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QR codes in document management role

14 Mar 12 Those strange square bar code things are coming to a construction site near you.

 The Costain-Laing O’Rourke Joint Venture working on the major Bond Street Station Upgrade project in central London for London Underground is pioneering a solution to a longstanding construction industry problem – working off old versions of plans.

According to Costain, the potential of the new system is so great that software developers are now considering introducing it to new versions of their products.

Engineers working on sites have long been aware of the problem that can arise if managers make a decision that results in amendments to drawings.  Those amendments do not always find their way immediately to front-line staff, especially where there are already multiple revisions of that drawing. This can result in work being done according to an outdated construction drawing, resulting in site personnel having to re-do the work, increasing costs and delays to the programme.

Attempts to solve this problem in the past have usually involved cumbersome manual systems involving signing individual documents in and out.

Graduate engineer Tom Jamieson, working as a site engineer at Bond Street, has helped come up with a new system to eliminate this problem.

“I had a discussion with senior engineer Beth Willoughby about innovations on site and using technology on the front-line; one idea she had was using Quick Response (QR) codes to control the issuing of drawings,” he said.

QR codes are the square digital pattern of thousands of tiny black and white blocks that act as a more modern form of barcode and can be ‘read’ by any modern phone such as a BlackBerry or iPhone that has an inbuilt camera and internet capability.

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Mr Jamieson took the idea of using QR codes and set up a trial system last November that used a new code for each iteration of drawings. When each drawing is printed, a unique QR code is generated.  When scanned, the QR code directs the user to an external website.  This website is connected to the document management system.  When each drawing is scanned, a clear statement is sent back to the phone in either green or red. Green text confirms that it is the most up-to-date version of a drawing, while one with red print carries a statement warning that it has been superseded by a more recent version.

As further safeguard, the code on each drawing carries additional information including a version number, the date on which it was created and name of the person who uploaded it into the system.

Results of the trial were sufficiently promising that three sections of the Bond Street contract are due to start using the new plans. From April, piling subcontractors Bachy Soletanche will have all their drawings issued with QR codes.

“It definitely has potential,” said Mr Jamieson, “There seems to be a lot of talk about it in the industry, about getting it in as a standard tool. Currently, there’s nothing in place that stops people using an incorrect drawing on site; there’s a gap there that can be closed and the feedback I’ve had from senior engineers is that this technology can fill that gap.”

As a result of the favourable results from the Bond Street trial, Costain now plans to introduce QR coding on drawings for the £400m remodelling of London Bridge Station.

One lesson that Mr Willoughby learned was that it was quite difficult to put QR codes into the drawings at Bond Street simply because the drawing producers were not obliged to do so. Therefore at London Bridge the requirement has been put into the work scope for the designers at London Bridge so it’s an integral part of their job.

The benefits of using QR codes for this purpose has been realised further afield, according to Costain BIM manager Matt Blackwell. He says: “What we’ve been doing on Bond Street has been recognised by software providers as beneficial and innovative to the industry as a whole. They are seeking to implement it in future releases of their products.”

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