We had to buy a new car recently. My wife’s car was 16 years old, and keeping it running was costing us almost as much as an entire car payment. It was definitely time to say goodbye, which created another problem—shopping for a new car.
The company I worked at while being trained as an electrical estimator already had an estimating system: a mainframe computer system called Estimatic. We had to convert each takeoff item and assembly into a 10-digit code. We entered the codes and quantities into a teletype machine.
I have been wanting to write about several topics that are not long enough to fill this column by themselves. This month, I decided to combine a few subjects into one column, so I could finally get them off my mind.
To export, or not to export
A friend recently asked me, “What’s so hard about bidding electrical work? You don’t even need a college degree to be an estimator.” I said he was oversimplifying things and told him it can be a complex, highly detailed process with many strategies and chess-like moves.
When I became a trainee estimator, I never worried about what I was going to bid next. My method was simple; I bid on every project my boss told me to. That strategy changed when I moved on to my next employer.
Many of us bring our work home. One weekend, my young daughter was watching me do a takeoff; I was counting, measuring and highlighting the plans as I went. She got very excited and, with big, round eyes, asked me, “Daddy, is that what you do at work?
I have always been interested in labor-saving gadgets and how they affect an estimate. For the purpose of this article, I define a gadget as a material or tool meant to perform a task better and more quickly than the previously used material.
During my career, I’ve learned a lot about things that are not exactly estimating but are closely related. For instance, I had to learn about relationship management with vendors and customers. I was required to learn enough about electrical engineering to finish the incomplete plans we often get.
In the previous two articles in this series, I wrote about how to get information out of a database and into an estimate. So, let’s say you have entered all of your takeoff and have a file full of the selected electrical materials, each with its own price and labor unit attached.
The next function of electrical estimating software (after the database, which I covered last month), is having a way for you to enter your takeoff into the estimating system. How do we get items out of the database and into the estimate? That is the job of the user interface.
For those of you who are new to electrical estimating software, it is important to understand the basic concepts behind the shiny images on the computer screen. Not knowing can lead to problems with the software and your estimates.
I remember the first time I had to read specifications. They were part of the bid documents for a new Bank of America building. My boss walked in my office one morning, dropped a specification book on my desk and said, “Here, read this.” Talk about being thrown into the deep end.
I know, you’ve probably been hearing about ergonomics ever since they started applying the word to office workers. If you’re not familiar with the concept, ergonomics is the study of designing equipment and devices to fit the human body and its cognitive abilities.
Maybe we shouldn’t use computers for estimating. I can’t believe I wrote that. I am Mr. Computer. My first estimating computer had a whopping total of 16 kilobytes of RAM with two 5¼-inch, single-sided floppy drives.
During the week of Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon, my wife mentioned the stunt several times, so we ended up watching it on TV on June 23, 2013. The event itself sounded intriguing, but even more interesting was the description of the preparations.
A long time ago, in the early days of AutoCAD, I went to a seminar where an electrical design and estimating system was demonstrated. It was amazing! The system actually did a takeoff while the design was being done in AutoCAD.
Like bid listing, bid depositories are another method of fighting the practice of bid shopping. Let’s briefly review what happens on bid day because of bid shopping. First, the vendors hold back their prices until the last moment for fear of being shopped by the subcontractors.
When I started to write this article, it came out as a rant, which seemed unprofessional. Assuming I should be professional, I pared the rant down to a summary of the way I feel about the current state of engineering practices.
“How many jobs are you going to win for me?” I have heard that question at every interview I ever had for an estimating position. As an independent estimator, I still hear it. The answer is none, at least not by myself. Estimators need to be enabled, as they are only one part of a group.