If clarifying a detail is as easy as reading a note on the construction plan sheet, why do contractors make so many requests for information?
Easy: Because plans are often visually comprised. Unclear symbols, fuzzy copies, errors of omission, and bad weather can confuse crews struggling to interpret conflicting or inadequate directions. Except for rain, virtually all these impediments can be prevented during the design plan development phase.
To minimize errors, consider developing a process that ensures plan sheets are easy to read, understand, copy, and archive.
Standardize plan sheet preferences. Unlike CAD-only programs, engineering software packages like Geopak and Eagle Point allow users to change preferences after settings have been applied for drawing features such as line weights, text sizes, text fonts, shading, and labeling.
Without a consistent “style template,” users can inadvertently introduce errors.
In addition, when developing a style sheet, remember that government clients often have their own guidelines that dictate the look and content of plans. Determine with the client project manager what CAD standards will be used.
When setting style preferences, remember that contractors will use copies of a copy. The original plotted, signed, and sealed construction plan is the only set in perfect physical condition. All others are copies of that document.
Blending of shaded and nonshaded areas, ink variances, modification of line weights, and scale changes are all possible with copies. Furthermore, end users can't control lighting, moisture, and other weather conditions.
Thus, the weight, size, and font type of text should be easy to read after plans are copied.
Printouts of computer drawings may differ because of variances in plotting, paper quality, and computer preferences. To find out what end users will see, copy a sheet from the original plans, copy the copy, and compare the quality—or lack thereof—of the three versions.
Only the engineer's signed and sealed final plans (or copies of these plans) should be referenced once a project is in construction. Working copies shouldn't be used as a reference because they're not the final plans, don't include updated design information, and are only a snapshot of the design at some point during the design phase.
Use abbreviations sparingly. Even if they're considered “industry standard,” abbreviations can be interpreted differently than intended. Define the meaning of abbreviations in a legend.
Members of different generations might interpret the same information differently. Also, the education of end users can vary from little or no formal education to a college degree or beyond. Both are compelling reasons to convey information in an industry-accepted manner.
Reconcile discrepancies between detail sheets and plan sheets. Often city or transportation department standard details are included or referenced in construction plans. Make an effort to ensure they don't conflict. Standard detail sheets and other plan sheets should complement each other, not make it difficult for contractors to bid on or build the project.
Appoint a “plan task manager.” Plan sheet preparation is a task within the design task. Therefore, just as some firms have an office CAD manager, plan task managers ensure that the style template is followed during plan preparation tasks. This team member doesn't provide engineering guidance, but ensures the firm uses effective, industry-accepted methods for conveying project information on construction plans.
Agree on dimensions early in the design phase. Client requirements for plan sheet size impact reproduction speed, shipping and delivery cost, and the physical appearance of plans. Plus, reproduction often must be outsourced. Remind clients that plan sheet size and number of copies, per submittal, impacts reimbursable costs.
Whether done in-house or outside, you can control copy quality by performing spot checks of the reproduced plan sheets.
Double-check your work. Someone with the design team, or who is knowledgeable about plans, should check each project plan for errors and omissions related to engineering design and CAD issues.
Government clients expect the engineer or design firm to perform quality checks of all submittals before submission. Although no set of construction plans is perfect, having another pair of eyes can help to avoid an embarrassing omission.
Misinterpretation of construction plans happens due to the quality of plan preparation and the physical reproduction of the plan sheets. Although the quality may be indirectly determined by the design fee, an industry standard appearance should still be maintained.
—Villarreal is an engineer and design project manager for Travis County Transportation and National Resources, Public Works, Texas.