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6 Next Level Strategies to Improve As-Builts

6 Next Level Strategies to Improve As-Builts

How to Create Superior As-Builts and Wow Clients

Most of us can barely remember what we had for breakfast on Tuesday, let alone what we did on a work project back in 2014. Carry that back a few more years or decades, and the details become even fuzzier.

Which is, of course, why so many older buildings today have totally mysterious innards. Sure, you can look at the original blueprints and plans, but we all know that the way a building was supposed to be constructed and the way it was actually built are likely two different things.

For proof of this, consider the fact that in 2017, demolition of a mall in downtown Burlington, Vermont was delayed six months. The relatively straightforward demo was halted due to an unexpected discovery: asbestos. This deadly crystalline mineral is no joke, and construction companies are right to treat it with extreme caution.

Unfortunately, “caution” often equates directly to “delay” in the construction industry. And the situation could have been even worse; had it been a medical facility, regulations and codes could have impeded the project further.

The good news is, there’s an answer. When project teams can reference the state of the building as it was actually constructed (not just as it was designed), they can make an effective plan much more easily–asbestos and all.

That’s where quality and accurate as-built drawings come into the picture. They not only make for safer, easier maintenance and renovations down the road, but they also make for improved project closeout and handoff in the here and now. If you want to provide the best possible product to your stakeholders, it’s time to improve as-builts. In our post, we’ll discuss why investing in better as-builts is worth your time and six superior strategies to help you get them to that next level.

Why Quality As-Builts Are Important

If we want to improve as-builts, we must first understand why they are essential. The thing is a project’s history matters in construction. Sadly, that importance is not always reflected in current industry practices, with an estimated 30% of project data lost during an average construction project.

As-builts also called red line drawings or record drawings, are the records of how a building’s final construction differs from the planned construction. They are a true showcase of existing conditions “as is.” This allows a compare and contrast between the end product and the blueprints, which is very helpful down the road when a construction or demo team wants to know what’s actually inside the walls of the said building. For general contractors, providing quality as-builts can translate to more business and profits in the long run.

More frequently, when done right, as-builts are used to enable owners to efficiently manage future changes, additions and renovations, an aspect that the original construction team could potentially be a part of. They can also be vital for operations and maintenance (O&M) staff. Without the right information, teams can’t address facility needs in a timely and cost-effective manner.

To understand how vital quality as-builts are for modern projects today, take a look at the underground subway system in Boston. Built in 1894, the system was “one of the very first electrified systems in the world.” Today, while other cities struggle to update historical transportation systems, Boston has been preserving the infrastructure due to the detailed documentation and as-builts created during the subway’s infancy.

While how as-builts were created in 1894 are (and should be) very different from today, the message is clear; we must provide detailed and accurate as-builts drawings, plain and simple.

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Where As-Builts Fall Short Today

If the goal is to improve as-builts, then we must pinpoint where they’re falling short today. Otherwise, it’s impossible to address the real problem where it lies. So what’s the issue? In the long run, it comes down to inadequate documentation. As we saw in the case of Burlington mall, missing information is a common reason why projects get delayed or halted.

Too many as-builts exhibit missing information and errors, at least partially due to a lack of commitment on the construction team’s part. Today’s as-builts:

  • Often lack the right kind of documentation
  • Fail to back up statements with photographic evidence or drawings
  • Don’t capture data at a deep enough level
  • Don’t effectively provide for later updates and additional documentation
  • Frequently are disorganized, making it nearly impossible to sort through the information

Again, a lot of this is due to missing motivation and commitment. To capture the needed and accurate information that quality as-builts rely on, teams must go into a project intending to do just that.

6 Solid Strategies to Improve As-Builts

So now that you understand why they’re important and where they frequently fall short today, it’s time to kick your as-builts game up a notch. Here are six next-level strategies to help you do just that.

1. Set As-Builts Up for Success Before Construction Begins

As we mentioned, a reason why teams fail to create detailed and accurate as-builts is that no system was set up for success in the first place. The worst thing teams can do is to try to create a complete set of as-builts drawings at the end of construction. Instead, before construction begins, there needs to be a place where data can be captured, stored, edited and distributed throughout the process. If there isn’t, then we can’t blame teams for failing to do so.

Luckily, there’s a solution: To improve as-builts and boost productivity, nothing can beat the cloud to store project plans and updates. With easy digital access to as-builts from anywhere, you can ensure all changes are captured and recorded. That means teams can add the necessary documentation out in the field, from phones and tablets, rather than waiting until they get back to the office and trying to remember all the crucial details or transcribe them from field notes.

With cloud access from the start of a project, snapping photos, jotting notes and uploading everything on the spot becomes a cinch and creates more accurate as-builts as a result.

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2. Make High-Quality As-Builts Part of the Project Culture

There’s no way to improve as-builts if management is not on board. That’s why it’s so important to create a culture behind data capture, which will ensure not only that you maintain as-builts as you go along but that they are of the highest possible quality. This is easier said than done, and it starts with educating teams on why as-builts matter, training them on how to create them and setting expectations that they will be completed to certain standards.

Teams should know why and how to input the data into the primary document system. There should be specific workflows and protocols set up by a project administrator also to standardize this.

3. Go Deep With Data

Quality of data matters in as-built drawings–and the more, the better. There are tools and technology to increase the capture of data to help O&M and future construction teams and to improve as-builts, you must make use of them. To create better as-built drawings, it helps to utilize technology that gets you a high level of project data from the start. Two of the best technologies today include:

  • Laser Scanning: This is a tool that’s particularly useful for site surveying, measuring measures millions of points within a 360-degree space. This survey tool makes it possible to quickly and accurately measure the distance between two points, saving loads of time in the planning and prepping stages. The data can be used throughout the construction process to collect data for as-built drawings.
  • Building Information Modeling: BIM data–captured from both design and construction–is essential to include in the as-built, which are called “as-built models” in BIM. High-quality information can be used, as well as updated, for teams to visualize components and products in a facility when they have to make repairs or conduct maintenance.

Both of the above tools are huge time-savers in the long run, and it’s critical teams take them and other tools to go deep with data capture seriously to improve the quality of as-builts.

4. Include Photos

A picture is worth a thousand words, and if we kept that in mind, we could increase the detail and effectiveness of as-builts immediately.

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While construction relies heavily on drawings, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, they can’t always capture everything that a photo can. To paint an accurate picture of what a project’s existing facilities contain, there’s nothing better than construction photos.

Even better: When photos contain GPS data, they also provide an additional and extremely valuable level of detail to as-built drawings. Facilities teams can use this data to see exactly where the location of a photo is to a drawing–especially important when teams are looking at complicated systems behind walls, or in otherwise hard-to-get locations.

5. Create “Living” As-Builts

If we want to improve as-builts, we need to wrap our heads around the fact that, much like a living organism, a building changes from day to day. Renovations and changes are made all the time. Even small adjustments matter to a building’s future makeup.

Therefore, a project’s as-built drawings shouldn’t remain static; there needs to be an avenue to update and adapt them from the start. That requires that as-builts:

  1. Be available to anyone who needs them, from future construction teams to O&M staff
  2. Be accessible from anywhere, which means they need to be in the cloud
  3. Permit stakeholders to update and provide future documentation

With these factors in mind, it’s possible to preserve the quality and integrity of the building over its lifespan through as-builts.

6. Keep in Mind that Presentation Matters

Appearances matter. We instinctively know this, which is why we wear nice clothing to interviews and put sprigs of parsley on platters of fish. Yet too few construction teams bring this innate human emphasis on presentation to as-builts, and that has to change.

For contractors, exporting a disorganized turnover package with as-built drawings not ordered reflects poorly on them. To be useful, as-builts should be organized and searchable, across time, trade and file formats. This can be achieved with the right construction software platform.

Construction software, such as PlanGrid, can help teams assemble and export organized as-builts that owners and facility teams can easily access and utilize. Not only does this simplify O&M efforts later and add value to a project, but it can also help contractors themselves do better business if they’re hired for a renovation or addition project down the road.

A Team Approach to Improve As-Builts Today

The details of a project matter–even long after a facility is complete. But improving as-built drawings isn’t the responsibility of one stakeholder–it’s truly a team effort. By setting up a system and providing the right tools that empower teams to improve these essential construction documents, projects are better insured for the future and the more professional, diligent and authoritative the impression you give to clients and stakeholders.

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.

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