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Advice on going paperless?

Advice on going paperless?

Advice on going paperless?

I have been given the task of helping our department begin the process of going paperless (or nearly paperless) for engineering drawings. This is primarily driven by the fact that plotter/scanner rental, plotter supplies, and shipping drawings to our home office overseas is starting to get very expensive (we are spending close to $10,000/year for everything). We are planning on implementing a process where drawings will be generated by the CAD software, digitally approved and signed, and sent to the home office by secure file transfer. The problem we have is determining what to do for the following issues:

1. Currently we rent a plotter with large format scanner but we would like to get rid of it because support is lousy and its expensive to operate. Our plan was to purchase an inexpensive plotter for the rare occasions we will need to print a full size drawing. The issue is that we don't know what to do about a large format plotter.
2. Our Quality department currently uses paper drawings for inspection purposes and they are very reluctant to give this up, so I'm looking for ideas to help them do away with paper as much as possible without interfering with inspections.
3. Our younger engineers are content with doing drawing checks using 8.5"x11" or 11"x17" size paper, but the older engineers want everything printed full size (up to A0 in some case). Because of this, I'm looking for ideas to give the older engineers a paper-like experience for checking drawings without plotting everything in sight.

If anyone out there has ideas or tips for going paperless, I would be very happy to hear them.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

"3. Our younger engineers are content with doing drawing checks using 8.5"x11" or 11"x17" size paper, but the older engineers want everything printed full size (up to A0 in some case). Because of this, I'm looking for ideas to give the older engineers a paper-like experience for checking drawings without plotting everything in sight."

If you are producing A0/E size drawings I strongly recommend keeping the ability to at least print hard copy C size drawings. E size drawing scaled to C is normally legible. We actually increased our drawing font size from around .12" to .15" to facilitate legibility of drawings printed at smaller scale but E drawings on 11*17 are still a strain.

Also how anyone can seriously check all but the simplest drawing on 8.5*11 is beyond me. It's not just the scale of the drawing but if you need to add any written comments/corrections etc. then it's difficult to fit them in.

(Some might wonder what the younger, and presumably inexperienced, engineers are even doing checking drawings - if by checking you mean really detail drawing check.)

I have twin 26" monitors on my PC and still struggle to properly review drawings on the screen, if I'm seriously reviewing a drawing I print hard copy. However it has massively reduced the number of reference prints I run off as I can generally have any reference drawing or data sheet etc. on one screen at reasonable scale while working CAD on the other screen.

Our CAD system has a view & mark up utility for data review etc. but we don't make much use of it, maybe we should more.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Funny, I just started a thread in another forum because a fabricator is refusing to accept hard copies of shop drawings. A standard program used in the structural industry, although I don't use it, is Bluebeam which allows for markups to be placed directly on drawings. The program allows for use on a tablet.... although ios requires an $9.99 purchase. I don't know if this helps you or not, but I thought I would let you know anyway.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

We print to PDF and use Brava or Adobe Pro.

We use this to review and mark up shop drawings.

It saves a lot of paper since we (whole project team) typically got 6 copies of the shop drawings to make sure everybody got a chance to review.

If somebody wants to print, they can print them whatever size they want.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Two decades ago my then employer ( a medical electronics manufacturer) went paperless.

Our paper consumption went up by a factor of five, maybe ten.

After the transition, our paper supplier was restocking the pallet loads of paper at the printers at least twice a week.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Advice on going paperless?

I think paperless is fairly straightforward. Everything is produced in CAD and stored and distributed in PDF. If someone needs a hardcopy for any reason such as checking, you maintain a $2000 inkjet large format plotter and they make a personal copy. If you need a large print run, you send it out to a print shop. You send back your $100,000 laser plotter. You scan pencil sketches and hardcopy markups if you need to keep them. You can create digital stamps which are equivalent of a shop drawing stamp which goes into the PDF.

One of my clients use Egnyte for their file storage/management/ distribution, and I think are happy with it.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

I have a Canon IPF5100 that can do C-size from a roll. I set up a Half-D and Half-C paper size, so if I need D or E size I can tell Acrobat to tile the drawing to that size. The results are amazing. I use a glue stick to hold them together and I have one that I use in classes that I've folded up, unfolded and hung on walls in over a dozen classrooms over the last few years. That printer does really professional photo printing too (I have a 3 m X .5 m panorama on my office wall that gets a lot of comments). Like KNAT says, simply printing on C-size is pretty good most of the time. C-size and a glue stick for $2k (plus a buck for the glue stick) is a pretty powerful package.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

Law is the common force organized to act as an obstacle of injustice Frédéric Bastiat

RE: Advice on going paperless?

The only two things in this world that do not disappoint are the Grand Canyon and Bluebeam Revu.

First-- I'm not a salesman. I'm a building structural engineer and I've been using Bluebeam for six years. It's great for marking up shop drawings, making quick sketches and generally keeping the world from seeing my crummy handwriting. I try to do all my yellow marking in it. That way, I can save a soft copy for my records and tada! erase all my yellow highlighter marks in one click so its ready to go back to the contractor. No more copying redlines. Helps to have large (or duel monitors) of course, but that's a small price to pay.

If you're into Revit and other 3D modeling software, it's easy to make 3D PDFs...which you can then redline. Great to show coordination conflicts or discuss fussy steel connections with fabricators.

We are just starting to use their cloudbased Studio/Session features. So far, so good. Great for meetings and cross collaboration between offices. Great for site visits with an iPad. Simply take a photo and embed into a PDF of the job. No more "where was that again"'s.

I enjoy it so much-- I've purchased a copy for myself to use at home. Way cleaner than Adobe. Great program.

"We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us." -WSC

RE: Advice on going paperless?

MJB315: Agreed that Bluebeam is great. The only thing which makes it better is if you get a pen tablet so you can hand sketch into PDF.

When are they going to come out with 36" * 48" touch screens so we can markup an E size drawing?

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Generally I conform to comments above - draft in your drafting software, print to PDF, PDFs become your record drawings.

On #2 and #3, my suggestion may sound tongue in cheek but it's really not:

Big. Ass. Monitors.

For your QC guys, consider piping a projection TV up onto a white board. You could project at double the plot size easily, and they could mark it up with a marker, and snap a photo of their redlines with their camera phone. This is also useful for meetings.

Hydrology, Drainage Analysis, Flood Studies, and Complex Stormwater Litigation for Atlanta and the South East - http://www.campbellcivil.com

RE: Advice on going paperless?

beej67: I forgot to mention we have a digital whiteboard so we can project the drawing on the whiteboard, mark it up on the whiteboard and save it to a pdf file. The only problem here is that only the young guys like using the digital whiteboard.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

hygear: Sounds like you have the technology in place but not the politics. Switching from paper to digital is like messing with a chef's "mise en place". The question you really should be asking is "how do I get a bunch of old dudes to get jazzed about digital?". Any kind of change to long standing office procedures takes a big political push.

Also: I think that E size drawings (36*48") need to be retired. They are such a pain in the neck, especially digitally.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

At our office we try to do as much as possible in 11x17. It's much easier for field drawings, much easier for printing, and generally better unless we specifically need to fit a lot details onto one page.

Maine EIT, Civil/Structural.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Ancillary note: Get a copy of Agent Ransack for searching your local machine or server. He's mighty fast and can read inside pdf, doc, xls, etc...

Best to you,

Goober Dave

Haven't see the forum policies? Do so now: Forum Policies

RE: Advice on going paperless?


Have you considered getting a tabloid (11×17") printer? You can set up your title blocks for this size, and systematically use B sized drawings. Lots of fabrication shops have printers like this. I am considering getting one for me here at home!

If you plan to stick with A0/E , I second KENAT's point about fonts. D and E drawings are fairly readable in B size if the fonts are 4mm or .15".


RE: Advice on going paperless?

Multiple 1440p monitors or 4k monitors. I have been able to work fine tiling together 8.5x11's from my laser printer for when I need to look at paper, which is very rare. I have also designed full sets of plans from a netbook while flying, so maybe it depends on the individual how far they are willing to struggle getting something out. A younger person sometimes catches things that others don't, I know I did and that was from a computer screen not the full size prints for projects dealing with 100's of houses.

Digital whiteboard? I want one of those hovering behind me around jobsites.

B+W Engineering and Design
Los Angeles Civil Engineer and Structural Engineer

RE: Advice on going paperless?

I LOVE A3. The closest US equivalent is 11x17, but with A3 you can dual scale for A3 & A1 without having to do anything other than print to the different machine (plotter/printer) and grab the drawings.

I miss A3 a very great deal since my return to Canada. *pout*

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Resurrecting this thread slightly,

The vast majority of our content is digital already, but we have an impression that reading and reviewing drawings on a screen is harder for the reader than having a paper copy. I don't know about you, but I have reviewed my drawings on screen before printing them, printed them, and found all of my errors on the print copy. Something about the printed word I suspect.

If we go to big touch screens and digital reviewing software (like BlueBeam), will we still struggle with the fact that it's a screen view and not a printed word? Can anyone speak from experience?

RE: Advice on going paperless?

geesamand - I think if you made your drawings by hand on paper, scanned them then checked them on your screen, you would see a bunch of errors you did not see on paper.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Are you saying that just changing media changes perspective? I have found that to be the case. Even something as simple as a post in eng-tips.com if I hit the preview button I will find mistakes that I didn't see in the edit pane. If I then print out the post (which I've done a few times with long posts) I find other errors. Not sure what physical concepts are at work here, but it seems to work.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. —Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Advice on going paperless?

zdas: exactly right, just changing the your perspective a little bit gives you a "fresh set of eyes". Its the craziest thing. I would love to see something more scientific on this if it exists.

RE: Advice on going paperless?


"definitive conclusions cannot be drawn." My personal experience is that mistakes persist to a noticeably higher degree when reviewing on the screen rather than paper. I have also noticed this in other people. Our secretary brought up the point that we are digital immigrants instead of digital natives, but I suspect the problem will remain.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

jgailla: interesting study.

One comparison for me is flipping between drawings in paper vs PDF. If you have a general plan on sheet 5 and a details on sheet 105, 107, and 112, paper tends to be easier. If you have lots of hatching/detail, the graphics card has a little regeneration time, plus you have to zoom back into your spot on the drawings.

What do you guys think about reviewing 3D CAD models rather than PDF/paper? I have been getting more of that lately.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

One thing I got surprised by.
I went to a customers office to review a drawing I had done for him, I walked into his office to find that he had the drawing piped from his computer to a 60" HDTV flat screen TV. Whilst this was not a touch screen TV, you could very definitely see the things that you missed in 8.5X11 format and the definition was very good too. I am now considering getting a large screen TV for a extra monitor.

You are judged not by what you know, but by what you can do.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Yes, you guys are discussing the crux of my question.

When I was doing drawings regularly, I would self-check my drawings before making my first print. My goal was to catch all errors that I could on screen before handing a print over to my boss for checking. No matter what technique or effort I took to self-check on screen I would find the vast majority of my mistakes immediately after printing to paper. And the mistakes absolutely jumped out at me from the paper.

I personally suspect that it's the change in media that causes my brain to re-process it. Just like writing what you hear makes you remember it better. Maybe changing the CAD color scheme or font would have the same effect, I don't know. But if we don't crack this nut then going paperless on our job engineering could have significant design accuracy costs.


RE: Advice on going paperless?

As I said above, despite trying to do it methodically as I would on paper, I seem to miss a lot more on the screen. Although I have 26" monitors I still have to zoom in & out quite a bit on all but B size drawings and I think that's part of the issue of missing things.

As to checking 3D models as part of MBD I really don't know how people manage it. I'm not saying it can't be done but seems very difficult. In a drawing it's all laid out there for you, multi page drawings get a bit trickier but often not too bad on a well laid out drawing. However, with MBD having to dig in to different pre saved views and orientations etc. seems like a recipe for missing things.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Advice on going paperless?

I tend to only produce documents, but I find that if I have written something and then go to check it on screen that I have "author memory" and it seems my brain struggles to adapt in to checking mode and I have written complete tosh. I am reasonable at checking the formatting on screen. Luckily, we tend to have independent checkers and they pick up the errors.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Not quite on topic, but we had a problem with a piece of plant that never performed to full capacity. It took 3 years to discover that some internal parts had been wrongly assembled. The maufacturer had provided A3 drawings, and some details were so small that they had been misinterpreted. Our vice president asked us to work out how much this had cost us in lost production. When we reached $30 million and counting, He told us to stop- He didnt want to know.
Large format drawings have their place. There is real world outside the design/drawing office.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Longinthetooth you should have viewed it on a screen that way you could zoom in and read the small detail. Here endeth todays $30 million saving tip on the advantages of going paperless.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Ajack, I take your point, but working in inside a tower 120 ft in the air in confined spaces (in the middle of a Canadian winter) is not an ideal environment for a laptop. They tend not to like getting dropped and banged around. Paper is very forgiving. My story happened back in 2000. There are probably tougher laptops available now which could be used, if you can get the management to spring for them. I still think that, in that type of environment, large scale paper is better.


RE: Advice on going paperless?

It was very much meant as a tongue in cheek comment, but with modern technology it is hard to believe someone could not have opened the file on some device if the instructions were not clear, especially for something that was going to cost $30 million. As with most things there is no one size fits all solution.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Ajack, I agree with your last sentence. I guess that was my point.


RE: Advice on going paperless?

Paper is still the appropriate medium for the shop floor. You can transfer some documentation to tablets or the like, but paper drawings plus eraseable pens and highlighters are a killer technology. Sure the source files and filing are all going to be digital, but the printed copies are what the people building your design are going to use.

I agree that there's something magical about reviewing on paper. My brain just doesn't seem to take what I see on the screen quite as seriously.

We try to keep everything legible at 11x17. We rarely need to resort to D size, but when we do, we have an inkjet plotter.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

There is no excuse for engineers to not have their laptop or computer hooked up to 2 1920x1200 monitors to make PDF review easy.

For whatever reason, its hard to convince the IT guys to spend the extra $150 each for decently sized (and high resolution) monitors when they are most definitely worth it.

I bought a 24" monitor in 2008 for $300 with 1920x1200. Still working at home today.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

What kind of graphics cards do you all use?

RE: Advice on going paperless?

Quote (DRWeig)

Ancillary note: Get a copy of Agent Ransack for searching your local machine or server. He's mighty fast and can read inside pdf, doc, xls, etc...

Just to note, the new versions of Windows have a half-decent searching ability where you can use AND, OR etc as well. However, Microsoft stupidly doesn't enable the indexer service on server OS's automatically. But, once it's enabled you can use Windows Explorer to search file names and content inside documents. You can see a highlighted preview using the content view and preview the document with the preview window. You can get up to date search results from a server with a terabyte of data in seconds.

RE: Advice on going paperless?

I heartily agree with both glass99 & zdas04.

I can stare at the screen for hours and never see the faux pas that seems to jump off the paper as soon as I plot the drawing and look at it.

This may stem from starting in the construction industry as a drafter in 1969 (AutoCAD - WTF is that?), diving into CAD at AutoCAD v1.6, obtaining my first P.E. license in 1990, my BSCE in 1992 and now working about 90% on the screen.

Much of my career was in manual drafting and real, paper drawings.

I think there's something about the change in media that helps to spot errors, at least for me. I continue to recommend that anyone producing drawings plot the drawing and look at carefully the next day.

When it comes to reference drawings, paper is far better than PDFs. Flipping back & forth between plan & section/details is so much quicker with paper.

Structures Consulting
Northeast USA

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