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An architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firm market study was performed in Europe in 2009 by USP Marketing Consultancy called Awareness of Failure Cost Reduction by Color Printing. The firm surveyed 300 architectural, engineering, and construction firms about how color construction documentation might help reduce mistakes, delays, and rework. While the study presents some very positive opportunities for color construction prints, there is still a general lack of understanding about the real benefits of printing wide format documents in color.

In the report, the primary reason AEC firms use to explain why they do not print in color is that it is too expensive. Wide format color printing services in Europe typically charge 3 to 4 times the price they charge for black-and-white printing, so you can understand the resistance here in the USA where wide format color printing solutions can be 20 to 30 times the price of black-and-white.

The economic principles of supply and demand reveal that as wide format color printing prices drop to levels closer to those of black-and-white documents, the market prices will fluctuate accordingly. When any new large format printing technologies are introduced, two things have to happen for the novel printing solution to take root: First, consumers must be educated on the benefits; and second, they must be convinced the benefits are worth the price premium.

This happened when color TV was introduced. It took several years before color television prices came down to where consumers could justify the price premium over black-and-white television sets. The same scenario played out when construction printing processes upgraded from blueprints to Diazo prints, and then from Diazo prints to digital prints. In each of these cases, consumers were asked to spend more for the newer technology, which they inevitably did once they felt the benefits were worth the premium.

This all begs the question: "How much savings must be achieved before the price of color construction documents can be justified?" Studies tell us that costs due to mistakes, delays and rework are somewhere between 11.4% (in Europe as per USP Marketing Consultancy) and 30% (in the USA as per The Economist). This is consistent with the double-digit field contingency numbers many US general and specialty contractors add to their bids.

Historical figures show that construction documentation costs are typically around .25% (1/4 of a percent) of the cost of the project. Let's say wide format prints in color are four times more expensive, since new color printing technology supports this price point. This means that color documentation costs would now be 1% of the cost of the project. Therefore, a 1% savings in the cost of a construction project covers the entire color printing bill. This cost is relatively insignificant when compared with an error cost that lingers between 11.4% and 30%.

Now comes the tricky part: how to quantify that 1% savings. Architecture, engineering, and construction firms track many different project metrics, including:

  • Request for information (RFI) count
  • RFI cost
  • Change orders
  • Status against schedule
  • Square feet per month
  • Net cost averted
  • Field change and delay due to redesign

Architecture, engineering and construction firms that care about project efficiency track these cost metrics from project to project and seek out ways to continuously improve results. AEC firms spend staggering sums on the chance that a new product, service or technology might provide even a small percentage improvement. Even then, it is extremely difficult to quantify the benefits. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a great example of this return on investment challenge.

If your AEC firm tracks these kinds of metrics, you probably know what an RFI or change order costs your architecture, engineering, and construction business. You also know what a day of delay typically costs you. When you start to understand the impact color blueprints and plans can have on these metrics, you will see very quickly how wide format color printing can have a positive return on investment.

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