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D4COST Software

  Takeoff: Applying Estimating Tools to the Conceptual and Design Phases
by Lawrence Morris, On Center Software

Let’s pretend that The Budget is a person…

Few will argue that The Budget ultimately rules every project. While it may be the owner who carries the vision, the architect who crafts the design, and the contractors who execute the plan, The Budget ultimately dictates the size, scope, and success of a project. The Budget even ultimately determines if the project will ever be built. The Budget is more than just a number. The Budget is King, and this king influences the actions of every participant. No one moves unless The Budget says so. The Budget is the reason why you read DCD Magazine, so that you can get a sense for how large or small he may need to be. The Budget is also the reason why the market today is flooded with software companies which specialize in helping you determine his size and scope.

Construction estimating software is not a gimmick and is not just for the contractors who bid work. Estimators and project managers are turning to digitized takeoff software to make the bidding process faster, more reliable, and above all - profitable by staying within the budget. You can utilize these software applications before and after The Budget is established. Focusing within just the conceptual and design phases, we can deploy certain estimating tools, such as On-Screen Takeoff ®, to help generate a more concise early budget and to facilitate better planning and communication.

On-Screen Takeoff, which is created by On Center Software, enables the user to quickly takeoff detailed quantities for any scope of work, using electronic plans or image files. These image files can include aerial photos or even images taken from Google Earth to aid in deciding where the new parking lot and walkways should be placed, what kind of landscaping the lot can accommodate, or how the building’s footprint should be laid out. Combining the footprint areas with data provided by DCD Magazine, you can quickly start to develop a conceptual budget.

With On-Screen Takeoff, you can break down the takeoff data by Division and Section, in the same way DCD breaks down its featured projects. Each time you use On-Screen Takeoff, your productivity improves because, over time, you begin to develop various custom libraries and templates for different building types. Creating libraries for construction types allows for faster and more accurate conceptual estimating. Subsequent, similar project planning and estimating doesn’t have to be started from scratch and can be developed in a shorter amount of time.

Seriously, why should you start each job with a blank slate? There is no need to reinvent the wheel, so it makes sense for you to leverage new estimates with previously completed projects. Each time you create a project in On-Screen Takeoff, you can add that project to a master library. Over time, you will have a library for Office Buildings, Schools, Hospitals, Warehouses, etc. As you begin new projects, you can pull from the library a list of previously used conditions, such as partitions, plumbing fixtures, electrical receptacles, furniture and other items required for each type of project. Unless your projects involve an extreme amount of specialty work, where your conditions are never the same, having the option to use preset conditions can save you a lot of time.

During the design and development phases, multiple revisions to a set of plans are bound to occur. Any changes to the plans that are not clearly marked can result in errors in the takeoff, and therefore the budget. As new revisions are issued, On-Screen Takeoff gives you the ability to overlay a new set of plans onto the previous version, making it easy to spot any modifications to those drawings. Sections of the plans that were deleted from the original scope are automatically marked in red while new additions are clearly marked in blue. And because you are using digital plans with On-Screen Takeoff, this overlay image, any annotations, and the entire set of plans can be quickly shared electronically with your team members.

For example, if you are planning a school project and you need to quickly convey to your team how you want to add 150 extra seats to an auditorium, or had to shrink the gymnasium to accommodate two more classrooms, the overlay feature can clearly display both the original and newly proposed plans in a colorful and distinct way. This feature may not directly impact the budget, but it has a profoundly positive effect on your communication.

When using digital takeoff software, there is no need to print and shuffle around stacks of large plans again. Nor do you have to wait for paper plan deliveries or pickup services. Electronic media enhances communication among all personnel involved in the planning and estimating process. The lack of or delay in communication between contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, owners and architects has long been a hindrance to project completion. Unnecessary delays generally lead to missed deadlines and possibly even the worst case scenario- a blown budget. By having quicker and more accurate quantity takeoffs along with the ability to share the information electronically, issues about material quantities can now be discussed and resolved in a fraction of the time. This results in lower costs to the planners, the contractors, and to the owners as well.

During the design and estimating phases, your team can collaborate by highlighting and making notes to each revised plan. Then they can share those annotations instantly by using Project Express. Because email has certain size constraints (2-10 Mb) on the attachments that can be sent, On-Screen Takeoff includes a feature called Project Express that allows you to share your entire takeoff details with owners, contractors, subcontractors, and consulting engineers without worrying about a file size cap.

If you haven’t done so already, now is a great time for you to consider implementing On-Screen Takeoff into your design and estimating process. The improved communication between you, the contractors, and all other parties involved is worth the investment alone. Plus, the time you save and the accuracy you gain by using this estimating program will dramatically benefit you when preparing your next budget or developing your next project.

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