Several contractors have called me recently to ask about bidding industrial work in addition to the commercial work they are currently performing. It is good that they reached out because industrial work can be more difficult to estimate and install.
Often, industrial specifications are significantly more complex than commercial ones. When you start to bid industrial work, it is important to read the specifications—which are usually large enough to divide into several volumes—very carefully. Always start with volume one. It contains important sections, such as notice to contractors, instructions to bidders and the bid form. Frequently, the bid form will indicate there are multiple bid items. This means you will have to prepare several bids for a single project. I have seen projects with more than 40 items. Budget some extra time to prepare your estimates if they have multiple bid items.
The specification index is also in volume one. It is important to review the index because electrical work is sometimes indicated in unusual divisions other than 26, 27 and 28. I often see work in Division 13.
One of the most significant differences between commercial and industrial projects is how conduit is specified. To start with, conduit is often specified in several different sections, including common work results, raceways and boxes, underground ducts and PVC-coated galvanized rigid conduit. The various sections can be frustrating, as they sometimes contradict each other. These contradictions are often a reason to send in a request for information (RFI). I usually send an RFI when the conflicts can significantly impact my bid price.
The most important parts of the conduit sections are the use specifications, which tell you where each type of conduit can be used. Read this carefully, as there are often expensive requirements, such as requiring PVC-coated galvanized conduit for all risers from underground.
The wire and cable section can be important because industrial projects often specify cables that are more expensive than the usual THHN/THWN. The standard is XHHW for most industrial projects. Again, check the use requirements, as different kinds of cable can be specified for each area in a project. The specifications in this section also specify expensive termination and splice requirements.
Industrial work often involves the use of a third-party company to do start-up and commissioning once the installation is done. This requirement is often spread across several parts of the specifications.
The last thing I want to cover about specifications is the different sections that mention material that needs to be quoted. For instance, there are often a dozen sections just for the various types of switchgear.
I start my industrial projects similarly to the way I start commercial ones. Download the drawings, set them up in your on-screen takeoff software (if you have it), study the drawings, do a specification outline and proceed with the counts needed for quotation reasons. Next, contact your vendors immediately to solicit quotes for special material required by the specifications. Then, I list and takeoff the feeders, which is a change from the way I takeoff commercial projects. Feeders can account for 80% of a project’s takeoff time. By the time you finish the feeders, the light at the end of the tunnel should be very bright. After finishing the feeder takeoff, the estimate proceeds as usual.
The feeder takeoff is usually more complicated on industrial projects. Part of the complication is how the feeders are identified in the feeder schedules. Many schedules specify a conduit with wire from the beginning to the end. The problem with this is that the conduit can change locations many times in a single run. It can start out underground, split off from a ductbank, rise into a building NEMA 1 area and cross into a NEMA 4X area. The feeder I just outlined requires three different kinds of conduit, with several pullboxes that may or may not be shown. I prefer schedules that specify each segment of a feeder run separately. My least favorite type of feeder schedule is the one that specifies the conduit in one table and cable in another. This adds significantly to the time required to complete the estimate.
You may be exposed to control systems, which can be very complex and a new type of work. Make sure you understand your scope and installation requirements in this area.
I have outlined above a few of the most complicated areas of an industrial estimate. When starting to perform these estimates, take your time and be absolutely sure you clearly understand the requirements.