Building Information Modeling managers and Virtual Construction managers are always seeking to improve project workflow and efficiency. However, their distant goal of eliminating paper construction documents altogether is preventing some project managers from considering solutions that can boost productivity today. Eradicating paper blueprints and plans, while a future possibility, is a long way from coming to fruition, but implementing color data in construction can reduce errors and shorten timelines of present projects.
Plans to convert to a "paperless office" have been in the works for many years now. Though the digital technology is in place, construction firms still cling to traditional methods of paper documentation. It seems that more digital documents mean more paper documents to send to the wide format printer. According to The Paperless Project, "70-80% of an organization's processes (are) still being managed on paper."
The Paperless Project organization is a "coalition of companies focused on transforming the way organizations work with paper and electronic content." Many printer manufacturers are members of this organization, OcÚ included. Though this may seem counterintuitive, wide format printing and environmental responsibility are not mutually exclusive. However, some companies, such as Bluebeam Software, Inc., would have consumers believe otherwise.
Bluebeam's philosophy is clear on their Website, a portion of which is titled "Paperless is Green." website. The company positions their Bluebeam PDF Revu product as a tool to eliminate unnecessary paper usage in the building process. Though the concept has potential, this tool only addresses a small area of the total need of construction project documentation.
The Paperless Project organization explains that paper is the single standard, common method of communication that is socially accepted on an international level. Paper is most often the only accepted form of legal document, and the paper plan set still represents the document of record for construction projects.
Based on similar precedents set within the construction industry, the norm of relying on paper construction plans and blueprints isn't likely to change soon. For example, though AutoCAD was developed almost thirty years ago, some senior architects still rely on hand drafting. And, even though AutoDesk developed Revit, Building Information Modeling software that improved upon the traditional CAD paradigm, installations of AutoCAD still outnumber those of Revit. The conclusion: though the technology has been developed, change still takes time.
A similar conclusion can be derived when examining the rate of change in the banking industry. After the advent of online banking, one would surmise that traditional checks would be a defunct money management tool. However, according to the 2010 Federal Reserve Payments Study, paper checks still account for nearly 25% of all non-cash payments. It's clear that the use of paper checks is indeed declining, but again, change takes time. The same is evident in the construction industry.
The construction industry has seen a decline in paper blueprints and plan sets in some phases of the project lifecycle. But, printed construction plans still remain the chief form of printed documentation both on and off-site. This trend is likely to continue for years to come.
Given that the construction industry still relies on wide format printing, there are a myriad of ways that architects and contractors can print documents using more environmentally friendly solutions. These include:
- Utilizing recycled paper, and recycling discarded plan sets
- Using plotting equipment that has a low carbon footprint: low energy use, recyclability, fewer ozone emissions, etc.
- Choosing print services that operate in an environmentally sustainable way
- Printing with longer-lasting media like Tyvek« and polypropylene
- Using fewer sheets of paper by communicating more data per sheet with color
- Reducing project waste by reducing errors and omissions with color
To learn more about environmental sustainability as it relates to large format printing, visit the Sustainability Page.
At some point, the construction industry may convert to paperless construction, but a paperless industry is far into the future. However, stakeholders in the construction industry have significant short term and medium term opportunities to capitalize on the benefits of color construction documents.
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