Editor's Note: An update to this article can be read by clicking here.
By Ed Avis
A new group comprised of representatives from nine major general contractors is working to create a standardized PDF format, with the aim of accelerating the “paperless” jobsite. The group’s campaign is called “All PDFs Created Equal.”
The idea behind the standards is to create a PDF that facilitates easy sharing and communication of construction documents. Issues covered in the guidelines include file size, drawing size, vector content, layer density, and other aspects. The ultimate goal is to make it easier for GCs to use only digital documents.
“The reality is that the industry has been gravitating towards the paperless jobsite for a long time, and finally all of the pieces are aligning to make it a reality,” says Kyle Hughes, a senior project engineer at Skanska and co-chair of the campaign.
Campaign Has Weight
The concept of a paperless jobsite has been tossed about for many years, and no one doubts that the volume of paper printing is way down, due somewhat to an increasingly digital workflow for AEC documents. But because this particular effort is led by a coalition of major GCs – including Skanska, Balfour Beatty Construction, BNBuilders, DPR Construction, Hoffman Construction Company, McCarthy Building Companies, Mortenson Construction, Stiles Corporation, and Turner Construction Company – it seems to have more weight than previous such efforts.
The effort is also being backed by Bluebeam Software, a company that creates software for PDF creation, viewing, mark-up, publishing, and processing.
First Met in August
The nine GCs first met in Los Angeles on August 1 to begin drafting the ideal PDF guidelines. Hughes reports that revision 5 has since been completed.
“We’ve come to the point that we’re ready to move on to the next stage,” Hughes says. “We’re now engaging a designers coalition to vet our guidelines, and really elevate them beyond what we’ve done.”
Hughes says the designer coalition has met once already to discuss the draft. When they are finished reviewing the draft, the main group will integrate the designer coalition’s changes.
“We hope to finalize the draft by the end of this year, and then reach out to the industry at large for comments,” Hughes says.
Dissemination Will be Next Step
Once the wider GC community has weighed in, the group will present the guidelines to the AIA, municipalities, and other users and encourage them to adopt the guidelines.
“Our hope is to be finished by the middle of next year,” Hughes says.
Effect on Reprographics?
What effect would better PDFs have on the reprographics industry? That’s hard to tell. If superior PDFs make it easier to use tablets and laptops on the jobsite instead of paper documents, then presumably less paper would be required. And that clearly seems to be the goal of the “All PDFs Created Equal” campaign.
“Digital documents elevate the functionality of the documents,” Hughes says. “Paper documents are just static; with digital documents you can access the information behind them.”
But as IRgA President Kim Long notes, the AEC community has long used electronic files for collaboration and other purposes.
“Maybe what this will do is allow them to bypass the document management systems,” Long suggests. “But honestly, I can’t see why they can’t do that now. If they’re using Acrobat, they already have standardized PDFs.”
Many reprographics firms, including Reprodux, offer digital planroom services to clients and sell hardware, such as tablets, that facilitate digital document use.
Geoff Stoneham, the myplanroom project manager at Reprodux, notes that eliminating paper completely from a jobsite could present unforeseen risks.
“A GC doesn’t want to be handing a tablet to a trade pouring concrete, or the tablet might go in with the concrete!” Stoneham says. “And I’ve talked to GCs who say they don’t want guys walking around the jobsite with tablets, because they’re already falling into trenches while texting.”
IRgA will continue to follow this development and report on it as appropriate. Whether or not a completely paperless jobsite comes to pass, it behooves the reprographics industry to keep abreast of digital developments.
You may also choose to follow Kyle Hughes' writing about this topic on Skanska's blog.