Industry-changing technologies are disrupting all of our day-to-day, from the office to the field. This new era of digital tools enables SMEs to join the major leagues and compete with industry-leading contractors on bids. By facilitating communication and increasing the quality of pre-construction designs, smaller contractors are drastically reducing rework and delivery time. This gives them back the edge they needed to sit at the big table despite more limited resources. Let’s dig into how technology can get you closer to winning your next bid: digital layout.
Before going further, this article makes a lot more sense if your team uses BIM. If you are looking to take your first steps into BIM methodology, please look at one of our articles called BIM: Why It Matters So Much. It will help you understand the digital layout process.
Why is Digital Layout Important?
Digital layout is among the first steps that you can take to simplify communication between the office and your field operations. By taking the time to work on your layout using available tools such as AutoCAD, Revit, or any other that are BIM-related, you can significantly impact your productivity and reduce waste. More importantly, you will get closer to eliminating RFI’s and rework. It’s a way to minimize all the missing quotations or errors that could have been avoided from the design phase to the job site. Did you know that 55% of all construction rework is caused by inaccurate documentation? With a digital layout, you could slash that at least by half.
Be Sure to Use the Recent Revision
To start the process of digital layout, you must first make sure that you have the proper documentation. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of information, and that’s why segmentation is critical. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out,” if the information you put in is not correct, you can’t expect something better on the other end. It would be best if you had a contract drawing with information displayed the right way:
- The plan is up-to-scale with wall lines connected.
- All elements are labelled.
- Unnecessary data is removed.
- Of course, you always work with the most recent version.
Even if it seems obvious, when your field team is working with PDFs, these criteria might not be taken as seriously, creating clashes. To enable workers on-site, they need the correct information and access to it. The increased complexity of construction projects is widening the gap between BIM and non-BIM contractors, and proper documentation will tighten it by minimizing clashes on-site. “24% of rework claims are filed due to lack of details and inaccurate specs and logistics.” according to AutoDesk. In other words, it’s worth the time and effort.
Plan Field Layout Tools/Operations
Depending on your operations or your projects, you will need to find different tools that will allow your team to get the job done. Many tools can help, like assembled systems or SaaS solutions, but the question that needs to be kept in mind is: “Does it help workers make better and faster decisions and eliminate latency?” We are looking for tools to prepare plans from the office and easily access them on-site to work more efficiently. Preparations will have to be made according to the tools available. Here are some methodologies relative to the type of tool:
Tools for Field Layout Operation
If your field team is still using PDFs, odds are you are probably relying on human expertise and tape measure for your precision on-site. In this case, your team will mostly see value in less rework for digital layout. Using AutoCAD software, simplify the drawings by removing unnecessary information and adding specifications such as rough openings or door and window types. Any information that you believe would make the job easier on-site can be added there. Think about all those RFIs or the time spent on going through pages to find what you need. Use AutoCAD to write it directly on the plan. Once you are done, export your file back to PDF, and you can send it by email or print it.
When using total stations, you are looking for an increase in productivity and accuracy. Using point projections, you will be able to spot rapidly corner locations and link points drawn on the floor together using the chalk-line. To be able to project points on the field, the workflow is a bit different. Using tools like Trimble Field Link, import your data set, make sure your scale is correct, and start creating those endpoints on the file.
After creating your endpoints, spot important coordinates called Control Points to help you position the robotic total station on-site. Control points can be physically targeted on the field. Once all of them have been created and classified into different layers, you can export your file. Export in the file format that can be read by your total station (CSV. or DWG.) by layers. This means that you can take the time to filter different information to simplify positioning on site. A good practice is to export endpoints and control points separately. It makes the projection easier to use.
If you are using the FramR in your field operations, you are looking for optimized layout processes which require a little bit more pre-construction work. The fact that you are using laser projection that is up-to-scale means that you need a plan with the best quality possible. To do so, you must correct any mistakes in the drawings that could affect your team. When working on a BIM project, the Clash Coordination Meetings, where all the trades meet to see any coordination problem, is a great place to start. Then, using AutoCAD or Revit, make sure the information is correct. For example, most plans show the finish lines of the walls; in this case, you might want to consider putting in the wall composition to let the worker hide it if needed. Doing so will allow field workers to lay the tracks directly on the laser lines. Once this is done, you can export the file to DWG format, and the FramR will take care of the rest. Here are some tools that can help you with plan preparations:
Create & Export the right file
DXF, DWG, PDF, IFC, RVT, CAD… What do they mean, and which one should be used? Depending on your team’s tools and the type of information needed, the file format will change. For your digital layout process, the more accurate information you have, the better. For that reason, you might want to stick as much as you can to Revit (.RVT) files. Other files like .DWG can also get the job done, but more manual work will be needed before starting. In the end, the important thing is to make sure all the appropriate information required on the field is on the file.
Execute the Work
Once you have your files extracted, you are ready to start laying down your tracks and begin to witness the value of digital layout. If you are using a tape measure, pull out your PDF or printed plan. Total stations can start showing points on-site so you can link them with one another with a chalk line. For the FramR, project your entire plan and lay down your material on the laser lines. Of course, you might realize at this point that some information could be added or removed to simplify your work even more. Digital layout is a process of adaptation between the office and the field, and it’s ongoing.
There are many ways to perform quality control and quality assurance on-site, but whether it’s by investing in human resources or technology, it must be done. Considering you are looking for more reasons to use your positioning technology, this is an excellent use case. Once tracks, anchors or any other material have been positioned. Use your tools to reproject the information wanted and see for yourself if the job has been done correctly. Laser scanners are also a great tool to catch mistakes and rework sooner. Walk around the field with your scanner activated and compare the files once you are back at the office. Spot clashed, import them to your total station or layout projector and then correct them on the field.
The idea behind this article was to walk you through one of the ways to use the BIM methodology. It’s not about making 180 degrees changes in the organization but progressively look for new ways to enhance the work. The word BIM is thrown around a lot when talking about complicated tech, but in the end, it’s just a set of data that anyone can use. It’s stored information, and there’s an infinite number of ways to use it. It’s up to you and your team to find what is the best for your operations. If you are looking to start using BIM, layout drawing is a great place to start, and our team at Mechasys believes it is reachable for any contractor.
Are you feeling ready to try out layout drawing?
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Extra: Types of files
DWG files or also known as CAD files are your best friends. They are the most used in the industry but specially for viewing programs. Ods are, if someone is using the word ‘’layers’’, they are referring to this type of file. They are mostly used for 2D drawings but they can have 3D information too.
DXF files or ‘’Drawing Exchange Format’’ are very similar to DWG but a bit larger in size. This format was developed to facilitate communications between AutoCAD and other softwares. It is also commonly used and layer based.
IFC files are used in a read-only way, similar to PDF but they have the most BIM-related information available. Numerous programs can read them but the well established ones are Autodesk Revit and Navisworks.
RVT are Revit’s files, Autodesk’s proprietary format. The size of the format changes a lot depending on the level of details. They are mostly used by architects and engineers for designing phases. It is also very popular on BIM projects.
PDF’s are read-only documents, they are the most established especially for companies that use less BIM related technology. Usually they will be printed or viewed on-site with a PDF viewer app.