A group of engineers bending over sheets of plot paper spread sporadically across the table and itching their heads (not literally, but figuratively) as they work through design challenges is perhaps the most typical images that comes to mind when one imagines engineering consultants at work.
But is the image still true?
For the most part, the answer is no. If there was any consulting engineer who had resisted the shift from the horizontal table to the vertical screen, the pandemic and the inevitable physical distance it created between project stakeholders is bound to have changed that. After all, there’s not much point marking up changes on a sheet of paper if it cannot be physically passed on to the next person for reviewing.
Even before the pandemic, companies like Arcadis, a leading design, engineering and consultancy solutions company with nearly 30,000 staff located around the world, had long realised the importance of a digitally collaborative environment like Bluebeam to review design documents and drawings in real-time. But as Peter Harris, Arcadis’ Digital Engineering Lead for Mobility notes, the team began to appreciate this even more in the aftermath of COVID.
As a consultant on major infrastructure projects globally and across Australia, including on roads, bridges, tunnels and railway projects, Harris says there could be up to a hundred people working on the same project document set at any given time and at different stages of the project’s progress.
“Across our global team, we have been using Bluebeam for nearly five years, but since COVID struck last year, we have found even more uses for it and we’ve come to better appreciate what the tool offers,” he tells Roads & Infrastructure.
The power of Bluebeam, according to Harris, lies in its ability to digitally pull everyone together into one cohesive conversation built around the design documents themselves.
“Bluebeam allows us to use what we call the old-school light table approach by bringing different components of the project together in an intuitive digital environment. Using the Bluebeam Studio session, different stakeholders can see drawing mark-ups in real time, which has proven to save us time in the process,” he says.
“Where Bluebeam’s features become even more useful is when we are engaging with external parties such as on joint venture projects. Using functions like Bluebeam Tool Chest allows us to standardise and customise our mark-up list, so that when a new person joins the conversation, they can easily get onboard with our review processes,” he adds.
More than a PDF editor
Since last year, Harris says more and more of Arcadis’ team members have embraced the useful features that Bluebeam offers. These include, apart from the Studio session and the Tool Chest functionality, the ability to easily create interactive PDFs and to track and navigate the mark-ups.
“One of the unsung heroes of the Bluebeam software is its ability for track and trace changes with a mark-up list. We are leveraging this function heavily and it has replaced our traditional mark-up approach, allowing better traceability,” says Harris.
“Also, using the hyperlinking function means we can create an interactive PDF where people can click on the hyperlinks and bounce up and down hundreds of pages of document with ease. Using this, we can also create a dashboard, similar to a contents page for our documents, where each section is easily accessible with a single click,” he adds.
An additional feature that the Arcadis team has used is embedding 3D content for complex reinforcement design, Harris says.
“We did this when designing a station cavern. We first modelled it in Bentley ProStructure and then created a 3D PDF using Bluebeam Revu. The team used this for internal review for reinforcement fitment to identify missing reinforcement. This is very difficult to visualised in 2D drawing outputs.”
More recently, Bluebeam has created a local Studio server in Australia, which as Harris observes, not only addresses and satisfies government data requirements, but has also increased the speed of Studio sessions.
“The combination of newer versions of Bluebeam Revu (we use Revu 20) and the local Studio server has increased the PDF rendering speed. Also, for us, it ticks more boxes from a data sovereignty point of view as we work on government-funded projects,” says Harris.
Better integration with external document management and data management software is another added feature where Harris observes improvements since he has been using Bluebeam.
“One thing we are currently pushing hard is for our users to be able to measure and quantify project data at different stages of the project. Being able to link Bluebeam to external data sources such as ProjectWise and Share Point allows contractors to view information about certain sections of their projects with a lot more ease.”
Local technical support
So how has Arcadis convinced all its team members, some less digitally savvy than others, to shift away from the traditional red pen and paper to a digital collaborative environment? The process has been gradual, Harris says, and supported by a strong technical backing from Bluebeam’s team in Australia.
“Bluebeam’s approach to how they support companies is different to a lot of other vendors,” says Harris. “The fact that there are local Bluebeam subject matter experts available to provide us with project assistance makes a huge difference.”
This year alone, the local Bluebeam technical support team has conducted 12 short training sessions specifically for the Arcadis staff and Harris says over 200 team members have actively partaken in each of the 30-minute sessions.
“The fact that we had minimal drop in the participation rates shows the value of these training courses. These are all very busy people, so they must be seeing real value in attending the virtual classes.”
Arcadis has also independently assessed the growth within the team by conducting a survey, Harris says.
“At the beginning of the year, we conducted a survey to help us gauge how the team was performing. There were many people who didn’t know how to use certain functionalities in Bluebeam Revu. We recently repeated the survey after only nine training sessions and already we could see that the repeated training was working, with the staff gaining more confidence on the tools.
“More importantly, through the support we have received from Bluebeam locally, we will now have 200 Arcadis staff internally who have been through the journey, and they can support their peers and so we can create a real community-based learning environment. The idea is to just repeat the learnings and to keep reaping the benefits of the digital space,” says Harris.
With the size and value of infrastructure projects increasing year after year, Arcadis is placing itself as a key player in the mobility sector. As such, Harris says improving project efficiencies is a major goal for the company.
“By driving higher efficiencies in our processes, we are looking to really leverage our global scale and our expertise and to pass that on to our clients. With the shortage of resources that the world is currently facing, we think a focus on more efficiency just makes common sense.”