MKM Associates Shortens the Design Review Process with Autodesk DWF Composer

March 24, 2005
Like any busy structural engineering firm, MKM & Associates works on numerous projects simultaneously, typically more than 50 at any given time. For the firm's five principals, 17 engineers, and nine structural technicians, this heavy workload has necessarily involved enormous amounts of paper. "Our design review process had always been completely paper-based," recounts Mark Douglas, one of MKM's structural technicians. "So when we heard that Autodesk Design Web Format (DWF) and Autodesk DWF Composer could digitize design review, we decided to take a closer look." Stacks of Paper Slow Workflow
Based in the heart of the wine country in the city of Santa Rosa, California, MKM handles the full range of structural engineering projects, including residential, commercial, and public works. On a typical project, initial design drafts are created by the principal engineer, printed out in full-size sheet sets, and handed off to a staff engineer for review and markup. This working set is then passed to a structural technician who revises it in an AutoCAD® software program based on the engineer's redlines. Once complete, a fresh set is then printed out for another round of reviews, this time by both the engineer and the client. The number of review cycles depends on the size and scope of job, but three to five cycles is the average. This means that on nearly every job, MKM has to print out full-size sheet sets and deliver them to job sites or client offices a minimum of three times.
What Douglas and his colleagues found so interesting about Autodesk® DWF™ Composer was that it had the potential to replace paper-based design review with a purely digital process. A powerful, easy-to-use file-viewing and redlining application, DWF Composer facilitates team communication by enabling anyone to view and print DWF and DWG files and send round-trip markups directly back into AutoCAD® 2005. "Like any company, we regard saving time and money as primary goals," said Douglas. "In DWF Composer, we saw a solution that could help us conserve paper and cut time waiting for prints."Removing the Messenger Middleman
MKM implemented DWF Composer at its Santa Rosa headquarters early in 2005, and began realizing benefits almost immediately. "First of all, with DWF Composer the design review process is significantly faster," said Douglas. "We're saving time and money." While the majority of its jobs are based in Northern California, MKM frequently works on projects as far away as Hawaii. Printing and distributing print sets has long been a significant overhead cost for the firm, as well as a time drag on the overall design process.
"For an average house design, we'd have to print out four sets of copies for the building department for permits, along with the usual two extra sets for the contractor and owner," explained Douglas. "A print run like that alone will run about $70, plus $20 to $30 each time we need to FedEx a set. Using DWF files rather than printing means that we can now email sheet sets in many cases rather than messenger them. So not only were we saving $100 or more on every job, we also eliminated the 2- to 3-day lag time necessary with paper-based review."Field Reports: Faster and In Context
Perhaps the most significant benefit for Douglas and his colleagues results from the change in the way they process field reports. Previously, MKM's structural engineers would drive out to the job site, observe the project, and then type up their notes and comments in Microsoft Word. "Writing down 30 comments could take us four hours or more," continued Douglas. "But with DWF Composer, you can put your comments within the context of the design, which makes things so much easier for both the engineer and the contractor. In fact, we can do the same amount of work in half an hour or 45 minutes. And, you can get the design right back out into the field after you get back to the office. You save so much time."
Moreover, MKM has realized benefits from DWF and DWF Composer in its print processes as well. As Douglas explains, "Printing PDFs had always been a troublesome chore. We had been using PDFs to send our design files to our print house. But because PDFs are so big, we couldn't use email—we had to FTP everything. DWF files are so much more compact that now we can simply email them, which is a lot quicker and easier."Electronic Stick Sets
DWF Composer has also allowed MKM to easily access plan rack information electronically. By publishing multi-sheet DWF files of projects during their creation process, engineers can review work and place comments fields within the electronic plan rack set. Then they can add comments as necessary for clarification, required revision, or field notes during construction. Incremental changes can be kept as separate DWF files to provide a record of changes, which facilitates better tracking and billing. And by having electronic plan sets readily available for review by anyone in the office, MKM engineers no longer have to track down cumbersome, dog-eared plan rack stick sets that someone may have inadvertently left at his desk or lost in the field.
Of course, implementing a digital design review process necessarily entails bringing all stakeholders in the process onto the same file standard and application. That process has already begun as several MKM clients have noticed the cost benefits and time-saving aspects of DWF and have gotten on board by using and sharing DWF files to expedite the review process and coordination of information. © 2005 Autodesk Inc. All rights reserved. Autodesk, AutoCAD, Design Web Format, and DWF are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Autodesk Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. All other brand names, product names, or trademarks belong to their respective holders.

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