I remember hearing about a general contractor several years ago whose drawings for just one project took up the entire bed of a pickup truck. Now that’s a lot of paper . . . and a lot of quantities to take off if you are doing it manually or even with a digitizer.
Enter paperless takeoff. Software such as Planswift®, eTakeoff®, and OnCenter Software now give contractors more productive ways to do takeoff directly from electronic drawings. I was curious how things have changed for contractors using these new electronic takeoff tools so I sat down last week with Curtis Peltz, estimating technology veteran and CEO of eTakeoff, to get his perspective. Here’s what he had to say:
Deb: How popular is electronic takeoff?
Curtis: It’s becoming more and more popular but we still see many contractors who do takeoff from paper plans.
Deb: What’s driving the increased interest in electronic takeoff tools?
Curtis: Most plans are now being delivered electronically, often in a PDF format. GCs download public drawings from online plan rooms, have blueprints uploaded to their own FTP sites, and provide plans to subs using privately hosted plan services. But many contractors still have to print the plans if they do the takeoff using a digitizer or even manual methods. Contractors are looking for a way to avoid this costly step.
Deb: Are larger construction companies the ones adopting this takeoff technology?
Curtis: Not necessarily. Construction companies across the board are using electronic takeoff. It’s really more about a company’s desire to take advantage of technology and not about their size.
Deb: Why should contractors consider using electronic takeoff?
Curtis: There are several reasons. First is increased accuracy. If you are using a digitizer or scale you’re working with accuracies limited by the printed paper, whereas with electronic takeoff you can get down to measurements within thousandths of an inch. A second reason is increased productivity. We have contractors tell us they’re up to 15x more productive using electronic takeoff compared to paper takeoff. That’s really important when contractors are looking to increase their number of bids without increasing staff. Also, you have a record of what you took off that you can review later or share with others. You’re not limited to the highlighter marks on a single set of plans. And then, of course, there is the reduction of thousands of dollars in plan printing costs that are no longer necessary.
Deb: What are the top three features a contractor should look for in an electronic takeoff solution?
Curtis: Assembly capabilities would be one. Essentially with this feature you can take off, for example, the length of a wall and generate all the wall’s component quantities. This eliminates the need to do multiple measurements and calculations. Another thing to look for is the software’s ability to handle overlays. For instance, if there is a new addendum with a revision to an existing drawing, you can do an overlay to see the differences between the two drawings and easily perform a new takeoff. A third time-saver, especially when working with electrical and mechanical drawings, is a pattern search, or what some systems call a symbol search or autocount. By selecting a symbol for an item such as a smoke detector, the system will search the plans and automatically generate a count.
Deb: What is the future of electronic takeoff?
Curtis: Collaboration. In a connected world, we’ll have the ability to share the estimating details and other plan markups with project managers and other key players. This will include reviewing plans on handheld devices in the field. This is a big step beyond sharing the drawings electronically. It allows highlighting and sharing information about details within the drawing.
I’d like to thank Curtis Peltz for sharing his knowledge of electronic take off with us. It’s clear that this is a proven yet still growing area of technology that contractors can take advantage of.
How are you doing takeoff?
About the Author
Deb Carpenter-Beck is a writer and marketer with more than 25 years of experience in the construction and real estate industries. She often writes about technology and best practices and is passionate about helping contractors and real estate professionals achieve their business goals. You can follow her on Twitter @DebCBConstruct.