing Bal Seal blueprints. The project engineer said he’s 25 percent more productive by not cutting, pasting and mailing changes.
“This eliminates mistakes,” Woody said. “One subcontractor is not working off out- dated drawings.”
The construction industry has been shifting toward digital for a decade, said Michael Gifford, president of the Associated General Contractors of Colorado trade organization.
Already, entire projects are designed using 3-D modeling, another digital tool that saves time because engineers can spot clashes and make changes before the first light fixture ever goes in.
And robots are used to mark the locations where crews should install pipes, outlets and fixtures — turning what would have been a three-day job into a four-hour job.
Large firms in Denver began scrapping printed blueprints and other paper instructions on job sites about five years ago, Gifford said. Now, more mid-size firms, like Bryan Construction, are moving toward digital delivery too, he said.
“Paperless workflow has advantages in terms of efficiency and communication,” Gifford said.
“There could be as many as 30 to 40 (subcontractors) on a site.”
Blueprints, which are 20 by 36 inches, for a job like the Bal Seal manufacturing plant can be an inch thick and likely would have been printed 100 times at a cost of about $80 per set. Further, each job comes with a set of instructions and there are inevitably changes — which represent hundreds of pages, also printed 100 times.
“You can see how the costs start adding up,” Woody said.
Using a software program called Bluebeam Revu, Bryan Construction now puts every document, every email and every change order in a PDF file, which can be linked to all corresponding documents.
“To be able to access things instantaneously is a time-saver,” Woody said.
The Paperless Project — a coalition of companies intent on working with electronic content — estimates that 15 percent of an organization’s revenues are spent creating, managing and distributing documents. And 85 percent of a business’ documents are in paper form.
Woody can see why some firms have been slower to go green. Going paperless is a time commitment, he said. Bryan Construction spent about a year developing its electronic file system.
“We don’t dictate that you have to be paperless, but we are saying that we will give you the electronic drawings and if you need to print them then you print them,” Woody said.
Project engineer John Snyder estimates he spent one day a week cutting and pasting architectural supplemental instructions, ensuring every subcontractor had the changes on their copy. On a job like Bal Seal, there could be about 200 architectural supplemental instructions by the project’s end and more than 40 subcontractors. Now, Snyder spends a couple of hours a week updating the changes, freeing him for other aspects of the job.
“I don’t have to mail out changes,” Snyder said. “It’s a one source site — they can all view it from the iPads or work computers.”
In years ahead, construction crews won’t remember the days of poring over paper blueprints or looking in filing cabinets for change orders. They’ll be working on adding time and costs in the electronic building designs and trying to figure out ways to save more time and more money.
But one ritual won’t be changing.
“We still have one set of printed drawings for the building inspectors,” Woody said.
Bryan Construction has installed two web cameras on the Bal Seal construction site. Check out the project’s progress, click on time-lapse movie: www.bryanconstruction.workzonecam.com