March 3, 2024

Digital applications for the construction industry

3 min read

As I toured the construction site and trailer, I was struck by the amount of paper consumed by the process. In the trailer, entire tables and cabinets were dedicated to storing reels and pulleys of large format construction drawings. Each industry had its own separate set of drawings. People pored over piles of drawings during the conference. In the field, foremen spread out drawings on any available flat surface and consulted them frequently during construction.

The use of paper also extends beyond the on-site construction process. I spent a lot of time in Mountain View’s planning department when I obtained the licenses and permits I needed to set up store in my new office space. Architects and builders would come in with large rolls of blueprints under their armpits. License technicians behind the counter painstakingly stamped (flipped and stamped and stamped) hundreds of sheets of paper to show that the plans had been approved. Every inch of free space behind the counter was covered with piles of paper rolls.

A common pain point I hear from many GCs is that it is difficult to manage the entirety of this paper given that the plans are constantly changing. New rolls of drawings must be printed and distributed to each affected team. Smaller changes are disseminated via email and word-of-mouth. However, errors occur when staff perform work based on outdated information. One GC invented a creative solution to this problem: they use different colored folders for each week’s schedule. If they see staff using red folders, then it is clear that they are using outdated information.

Paper is ubiquitous because construction drawings are the lifeblood of a building project. These drawings capture the best work of architects and project engineers and illustrate exactly what the project is and how it will be built. Drawings must contain all the information needed for thousands of craft workers to do their jobs correctly and produce the desired results.

Paper is so important that construction business owners report that up to 70 percent of businesses would go out of business within three weeks if there was 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 to in the commercial construction industry use BIM software (such as Autodesk Revit) to design projects in CAD. autodesk’s BIM 360 is designed to consolidate all of the construction data into a single cloud store. startups such as PlanGrid (recently acquired by Autodesk) have developed software that makes construction drawings available in the field on mobile tablets. Trimble’s Mixed Reality team has even developed a solution that uses HoloLens AR goggles to overlay BIM information in the field.

In other industries, digitization has improved efficiencies, reduced costs, eliminated errors, and allowed new innovations to take root. However, construction remains one of the least digitized industries, after agriculture and hunting. To control rising construction costs, digitization is one of the pillars on which industry leaders are seeking to transform. We are excited to be shaping this future.

What do you think? How does your company currently use paper? How has the paper challenge impacted your business? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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