Fire Protection Estimating in a Digital World
Fire protection estimating work is critical to the success of any fire protection contractor. This work is getting harder and more risk prone as project owners and consultants move the entire design of the fire protection systems to the contractor.
Working with nothing more than architectural drawings, a few specifications and a well-worn code book, fire protection estimators are required to put together an accurate and detailed layout, followed by a full price typically in a matter of days. The hope is that when the project is won and the engineer does the formal layout, it matches what was bid.
It takes a significant amount of effort to put together an estimate layout and this is even before the pricing portion is attempted! What if the estimate could be built while drafting the layout? This is where a total digital workflow can become the key to success for fire sprinkler estimating/fire suppression projects. Digital tools allow for a new level of automation to be brought to estimating. A properly implemented digital estimating process can reduce the time to produce an estimate by up to 50% and significantly increase the accuracy of the final number. Tools that enable drafting to be linked directly to installation assemblies along with automated material pricing and labor calculation effectively remove these labor-intensive steps from the estimating process.
There are some practical first steps to begin the digital estimating process. The first and possibly most important step is to have the right hardware. The most important aspect of digital estimating is to have a large format (48” or greater) 4K screen. With a 48” screen you have approximately the same screen area as a 24” x 36” paper size. The 4K resolution at that size gives roughly the same resolution as a human eye, allowing the user to view digital drawings at 1:1 scale while still capturing all the data (ex. notes, fine lines, etc.) on a drawing. The cost of one of these screens will be offset in less than six months just in printing savings typically!
Beyond the screen size, the only other really important aspect is a good reliable high speed internet connection. The vast majority of work today in the estimating stage is “connected”. Software is cloud based; e-mail is absolutely critical and transferring large file sizes is commonplace today.
Selecting the right software for your fire protection estimating needs is the next most important and possibly the most difficult stage of implementing a digital estimating workflow.
The first key decision to make is:
A) Locally installed or.
B) Cloud hosted.
There are pluses and minuses to both of these options. Locally installed software has the advantage of not requiring an internet connection, full use of any local hardware acceleration and the feeling of total control over the software. However, there are a number of major disadvantages, for example if your local hardware fails. You can be without an estimating platform all together while rebuilding. If backups were not properly set up and maintained total data loss could potentially be a major issue. Cloud based estimating software removes the “backup/data risk” and is also available in general from any computer with an internet connection. This makes changing or upgrading computers much easier and seamless.
Cloud based software also removes the “updating” pains associated with keeping local software up to date and functional as operating systems change or are updated.
One of the key features to look for in any fire protection estimating software is a fully integrated graphical on screen takeoff feature. Platforms like PataBid Quantify have a fully integrated takeoff system along with a very large library of symbols to directly draft your own fire protection layouts. Ensure that the selected software functions as a fire alarm estimating software and can support contractors drafting custom layouts of fire protection projects. With 40,000+ items in it's database, Quantify allows contractors to draft and complete takeoff (automatically) at the same time.
Along with on screen takeoff and drafting, it is key that the platform supports a database of assemblies. These allow you to simply draft your sprinkler heads in on the drawing and have the system automatically calculate all the ancillary items that go with it (ex. tees, drop lengths, finishing items, etc.) This alone can dramatically accelerate an estimator while allowing an arbitrary amount of detail to be built in.
Material pricing management is the next key thing to look for. How does the user keep material pricing up to date in their database? This is especially important in today’s volatile material market. The platform should allow the user to upload their suppliers’ pricing directly or even enable direct integration with their suppliers. This allows pricing to be managed easily and as automatically as possible.
One of the last key items to look for is labor management. Second to material pricing, managing and organizing labor in an estimate is essential to maximize your competitive edge. Strategies including pre-fabrication and multiple work faces require a robust labor management workflow in the estimating platform. A well-built fire protection estimating software platform will allow crews to be assigned to specific work faces and fabrication facilities. This allows the estimate to be quickly broken down into work packages and every last competitive edge found.
Setting up a digital estimating process for fire protection projects does not take a lot of direct monetary investment. It does, however, take some thought and time to develop a digital estimating strategy and bring all stakeholders onboard. Once implemented, the results of digital estimating can be dramatic. Fire protection/fire suppression estimating is done to a much higher quality, uniformity and traceability while significantly reducing the time spent on each bid. To learn more about how to do fire protection estimating quickly and accurately in PataBid Quantify, head to this blog to read more about the powerful features of this ground breaking digital estimating software.