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To get an idea of how estimators operate, we continue last month’s discussion with H. Tom Browning, vice president, preconstruction of The Truland Group Inc., about how estimating work continues to develop and change.
How has your business changed over the past 5 years?
The economy and technology have driven the most significant changes to the estimating process.
The economic downturn has caused those financing projects to require more highly detailed estimates. While Truland’s estimating process has always been highly precise, we are finding that the forms on which we present our pricing (and the backup we are required to provide) are much more granular. Additionally, we are finding that the time allotted by the owner to prepare bids is decreasing. This is largely the result of a desire to commence and, more importantly, complete construction as soon as possible so that the building can begin generating revenue.
Technology is allowing us to work more efficiently. We now receive virtually all of our solicitation packages via email or [file transfer protocol] FTP, which allows us to begin reviewing them much sooner. Certainly the technology is not new, but it has only been in the past five years or so that owners and general contractors have converted their means of distributing bid and proposal packages from primarily hard copy to primarily electronic.
Additionally, estimating software packages have increased the scope of what they automate. In addition to being warehouses of recent/historical cost data and calculation tools, they now are able to perform functions that had been manual, such as performing fixture counts. This goes somewhat hand-in-hand with the conversion from paper drawings to electronic ones since these applications basically search drawing files for a user-defined symbol, such as a specific type of light fixture, then count all occurrences of that symbol. This increases the accuracy and decreases the time required to perform quantity takeoffs.
How do you stay up-to-date on new technologies?
Truland draws upon both our vendor relationships and our resident expertise. We have strong relationships with vendors and manufacturers, and they regularly come into our office to brief our estimators, purchasing agents, project managers and engineers on new products and emerging technologies.
Additionally, Truland has a diverse project base that includes design/build and design/bid/build delivery of everything from railway systems to data centers to hospitals to commercial offices. It’s not uncommon for one industry to be an early adopter of a certain type of technology, so since Truland serves so many industries, we are continuously encountering new technologies. Once one project manager completes a project that used a given technology, he or she will brief the rest of the company’s technical work force on its benefits, successful applications, installation methods and so on. If that technology is subsequently included in a solicitation, the resident expert project manager consults with the estimating team on how its inclusion will impact the various cost elements.
Finally, as a design/builder, Truland has our own engineering department that is dedicated to delivering systems that offer the maximum performance/cost trade-off. Many times, that maximum trade-off is possible because of emerging technologies. And when they complete a successful application of one of these technologies, they share that information, much like I have described our project managers doing. Truland’s engineering department is also available to provide technical assistance to the estimating team when a solicitation includes unfamiliar equipment.
How do you estimate a project that is new to you?
Truland approaches estimating an atypical project in much the same way that we approach new technologies: we leverage expertise from our vendors, our own work force and our industry partners. If there is unfamiliar equipment, we look to the manufacturer and anyone within our organization [who] has experience with the equipment to describe the installation methods so that we are able to realistically estimate the number of man-hours required to install each unit. If the facility type or installation environment is unfamiliar, Truland looks for someone within our organization who has worked on a similar facility or in a similar location—even if it was during their tenure at another firm. Additionally, Truland is a member of the Federated Electrical Contractors [FEC], which is a worldwide alliance of electrical construction firms that shares knowledge and best practices across its membership. If our resident expertise is limited, especially in terms of facility type or industry, we contact FEC members who are located in areas where that industry or facility type is common.
When Truland estimates a project that has some element of unfamiliarity, we build additional time into the estimating schedule to perform the sort of research described above and to add more time to review and refine the estimate.
STONG, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at [email protected].