After spending 30 years in the private sector, architect David Barkin made the switch to the owner’s side, becoming the Chief Architect for the State of Connecticut’s Division of Construction Services (DCS). Now in charge of creating the procedures for how design consultants submit their drawings to the state for approval, Barkin found himself getting bogged down with reviewing the enormous amount of large- scale documents sent to him every day.
“With staff reductions at the state, a lot of the job was falling to me,” says Barkin. “I would start flipping through these very thick drawing sets and mark them up, then go to my computer to open up a text document and transcribe them line by line. It was incredibly tedious.”
While attending AIA in 2015, Barkin visited the Bluebeam booth and was inspired by the idea of taking his workflows digital with PDF. “When I saw how navigation could work within the PDF environment, it got me thinking about how we could do things way more effectively electronically,” he explains.
Going electronic with PDF meant no longer needing to print a lot of drawings or carry bulky files around. PDF has also helped ensure the document can’t be changed throughout the review process. Many times, consultants will send the state editable files, which isn’t the best option. As Barkin puts it, “We shouldn’t be getting an editable file when it’s final! They’re changeable, which means you might edit it by mistake. I’ve lost important data that way.”
Although a major improvement, taking the state’s review processes electronic with PDF has not been without some bumps along the way. “When you’re talking about drawing sets with hundreds of sheets, navigation is key. Being able to flip back and forth quickly is critical to success, and some documents really didn’t work well for that,” explains Barkin. For example, to utilize time-saving navigation features like batch hyperlinking, he needs to be able to define a set region on the plans with the information to link to, such as the drawing number. If that detail isn’t located on the same area of every page, it means having to do it all manually.
Barkin also has been seeing inconsistencies in the way each consultant’s PDFs are created—not only in how the documents are plotted, but with the kinds of fonts used as well. For example, while the DCS uses True Type fonts, many design consultants still use SHX, a font type associated only with CAD. Variables like these create a problem with consistency—something Barkin just doesn’t have the time for.
‘I’m looking to be more productive, and all of a sudden, there’s a lot to this. I knew that in order for our software to work effectively for us, we would need to create some standards for how the underlying structure of the document was created.’David Barkin, Chief Architect, Department of Administrative Services
Even though the Internal Organization for Standardization, or ISO, has standards for creating PDFs, such as PDF/A and PDF/E formats that help ensure archival and file creation consistency, Barkin feels many in the industry don’t really understand how they work, or are not aware of them.
Fortunately, he had the Construction PDF Coalition (CPC) to turn to for guidance. Founded in 2013 by professionals in AEC, the CPC is a grassroots effort seeking to improve the way designers, builders and end users collaborate and share information digitally. As part of this effort, the CPC has created easy-to-understand guidelines that offer a common framework that all parties can leverage for creating and maintaining industry PDF documents, such as design drawings, submittals and maintenance documents. These guidelines include recommendations for everything from sheet size and orientation to fonts and efficient hatch fills, all with the intent of maintaining document integrity and creating consistency across disciplines.
Using the CPC’s published guidelines as a starting point, Barkin began developing standards for how documents should be submitted to the state, so he can let consultants know exactly what he’s looking for. Now in its final stages, Barkin continues to shares this new Consultants Procedure Manual with others in AEC, treating it as open source to encourage adoption across the industry. “The more people that do this, the better off we are.”