Plan rooms, cloud computing, and BIM are playing a larger role in the architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) market than ever before. As they do, growing numbers of print service providers are availing themselves of the new technologies to create dynamic opportunities for profits and growth.
A plan room has traditionally been a repository to obtain documents, said K. Pramod Reddy, vice-president of BIM services for Walnut Creek, CA-based ARC, a document management company focused on the construction industry. In the wide-format market, the plan room has been the place where architects, engineers, and construction managers can go and determine which documents they want to have printed, he said.
But given the decline in printing on paper, for purposes of environmental sustainability and cost savings, plan rooms have evolved and are now workflow oriented. “They’re moving much more toward collaboration,” Reddy said. “Construction teams can see documents online in real time. Instead of the design team or architects designing in a vacuum, the designing can be far more collaborative. The construction team can weigh in on the design as it happens.”
The new systems are allowing architects to participate in the project not just in the design stage, but from design stage through the construction stage to facilities management and onward through the building’s entire lifecycle. In this way, architects can be part of the success of the economics of the building, and become stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of the building, Reddy said.
PSPs New Role: Educator
Wide-format imaging companies once played a more consultative role with their customer bases. But as technology went mainstream, the plan room became a commodity. The evolving market we are witnessing today allows print service providers to return to a far more profitable consultative role, Reddy said.
There exists what he calls “an ecosystem of team members with different levels of knowledge.” The architect may be knowledgeable about plan rooms, but that doesn’t mean the plumbing contractor is, he said.
So a project’s success often hangs on the level of sophistication or lack thereof of the partnership’s lowest common denominator. That means wide-format printers can become digital content managers, and more integral part of the team than ever before. “It’s up to them to make sure every member of the team gets the right information at the right place in the right format,” Reddy said.
The print service provider can also take on another role, that of educator.
The print provider may be able to give a subcontractor who doesn’t understand plan rooms training on the latest software technology. That technology may center on plan rooms. Or it may focus on BIM, a term referring to the digital representation of construction documents. BIM is a technology that allows the simulation of construction projects to determine viability and risk, Reddy said.
Many wide-format imaging companies have three- or four-decade relationships with architectural, engineering and construction clients. They are seen as the trusted partner in providing those clients with technology platforms.
Offering other services, among them BIM services, is another opportunity, Reddy said. “Not everyone can afford to have BIM expertise in house,” he said. “But a wide-format printing company can hire that person, and share that talent across a number of different clients. The plumbing contractor would not see the economic rationale in hiring BIM expertise himself, but he can access that BIM expertise through a member of the team, that being the wide-format printer.”
Another company leading the way in this evolution is eDevelopment, which consists of five established and successful reprographic firms boasting more than 280 years of combined industry experience. The companies created a corporation to develop software solutions for the architectural, engineering and construction industry. The web-based products eDevelopment has unveiled manage construction information and increase efficiency, cut printing and shipping costs, reduce contract administration costs and speed time frames.