Software Speeds Takeoffs and Design

In a tight economy, any software solution that boosts productivity while helping to ensure accuracy of design and estimates is worth considering. Three industry-specific programs that may save you time and money when designing or bidding a project are described below. Streamlining takeoffs When bidding a project from drawings on disk or from an in-house design/build computer-assisted drawing (CAD) plan, you can expedite the data entry process and improve takeoff accuracy by using a CAD takeoff program that interfaces with your estimating program and performs much of the data transfer from the CAD drawings automatically and accurately. This type of program allows estimators to download lengths, quantities, items, and assemblies from AutoCAD drawings into a computer estimating program and see the results on screen. CadTakeOff from SELLECT, Inc. interfaces with popular electrical estimating programs such as Accubid, ConEst, Trade Power, TRF/Cert-In, and Vision. This allows users to perform takeoffs on-screen, regardless of the symbols or drafting methods used. The program is designed to be intuitive and also comes in a Universal version for use with Excel or other cost databases. Within a drawing displayed on screen, the user chooses the symbol (such as a fixture) to be counted or a routing to be measured. The estimating software window then appears, prompting the user to specify the estimating component(s) relating to the CAD objects. The estimator chooses a geographic takeoff scope (i.e., the entire drawing, certain rooms or walls, or specific equipment only). The symbols and associated estimating materials are instantly calculated and added to the running tally. Objects in the drawing are automatically marked with an electronic “hi-liter” as they are counted or measured. The estimator continues to choose symbol groups and linear routings until all items are indicated as taken off. Users can also include “undrawn” components by selecting a drawn item and adding an undrawn accessory to it. The system can be configured to automatically count and measure according to the estimator’s choices from a previous project. McCormick Systems’ CAD Estimating for Windows interfaces directly with McCormick Estimating software. The solution can perform the estimating takeoff at the same time a job is designed or redesigned, increasing the speed it takes to complete the estimate. With AutoCAD and McCormick’s software “open,” users can choose a specific drawing. CAD Estimating reads the drawing, displaying all the symbols it contains. Estimators select symbols (such as switches, receptacles, light fixtures, etc.) they want to take off and assign each one either to an item or an assembly. A thumbnail view helps confirm accuracy. The CAD interface then automatically takes off lengths, quantities, items, and assemblies of identified symbols. Once users have linked the symbols and items/assemblies, the program quickly establishes a link when a new drawing is read. The user quickly builds up a symbols-to-items “library,” further speeding up the process. When all the items and assemblies in the drawing have been taken off, the user sends the takeoff to the estimating software, where it is treated like any other take-off data. Industry-specific design assistance For those involved in electrical drawing design, Autodesk recently introduced Autodesk Building Electrical. It offers specialized content to speed the design process and reduce re-work resulting from collaborative efforts. The solution, an add-on built on top of Autodesk Architectural Desktop 3.3 (which includes 2D and 3D design tools and links plans, sections, and elevations from a single building model), uses intuitive drafting and modeling tools and “smart” objects. Designers can work in 2D or 3D or both, which allows users unfamiliar with model-based design to ease into the process. Information is dynamically linked throughout the building model, so users create the data only once, cutting cycle time and reducing the potential for error. CAD operators can draw from a wide selection of electrical devices, including communication, fire safety, junction boxes, lighting, power, receptacles, panels, and switches. The designer selects and places electrical components from expandable, customizable catalogs (which may be manufacturer specific) based on self-defined parameters, and controls the level of detail and context views of objects in 2D and 3D models. Users can create annotated 2D drawings, such as electrical rise diagrams including schematic lines and symbols that show the logical dependencies of components. Features include: “Smart Connectors,” which validates connections between components and automatically retrieves stored information, such as connector type, voltage, and system designations; “Voltage Control,” which ensures all devices in a circuit have the same value for voltage and automatically synchronizes voltage for all objects in that circuit; “Automatic Fitting Insertion,” which automates cable tray and conduit fittings based on user-saved preferences and cursor direction; and “Interference Detection,” which finds conflicts between electrical components and other building system objects. THE FELDMANS provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at or (914) 238-6272.

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