Wide-Format Printers/Plotters

Building a More Sustainable Print Paradigm

5 May, 2010 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

With help from Océ, HGA Architects and Engineers is reconciling its demand for large-format printing with its commitment to environmental stewardship.

In recent decades, technology's march has yielded new ways of visualizing and communicating designs: e-mail, PDF files, expansive monitors, touch-sensitive display surfaces. Despite the proliferation of electronic options, however, print remains an integral part of the building process, from conceptualization through construction. "There's just a time when you need a piece of paper," said Patrick Thibaudeau, vice-president of HGA Architects and Engineers. "Print facilitates a different kind of communication."

HGA, a full-service firm that incorporates architecture, engineering, interior design, and landscape architecture, has a constant need for communication — with clients, contractors, and among its half-dozen offices. It does so by employing a combination of electronic and print methods, Thibaudeau said. "We use each of those for their maximum benefit ... they both have their place."

Printed documents encourage interaction and collaboration, Thibaudeau explained, especially when large groups of project participants need to evaluate and mark up a design. Viewers can also scan printed designs quickly and take in more information than they can through a monitor's "narrow viewport," he said. "Somehow that helps people's understanding, helps them conceive of the entirety of [the design]." This attribute is especially useful at the beginning and end of the design process, Thibaudeau noted, when working with clients who are new to visualizing designs or with submittals for construction. In addition, he explained, print retains its relevance for a more prosaic reason: "The legal contract is still the hard-copy printout [of the building design] that's got a wet signature on it."

Alongside its dependence on printing, HGA has a deep commitment to sustainability — a business need and an ethic that seemingly conflict with each other. To help reconcile the two, a growing HGA partnered with printing solutions provider Océ to implement new monochrome and color printing and scanning equipment and workflows.

Technological Evolution

Although the usefulness of printouts has not changed — HGA relies on them for everything from concept presentations to graphic mock-ups to mark-ups —  the technology that produces them has evolved. "The cost of printing in color has improved, and the systems to do so are more accessible," Thibaudeau noted. High-production, small-format machines are even able to take high-quality color production from the office to the job site.

The decrease in cost has also spurred an increase in prevalence. "There used to be more centralization of printing; now more people can print," Thibaudeau continued. With that capability widespread throughout its partners and stakeholders, HGA can transmit more files electronically. "We're just changing who's doing the printing, in many cases," said Thibaudeau. That change brings its own benefits, however: faster transit and decreased reliance on vehicles to transfer materials.

Printing technology has also become more energy-efficient and safer. Thibaudeau explained that the Océ machines that HGA now uses are Energy Star–compliant, power themselves down when not in use, and use nontoxic toner. Most of them print on recycled paper as well.

A Partnership on Paper

It's been five years since HGA — which used to lease its printing equipment through a facilities management firm — began evaluating Océ solutions to meet its growing needs. In that time, HGA has purchased almost a dozen Océ machines, including large-format color and monochrome printers (models TCS500, TCS 400, TDS800, TDS600, and VarioPrint 2110) and a color scanner (TDS450).


In the lobby of HGA's Minneapolis headquarters, Vice-President Patrick Thibaudeau showcases a variety of HGA projects. The color prints composing the display were produced on an Océ TCS500 color inkjet printer.

Thibaudeau estimates that in those five years, his company has saved $2 million in energy, time, and overhead costs, as well as the reduction in wasted paper and ink. The latter is credited in part to the Océ TCS500's color management modes, which allowed HGA to create both a standard, company-wide color profile and custom profiles for individual designers. "We're not wasting print after print trying to match what somebody sees on-screen," Thibaudeau explained. The printers have also reduced delays, because they are capable of processing one file while printing or copying another.

HGA has reported benefits from implementing Océ software as well. The firm used to send its clients digital plot files, which printed inconsistently. Now, HGA maintains an online archive of drawings that clients can access, and designers can transfer PDF files, ensuring consistent results on the recipients' end.

Thinking Holistically

Regarding the complicated question of how to promote sustainability, Thibaudeau urged his peers to remember the big picture. "Sometimes we get a little narrow-minded and short-sighted," he said, explaining that saving a few pieces of paper is the wrong choice if it results in a critical oversight and necessitates high-cost changes down the line. "It might be worth printing out that extra couple of sheets so I can get a better understanding of the project."

And take a holistic approach to print solutions, Thibaudeau said. For example, he explained, new printers alone did not fulfill HGA's needs; scanners were required to change the firm's print production workflows and enable electronic document transfer. "That one equipment choice has allowed us to further our green operations strategy," said Thibaudeau. "The real issue is: Are we getting more efficient at how we're doing things?"

For firms asking themselves that question and considering a similar investment in greener technology, taking the entire workflow into consideration and carefully evaluating all options — including related components and software — is essential. Thibaudeau relies on his "five Ps" to evaluate proposals and determine which are suitable options:

  • Product must be of exceptional quality
  • Process should incorporate simple workflow and efficient software
  • Partner provides good service and adds value to the relationship
  • Price is aggressive, and when combined with top quality, equals value
  • Promises made to partners in the evaluation stage must be fulfilled.

"A good proposal, like a good building, is a sustainable one — a solution that does its job well, provides value over a long period of time, and adapts to changing needs," Thibaudeau asserted. "Inherently, good design is sustainable."

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