Courtesy of Skanska; Bottom Courtesy CURT
Nick Pfenning, (center) Mortenson Construction is part of the push for PDF standards.

T he hodgepodge of plans, schematics and revisions in the portable document format (PDF) circulated within the construction industry is the focus of an initiative by general contractors called "All PDFs Created Equal."

A coalition of general contractors recently met in Los Angeles to establish a set of best practices for PDF creation and sharing with which all players in the AEC community can agree.

The meeting was hosted by Bluebeam Software Inc., a company that markets PDF management tools that let construction teams collaborate using PDFs. Kyle Hughes, a project engineer at Skanska USA and a founder of the coalition, says competing GCs rarely discuss best practices on any issue because "we are very protective of what we do." The GCs addressed the risks and problems of working with PDFs. While documents saved as PDFs are widely accessible through free viewers as well as sophisticated markup, review and management tools, there are many variables in how the documents can be created.

"We want to transfer information from design to construction without diluting it and with the ability to read it in a simplified way," said Hughes. "We want to use these documents as parts of contracts" and as a medium to prevent redundancy.

A simple, standard way to read and manipulate plans is essential because a contractor must compile and share information from every member of a project, said Terriann Nohilly, project engineer at Turner Construction, San Diego. No matter how simple a function, standards are needed.

"One could be as basic as an architect creating a base set of grid lines," said Chad Dorgan, vice president of sustainability and quality, McCarthy Building Co., Los Angeles. The draft guidelines must show that it is in everyone's interest to adhere to standard specs. "It can be done right—design it in the grid lines—or go out and fix it in the field," Nohilly said. Faller agreed, saying, "Going back and cutting concrete is not easy, and it's not cheap."

Besides the resistance to change in the industry, another concern is the potential for documents with an almost endless array of notes, corrections and changes generated by many users. "I don't want to be held liable for information I don't know is there," Dorgan said. To avoid this PDFs could have a limited number of openable layers, he said. The PDF meeting convened a day before the Bluebeam Extreme Users Conference, where Bluebeam Studio version 11.5 came out.