Before the age of personal computers, construction plans were hand-drawn by architects and engineers. When copies of these documents were required, they were reproduced by skilled draftsmen with a wide range of drawing tools. Computer aided design (CAD) was revolutionary in the construction industry, making the drawing process faster and much more accurate. However, printed construction drawings continue to be used in project sites.
Digital documentation has many advantages when used in construction sites. Since the documents are not present physically, they cannot be damaged by environmental factors like dust and humidity. Documents can also be shared by several users without touching the same surface, which is an advantage during the coronavirus outbreak and its aftermath.
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Digitalization can be implemented easily in new construction projects, since all documentation can be managed digitally from the start. However, some existing buildings only have printed drawings and specifications. There are also cases where no documents are available, and they must be created based on a facility inspection.
How Digital Documents Improve Efficiency
Printed construction drawings have several limitations. They can be damaged or lost, and copies may not be available immediately. Printed documents must also be touched by personnel, and this represents a vulnerability to infectious diseases. Also, if there is a charge order, the site personnel must wait for the updated document to be printed and delivered.
Digital documents accessed from handheld devices can solve the issues described above.
- Since they are stored in a company server or cloud database, they are protected from physical damage.
- The same document can be accessed from many devices simultaneously, allowing discussion and annotations without physical contact.
- Annotations can be reviewed quickly by architects and design engineers, making the flow of information more efficient.
- Change orders can also be managed more easily, by simply updating the document that is accessed by site personnel. This saves on paper and transportation costs.
Consider that physical documents also require storage space, and a construction firm can accumulate a large archive over time. For a collaborator not familiarized with older projects, finding a specific document can be difficult. On the other hand, digital documents can be found in seconds using the right keywords, regardless of how much the database grows over time. Reorganizing a physical archive consumes plenty of time, while a digital file system can be easily sorted by project, construction date, file size, etc.
Another advantage of digital documents is that sections can be easily copied to be reused in other projects. For example, this is useful when a piece of equipment and its installation details are used in multiple projects.
Using Digitalization in Existing Buildings
The benefits of digital documents also apply for additions and renovations in existing buildings. However, additional steps may be necessary in this case. Construction documents for the building may be outdated, only available in printed versions, damaged or inexistent. Technology is also useful when creating updated documentation in these cases.
When construction documents are only available in physical format, they can be scanned and updated with ease by a professional engineering firm. Large-format scanners are required for this application, since the resolution of conventional scanners is not enough. These documents are first scanned as high-resolution images, which are then converted to the respective formats used by design software.
When no documents are available -digital or printed- a facility can be mapped with 3D laser scanners. Document scanning and facility scanning both produce geometric figures, which must then be reviewed and specified by architects and engineers. However, the geometric drafting procedure can be avoided, saving plenty of man-hours.