As a firm that engineers technology systems that directly impact our clients’ work lives, TEECOM is keenly aware that virtual collaboration is the future. Architects and engineers have been pursuing the dream of a paperless office with passion for a while now, but the industry’s processes around marking up building plans make this a challenge.
About five years ago, TEECOM’s technical staff decided to transition from paper reviews and redlines to electronic. Unfortunately, the software we were using at the time didn’t have adequate mark-up tools and was frustrating to use. We decided to adopt Bluebeam Revu, a tool made specifically for PDF editing, collaboration, and mark-ups. The ability to collaboratively mark up drawing sets has completely changed our design, review, and production process and has even made us modify the hardware we use at our desk. Our new electronic process is far more productive and collaborative than our old paper process.
How We Took Collaboration to the Cloud
Because TEECOM’s original paper review process was cumbersome and time consuming, we only plotted drawings for mark-up a few times during each phase. We used various pen colors (red for additions, green for delete, and blue for comments), and printed multiple sets, with an engineer for each discipline marking up their own set. It would take a week for the engineers to mark up the drawings and another week for our production staff to pick up the mark-ups in Revit.
The issue with this process is that the engineers would not hand off the mark-ups to production until they were done. You really needed to have the entire set in front of you so you could check to make sure everything was coordinated throughout, so you were constantly moving between drawings. Once the mark-ups were complete, the drawings were split up and handed out to the production staff. We would have telecom, security and audiovisual mark-up sets even though the drawings were created as a combined technology package.
We found that our engineers were marking up the same information in their sets, which caused our production staff to go to an issue in the drawings that had already been fixed. We also had difficulty tracking who created the mark-up and who picked it up in Revit. There was no audit trail to track this so it was difficult to go back and figure out why a mark-up was not picked up in the drawings. Archiving the marked up sheets was a challenge. We did implement a process of scanning in the hard copies but it was cumbersome.
Once we tested, purchased, and rolled out Bluebeam Revu to the technical staff, we basically used the same process outlined above but electronically. This allowed us to keep track of who was creating the mark-ups and who was picking them up in production, but we still had the issue that each engineer would create their own mark-up. The production staff still had to wait until the engineer completed their mark-ups and released the PDF file before they could pick up the mark-ups in Revit.
The other issue was that only one production person could open the PDF file and mark items as compete because the file was locked by the person who had it open. We did not have a huge adoption of this process because of these issues and it was still difficult to review a full-size drawing on the two 23” monitors that we were using at each desk. You had to zoom in to see the detail.
We were very excited when Bluebeam released Bluebeam Studio, which solved most of our issues and allowed us to completely change our processes. Bluebeam Studio operates similar to a Google Doc. Many users can work on the same document at the same time. Now we could print a set for mark-up and push it up to the cloud. This is called a Studio Session. All the engineers can now mark up the same document at the same time and all the production staff can see the mark-ups instantaneously. We still used the same color codes as discussed above. Now, instead of taking a minimum of two weeks to run through a mark-up and production cycle, we reduced the time it takes down to one week. The production staff can start working on mark-ups right away and engineers can see everyone’s mark-ups so there is no duplication.
Our production staff uses a filter in Bluebeam to see which mark-ups have already been completed and which ones have not. The software keeps track of who made the mark-up and who picked it up in production, which allowed us to archive the mark-up session. This new process enabled us to go through many more mark-up cycles per deliverable than was possible with the paper mark-up process. In fact, on some of our larger projects, there is always a Bluebeam Studio session open for engineers to mark up. We call these rolling studio sessions. We are able to do a better design with less rework because we are taking smaller steps to the final deliverable using this process.
Bluebeam also allows us to track the number of mark-ups left in the session, so as we move closer to the deadline we have the data to make a decision if we need to add resources to the production staff.
We revamped our engineering and QA/QC review procedures to incorporate this process into the workflow. We added a fourth color, purple, for engineer-to-engineer comments. We also use the alert function, which essentially creates an action item associated with a mark-up. Bluebeam emails a snapshot of the action item and a hyperlink to the person you alerted so they can simply click on the link in the email, which in turn opens Bluebeam and takes them to the correct drawing and view so they can address it quickly.
Once we all started using this process we realized that our dual 23” monitors were not going to cut it. We upgraded the entire technical staff to 43” 4K monitors, which allows us to review a full size drawing and see the detail without zooming in.
We are constantly looking at ways to leverage Bluebeam and this process to increase productivity and produce better designs. Currently, we are developing a method to extract the data from the Engineering Review and QA/QC mark-ups, which we will feed into a database that will allow us to track the common mistakes our engineers and production staff are making. We will then be able to intelligently focus our training in those areas.
Transitioning from physical to virtual collaboration requires careful attention to every step of the process. Our experience with Bluebeam Studio has taught us lessons about the relationship between virtual and physical environments that we will apply to client projects even as we continue to find efficiencies in delivering those projects.