Larry Coughlin, account manager at the Longwood-based AXSA Imaging Solutions, remembers a time when construction plans were what many today would consider arty – more suitable for framing to set a vibe in the room than something actionable.
"Blue paper with white lines," he said in a recent interview. "Like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon."
Those retro-chic planning materials were also a bit hazardous, as they were made with ammonia.
David Kleine didn't come up in the '80s like Coughlin, but when he began his career in engineering in 1999, the small Orlando firm for which he worked still favored blueprints over bond due to the expense.
"I've never actually seen a facility that made blueprints," he said. "I just know that when they came back from printing they smelled nice and ripe!"
These days, in his role as CAD Manager for Winter Haven-based Chastain-Skillman, the plans are ripe with color, not odor.
Roughly six months ago, Kleine's company made a switch. Their aging, toner-based plotter was nearing its end, so they took a $40,000-plunge into the Technicolor waters of the HP PageWide XL 5000. There were oohs and aahs among the staff.
"We were running four sheets a minute before," said Kleine. "Now we're at 14 sheets a minute – with full color. To be able to see the speed and accuracy with which this thing is able to plot has been just incredible."
Just within the last year, several manufacturers, KIP and HP in particular, have begun producing more mainstream, higher-productivity, lower-cost per impression devices idea for the businesses that need it, said Bob Christensen, president of AXSA Imaging Solutions.
"They've really started to revolutionize what has been a primarily black-and-white industry for the last 20 or 30 years," he said. And in keeping with the "Field of Dreams" if-you-build-it-they-will-come principle of business, Christensen has noticed now that the technology is available, "customers and potential customers have a higher need for color all of a sudden – just over the last year."
Those customers – architectural, engineering and construction firms among them – have always wanted color, Christensen said. The problem was that it cost a fortune, and took forever.
"The speed of the color page was about a page a minute and the cost was sometimes as much as 15 or 20 cents per square foot," he explained. "Now HP makes a high-speed, high-quality product that will print a document at up to 30 pages per minute – thirty times faster – at a cost of under three cents per square foot."
Construction pros are among those who stand to benefit most from the technology's expeditiousness, Coughlin said.
"You're working on one building, but it may take a hundred pages to fully illustrate that building and then in the process you may need 10 or 20 sets of that hundred-page document, at which point speed becomes incredibly important."
Joshua Young, BIM manager at Coastal Mechanical, feels similarly.
"It prints at pretty much double the speed as my old printer, so it cuts down on time," he said. "That's No. 1."
Young's firm leases the equipment, noting that cost wasn't a factor. They were just looking for the best product for them – one of the nation's largest mechanical contractors.
"The color aspect has been pretty good for the field staff…," he said. "We've had some great reviews from them. With everything colored you can see layers a heck of a lot better when you're actually installing."
Indeed, says Christensen, color cuts down on mistakes. An architect may want to use color to better communicate his or her ideas or highlight areas deemed important, but the ability to layer has incredible effects in the field, as well.
"If you're a commercial electrician, a plumber, a heating and cooling expert, if you see your plans are in a specific color, you can zero in more easily on that, make your estimates more precise and feel comfortable you haven't missed anything," said Christensen.
"I don't want to say we're definitely going to have it paid down in two years because we've saved all this time, energy and effort," said Kleine, "but there is cost-savings because we're going to clarify those mistakes that could cost a fortune in the field because something wasn't made clear to someone else. Plus the cost of actually printing is less expensive than what we were paying for our laser-based machine."
Kleine considers this the future in his field.
"The industry is changing, but not everybody's on board yet. We're kind of leading on this – at least in Polk County," he said. "We expect that there's going to be some push-back simply because not everybody's ready for it yet."
He has some ideas at the ready, though.
"We're going to try and tackle that through possible sales of our services," he noted, chuckling at the conversion-capitalist business model. "So if you're a contractor and you've got a set of plans but you can't color-print them, hey – for X amount of money, we'll print them for you!"