by Melanie Loftus
November 30, 2011

Eliminate the paper trail and achieve cost savings with an electronic process.

Construction submittals play a critical role in commercial projects. When done correctly, they can tell you almost everything you need to know about a project and also expose inaccuracies or discrepancies in the spec.

Paul Stout, founder and director of education at Power Summit, an AGC partner and national provider of construction training programs, says the importance of submittals cannot be overstated. "Traditionally, the submittal process assures owners that their plans and specs are clearly understood by contractors building the project. It is the single best way for owners to ensure quality, functionality and compliance per the plans and specifications." At the same time, he admits, "The process itself has been tedious, time-consuming and redundant."

Last-minute submittals can create lots of problems—including requests for information (RFIs) and change orders—which cause project delays.

Some leading design firms, general contractors and subcontractors still use old systems to create and distribute submittals. They rely heavily on printers, copiers, rubber stamps and hand delivery. But these time- and paper-intensive methods are inefficient and wasteful.

Electronic systems that create and distribute submittals have many advantages, including time and cost savings. An electronic process also provides an opportunity to incorporate submittals into project management and design software.

Reduced Costs

The first and most immediate advantage of electronic submittals is the reduced cost in distributing submittals. Multiple parties need to receive submittals, including subcontractors, the general contractor, the architect, structural engineers, consultants and the owner.

Each spec subsection requiring a product data submittal has, on average, eight items. Each submittal item has two to three pages of product data and often installation details as well. This adds up to 17 to 25 pages per submittal, including the cover page. And project specs can require as many as eight copies of each submittal. With multiple copies, each spec section can generate up to 200 pages.

Submittals must also go through a review process, which involves a lot of back and forth between the architect and general contractor or subcontractor.

With multiple spec sections, copies and changes, thousands of pages have to be copied and delivered. Large commercial and infrastructure projects have full-time document managers with entire rooms devoted to storing these materials on the jobsite. The amount of paper for product submittals alone is staggering, even before considering shop drawings, LEED submittals and Operations and Maintenance (O&M) manuals.

In some cases, you might not have a choice in how submittals are distributed. The architect, owner or construction manager establishes the submittal requirements. If the requirements ask for a physical submittal with a rubber stamp, the end result is a room full of boxes containing all the project submittals.

The owner needs a record of the building products used in the building's construction, the equipment installed and all equipment warranties and maintenance information. But there is a better way to maintain these files.

Greater Efficiency

Leading construction companies have moved toward integrated project delivery (IPD) through the use of building information modeling (BIM). More contractors have adopted 3-D BIM software for its multitude of benefits, including clash detection, scheduling, cost estimating, material tracking and ordering. The model can also replace a room full of paper submittals.

BIM models link the design database with building material properties. Much of the information found in project submittals, such as manufacturer details and product data, can be attached to objects in the design model. For example, by providing submittals electronically, the approved mix design for concrete footings can be attached to the footing object in the model. The design model can hold all project information in a single electronic resource.

An as-built electronic resource adds enormous value to a project over the alternative paper system.

Software tools are available for creating electronic submittals, tracking approvals and incorporating these into project management and BIM technology.

We may see the demise of Bankers boxes and rubber stamps in construction. It is worth working toward a future in which construction data flows electronically from specification to submittals to project management and design.


Construction Business Owner, September 2011