Electrical Estimating in the Digital Age

Posted in: Features, March 2017

estimating.jpgIn recent years, electrical contractors have begun receiving the bulk of their drawings from architects in PDF or digital form. It is now up to the contractor to figure out what to do with these digital plans. The old “go to” process was to print the whole set and get to work estimating; measuring and counting manually with a set of highlighters and other manual tools. This took up valuable time, and the possibility for mistakes was high. Contractors needed a better, faster, more consistent way of doing their takeoff; thus, the demand and need for an easy on screen takeoff program was born. Estimating software companies were great at calculating the bid, but they did not have a way of counting and measuring from a digital plan.

Efficiency becomes very apparent when it comes to digital takeoff features. Digital takeoff allows an estimator to introduce plans straight to their computer rather than contending with endless stacks of paper that can only be reviewed by one person at a time. Plans and takeoffs can be sent via email to other employees or project managers, giving them access to see circuits, home runs, and any changes or additions on the copy of the original plans. When all employees involved are able to view the same set of plans and information in real time, the success of the job increases while the possibility of pre-job mistakes is lessened.

There are stand-alone digital takeoff programs on the market that worked great, but the electrical contractor still had to transfer the counts and lengths, either manually or through a clunky link to their electrical estimating software. This was definitely a better way of doing things over the old paper method, but the possibility of mistakes was still present and the process was a slow one, especially having to transfer all of the totals to a separate electrical estimating software. This process definitely filled the hole of what to do with digital drawings, but it was not the ultimate answer. Estimating software companies had to come up with a solution.

Digital drawing support from electrical estimating software companies hit the scene quickly. Instead of printing the drawings and taking them off by hand or by using an obsolete link to connect a stand-alone digital takeoff program, estimating companies like McCormick Systems Inc. built On Screen Estimating Pro right into their famous estimating software, essentially creating one super program. Contractors can now use one program to do it all. The program handles the very beginning of the project when contractors receive the plans, the estimating process, the proposal, and the project management – essentially everything. This was a game changer for the industry. All aspects of the estimating process were now in one program. Consistency and speed had been greatly increased and the possibility of transfer or clerical mistakes was reduced to nearly 0%.

Electrical contractors can mitigate risk and improve accuracy with On Screen Estimating Pro. With McCormick’s built in assemblies, labor units, and pricing, a contractor places devices, fixtures, draws pipe runs, excavates, and performs any other estimating task with a few simple mouse clicks. The estimating software then turns these mouse clicks into a complete material list, instantly creating a finalized bid! Bidding just became twice as efficient and so much easier to do. Contractors can teach estimators to bid more easily, and then have more confidence in the bid because the contractor can now easily review the estimator’s work on that digital plan. The digital plan shows everything: how many devices and fixtures were taken off, panels, where and how the feeders are run, and where and how every branch is run. One can even use a filter to turn takeoff on and off the plan to make sure everything was counted and measured. A contractor can now be confident in his bid with a simple review of the digital plans.

Now, moving into the future of digital takeoff with the newest features of McCormick’s On Screen Estimating Pro such as Symbol Designer, contractors can create their own symbols and shapes to add them directly to the PDF drawing. This allows for a design-build while you estimate, creating a working set of drawings from a blank PDF if you wanted to. It doesn’t get any faster and easier than that. Also, with the compare drawing feature, you can cut down on mistakes by overlaying an edited drawing on top of the original. The software will show you the differences and what was changed between the two drawings, giving you complete control of alternate and change order bids! Finally, estimate even faster with On Screen Estimating Pro’s auto count feature. Auto count will scan the PDF and do the count for you, marking and quantifying all of the symbols that you chose to find.

Electrical contractors that have not looked into or researched this process of integrated digital takeoff are doing themselves a great disservice. With the reduction in errors and, not to mention, the greatly increased speed benefits, an all-in-one program can change the face of the estimating department forever. Also, think of all those trees you will be saving by not having to print stacks of plans for every job!

Paul Wheaton is the VP of Sales for McCormickSystems. He has worked closely with the newer development of McCormick and is on the front line of computerized estimating. He also instructs on the McCormick line of estimating products and develops procedures for e-learning. Paul has been a guest speaker at numerous conferences, trade association meetings, and with IEC.