New Technology in Plan Review
An Accurate Review White Paper, Summer 2017
By: Kevin Walsh, Architect
Digital Plan Reviews
As technology progresses, architects and other design professionals are striving to become more and more technologically savvy. The building industry is an ever-evolving world with the switch to computer aided drafting in the last couple of decades, and now we are merging into the building information modeling (BIM) era. These advancements in technology and the increasing number of design professionals trained to use that technology, means changes are coming. This white paper takes a brief look at the evolving technology in the design and construction world and how code compliancy reviews will need to change to accommodate the new methods.
Traditionally, when an architect or owner submits construction drawings for a building permit, they will plot a few sets of drawings, per the local authority’s requirements, and the plan reviewers would split up the drawings to complete their review. Or, if a third party reviewer is utilized, the plans are shipped, delivered or picked up to be reviewed. This is a relatively inefficient method considering the current technology available, and the building departments that have realized that are actively pushing more efficient means of permit submittal.
In an effort to complete plan reviews quicker and more efficiently, many building departments are using digital methods of plan submission. Digital submissions have multitudes of benefits such as instantaneous delivery, digital and/or cloud storage, no printing costs to the applicant, and ease of inspector coordination. Architects create a PDF of their drawings which are emailed to the building department. One step further would be to set up a submittal system through a FTP site or provide access to an online file transfer/management site such as Dropbox or Google Documents, which can handle larger files and improve organization of submittals. For example, Accurate Review has a plan submission portal on their website that allows the municipality submitting the drawings to upload the drawings to an established FTP site. Maintaining the paperless trend, building departments using digital means of plan review are equipping their inspectors with tablets to access the construction drawings on-site. It is understandable that digital submissions, either emailed of FTP upload, can be daunting to many building code officials, but with proper training, digital plans can have time, quality, and financial benefits.
We covered the use of digital plan review submissions for 2D drawings such as PDFs, and now the progressing construction industry is making huge strides in Building Information Models (BIM). More and more design professionals are using 3D software programs to generate BIMs, and there have already been cases in the United States where a project 3D digital model was submitted for official permit review. BIM allows the design professional to better coordinate all aspects of the project, thus minimizing unforeseen constructability conflicts. Generally, the 3D model is currently used to generate the standard construction plan sheets (views) and details one would expect to see for a project. However, as contractors become more educated and trained on BIM, the digital model will be used in the field in lieu of the construction drawings. What does this mean for plan reviewers? It means the reviewer will have more accurate information at the click of a mouse. Many construction drawings have some degree of missing/incorrect information and confusing/missing sheets (views). However with a 3D model of the building, the reviewer has a complete, unlimited, real-time view of the project in digital space, assuming the model was competently created. Travel distance, railing height, ADA clearance, fire wall parapet heights, and any other dimension needing to be checked can be easily obtained. So, as it is exciting for design professionals to utilize the power of BIM, it should be equally as exciting for building officials. There are currently software developers creating plug-ins for BIM that will automatically check basic code issues and dimensions, similar to using a ComCheck for energy code compliance. However plan reviewers will always need to perform a complete review of the model to verify the building is safe and compliant with the local codes.
In conclusion, drafting methods have progressed significantly over the past few decades and will continue to do so, and as a building official, it is crucial be educated and trained on the current trends in project deliverables to maintain review efficiency. Today it is digitally transmitted 2D drawings; in the not-so-distant future, BIM will be the standard deliverable.
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