Auto Count Software for Electrical Estimating

I was asked my opinion regarding auto-counting software recently, so here it is. Specifically, I was asked about SureCount Symbol Recognition Software. This kind of software can automatically count the symbols on your drawings. It does so by asking you to select a symbol with your mouse. The program can then count every similar symbol on the page. Sounds great, doesn’t it. The reality is that this type of software has inherent limitations. Let’s look at them.

Say you select a duplex receptacle. The software then goes looking for every symbol that looks like it. But what if the branch conduit comes in from the left, instead of the right? What if some of the receptacles have background elements of the drawing showing through? The answer to this problem is a “tolerance” setting. The tolerance setting tells the software how much different the symbol can be, and still be counted. If you set the tolerance level @ 70%, then the symbols can be 30% different.

The tolerance settings can lead to false or missed counts. Consider this quote from the SureCount website. “When you use Auto-Count, you will want to visually check the drawing to ensure that all the correct symbols are marked”. That said, the software authors are continually improving the “intelligence” of the system. For instance, if you select a 2’ x 4’ fixture with the letter A on the upper right side, the software will find all of the fixtures, even if the letter A is in a different position.

There are also many strategies for getting around the technology’s limitations. Let’s say you are working on a set of drawings that use the same symbol for many different fixtures. The engineer has put notes on the drawings such as “The fixtures in this room are all type A3”. The software allows you to count the only symbols in that room.

Another strategy for dealing with similar symbols is this. Assume the drawings use the same symbol for most receptacles, with text to identify the differences, such as IG, GFI or WP. If you select and count the receptacles with text first, the software will not count them again.

I have been saying that this type of software is not ready for prime time for many years. That opinion is changing. If you are a little on the “techy” side, and like to figure out new software, auto-count software may be ready for you.

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