The Future of Estimating: Will Machines Replace Us?

Robots Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov
Published On
Jun 14, 2019

Ever since the first personal computer arrived on the scene, people have been telling me I would be replaced by one some day. My comeback was always that the machine would need me to run it. Lately though, my imagination has been a little overactive when I think about that prediction. While I do not believe a machine will replace me in my lifetime, I wonder what the future of estimating might look like. Here is where my imagination took me.


After several major electrical fires that cause loss of life, Congress unanimously passes legislation requiring new standards for all trade engineering and construction documents. President Martha Stewart signs the legislation into law during a special ceremony in the Oval Office. The law requires 100 percent complete electrical drawings and standardization of the symbols used on the drawings. All text on drawings and specifications is required to be checked by professional proofreaders for clarity and accuracy. Text will also be required to have clear meaning without a lawyer’s interpretation.


As required by the Construction and Engineering Document Clarity Act of 2021 (CEDCA), designers begin releasing documents for bid in electronic formats readable by software in 2-D, 3-D and building information modeling (BIM) formats. Most of the major electrical estimating software vendors have committed to adding the capabilities needed to make their offerings compliant with the new law, which includes the ability to extract quantities from the files provided by the designers.


An electrical estimating firm in Southern California surprises the industry by releasing a completely new estimating system that is the first to be 100 percent compliant with the CEDCA. Based on the most recent advances in artificial intelligence technology, this program quickly learns your estimating preferences instead of forcing users to adopt only one method of estimating. The software prepares reports showing any errors in the design, suggests corrections and prepares requests for information.


Part of the CEDCA requires all projects released for bid to be available in BIM format and goes into effect this year. The five-year delay was intended to give design firms adequate time to upgrade their systems as required to comply with the law. Electrical models are required to show all electrical work, not partial as was the practice before the CEDCA. Designers and the implementation committee are still negotiating the exact level of required detail. We know at this time the models must show all devices, equipment and all sizes of conduit in every location.


A coalition of design firms from all trades files a lawsuit seeking to overturn the CEDCA. They claim the Act has caused a tenfold increase in the cost of designing construction projects. The CEDCA proponents immediately responded by claiming the plaintiffs are putting a few extra dollars of construction costs over the cost of human life. For the first time in a decade, politics and disasters are not the front page story in the newspapers and television news shows. The internet is exploding with counter claims and accusations. I am surprised this did not happen sooner.


After having been fast-tracked to the Supreme Court the CEDCA lawsuit is decided. In a highly unusual unanimous decision, the Court finds in favor of the CEDCA. The Chief Justice’s statement is that loss of life due to poor construction designs violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. There are fears of a stock market crash as the media reports construction stocks plummeting.


Based on the successful 100 percent implementation of the CEDCA, further advances in artificial intelligence appear to have led to the end of traditional construction estimating. Current estimating systems have completely automated the estimating process. The only human intervention required is deciding which project to bid, performing a final review of each project, and deciding how much overhead and profit to apply to the project. Once a hot commodity, estimators have to adapt by moving into related positions or join the rolls of the unemployed.

Also unemployed are employees of estimating software firms that did not predict or embrace the full impact of the CEDCA. The firms that adapt, along with new firms that come into being after the passage of the CEDCA, are among the hottest stocks available.

I hope you enjoyed my flights of fancy. Will they come true? Is this my Nostradamus moment, or will I end up in the company of those who predicted the end of the world so many times? Maybe I’m just a victim of reading too much science fiction. Time will tell.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or, and...

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