The paper trail that has long defined the construction industry may finally lead to the Internet.
American Reprographics Co. wants to use its 140 locations in the United States and strong ties to the design and building trades to create a database to store the mountains of documents used in residential and commercial building projects.
The Walnut Creek, Calif., company began the first phase of building this database a year ago, when it installed servers in each of its 40 divisions. Beginning earlier this year, architects, engineers and builders could access, view and place print orders through American Reprographics PlanWell Web site.
Last month, American Reprographics said over the next year it will tie all its divisions and sites into a single database so that, for example, construction documents from places like California can be accessed from Minnesota or Massachusetts.
Reprographics has 110,000 customers accessing more than 3 million documents and blueprints in the 40 servers. "We process 12,000 work orders a day on these servers," said Suri Suriyakumar, American Reprographics president and chief operating officer.
Project engineer Jason Vance, of construction services company Snyder Langston, is the point person for numerous subcontractors. Vance deals with documents like soil reports, contracts, building plans, requests for information and architectural drawings.
The laborious process of getting the appropriate documents to the right people has been eased since Vance started using PlanWell.
"This is like a one-stop shop," said Vance, in Irvine, Calif. "Everything is done online, and its really convenient. I think the [construction industry] is well on its way to becoming computerized. This is [among] the first steps."
PlanWell is a major timesaver for architect Greg Simonoff and his company, MBH Architects, in Newport Beach, Calif. Simonoff plots architectural drawings on vellum and sends them to Orange County Blueprints, one of American Reprographics local outlets. Those drawings are scanned into the system and can be viewed at the PlanWell Web site.
MBH just started using PlanWell for a six-building, 98,425-square-foot shopping center project.
"With this, I can order any number of prints any time I want. It also helps in sending drawings from one place to another. You dont have to send huge sets all over the place," Simonoff said. "The most important thing we have to remember is to rescan the drawings when we make changes."
The PlanWell Web site offers another major convenience: When changes are made to the drawings, a bulletin or addendum alert is issued on the site so that everyone in the process gets quicker access to the changes.
American Reprographics customers like Tod Fontana dont see PlanWell as revolutionary but as a simple idea that someone finally decided to do. At any given time, Fontana, an assistant community development manager for Shea Homes, in San Diego, is dealing with 25 to 35 subcontractors. He hand- selects the documents each may need.
In addition to giving short-term access to documents on its Web site, PlanWell scans drawings and then gives customers a CD-ROM for archiving.
"Otherwise, we would be relying on storage containers, and wed be trying to dig out architectural drawings 10 or 20 years from now," Fontana said. "It seems to save a lot of time."