Tag Archives: On-Screen Estimating

On Screen Electrical Estimating Update #1

A lot of things have changed since my last post on this subject. The software has gotten better, and the way we use it has evolved. The last three years have seen a complete shift from paper takeoff to digital takeoff. We are currently using two software packages, Planswift and Surecount.

Planswift was the first digital takeoff software we purchased. It is used in our office for projects of any size, but does not allow multiple estimators in the same project at the same time.

We have been using Surecount in the office much more often since a recent update. The autocount feature is now working very well. Surecount is also used for projects of any size.

We decide which product to use after a review of the drawings. Projects that lend themselves to autocount are done on Surecount, as are projects that require multiple estimators. Planswift’s more advanced manual takeoff tools are used for projects that can take advantage of them.

There are several advatages to the use of digital takeoff that continue to stand out. No more paper drawings is the first. I can’t tell you how much I don’t miss handling and storing paper drawings. We recovered a significant amount of storage space as our paper archives disappeared.

The second is editing and corrections. When you make a mark on paper, it’s there to stay. Digital takeoff allows complete editing and correction to all of your takeoff. Your counts and measurements can be un-counted, edited, moved or deleted as needed.

The third is increased production. Paper takeoff requires three steps; counting, marking and recording. Digital takeoff accomplishes all three steps in one click of the mouse.

Fourth is drawing distribution. We have rarely had to pay for plans since we switched to digital. Most often, the drawings are downloaded from a web site at no cost.

Both of the programs we use release regular updates. The authors are constantly adding features and making improvements. Planswift just released a new version and Surecount has one in the wings.

Adding Planswift or Surecount to your estimating tools would not be a mistake.

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My Electrical Estimating Christmas Present

I got a Samsung 27″ monitor for Christmas (Under $300 at Costco). Like my kids would say – “Sweet”. So the 19″ CRT goes out to storage, leaving me with the 27″ as the main screen and a 22″ as a secondary screen. What I am begining to wonder however, is how big of a screen is practical? These two screens are taking up alot of real estate on my desk, and require quite a bit of head turning to see both screens. I am getting used to it, but it has taken about a week of adjustment. In addition to the larger size, it is really nice to have two widescreens.

Let’s say I upgrade to something like a 45″ screen someday. Would I go with a single screen then? Is one big screen better then two smaller ones? Would it be nice to not be scolling and zooming around the drawings as we do on smaller screns? With two screens I can angle them towards me, while with a single large screen I couldn’t. Would something like a 45″ screen be big enough to display the drawings and have other application showing at the same time? For instance, the way I work now is with PlanSwift on the 27″ screen for takeoff, and ConEst on the 22″ screen for estimating.

If anyone has worked with, or is working with larger screens, please let me know how it’s going.

On-Screen Electrical Estimating – Chapter Two

As mentioned in my last post, here are some of my likes and dislikes regarding on-screen estimating. The likes are first.

  • No Paper Handling – Some of our larger projects show up on a pallet. Even small project documents add up after awhile, requiring substantial space for archiving.
  • A Minor Point – No more paper cuts.
  • Faster Estimating – Time is saved during takeoff. When you click on an item, it is counted, highlighted, and listed in a takeoff. All this is done in one step, instead of three. It also eliminates data entry errors.
  • Overlays – No more light tables. You can overlay any plan sheet (or portion of a plan sheet) on another plan sheet. Need to see where the homeruns go to on another floor. Just overlay the two floors. Got change orders? Overlay the new plan sheets over the original plan sheets, and the differences are clearly shown.
  • Ergonomics – About 5 years ago, I started experiencing neck pain. The doctors concluded that over thirty years of looking down at a desk was starting to create damage. I was sent off to the chiropractor. I have been using an on-screen takeoff program for about eighteen months, and have not been to the chiropractor for about twelve months. Not looking down at a set of plans for eight hours a day has been very beneficial.
  • Portability – I think my UPS driver is mad at me. He does not deliver here very often anymore. Being able to obtain and deliver documents with the Internet and email is a boon. It also makes collaboration on a project easier.
  • Supplies – I think the local Staples Office Store manager is also mad at me. I no longer purchase box after box of highlighters and pencils.
  • Advanced features – These programs all have special features that make estimating and plan handling easier. For instance, you can create a snapshot of a feeder schedule, and display it on a second screen while doing takeoff on your primary screen. Another is the ability to create bookmarks, which make it simple to move around large projects.
  • Vision Issues – For those who need vision correction, the ability to set a monitor at a fixed distance makes it much easier to manage. You will no longer need to move closer or farther from the plans, put glasses on or off, or be adjusting to look over and under your bifocal line.
  • It’s More Fun? – One of my estimators told me that working on-screen is more fun. Maybe I’ll get more work out of him. For a while.

Here is my dislike.

  • Screen Size – These programs do work on smaller monitors. I currently use a 22″ wide screen monitor. The zoom and pan controls make it very easy to move around the documents on this screen. I am however, keeping an eye on large monitor prices, and will soon purchase a larger screen. It will probably be sized around 30″. Take note that large screen TV’s may not have a very high resolution for the PC input. I have seen 37″ TVs with only a 1366 x 768 resolution. By comparison, my 22″ monitor has a resolution of 1680 x 1050.

Well, that’s it folks. let me know wht you think.

On-Screen Electrical Estimating – Chapter One

Also known as on-screen takeoff or digital takeoff, the time for this type of software has come. If you are not familiar with these programs, they allow you to perform takeoff on your computer screen. You will not need to obtain paper documents. 

The concept has intrigued me since I first ran across an on-line plan room that offered one of these programs as a free on-screen plan viewer. When I downloaded and installed the viewer, I was offered a free trial of the “complete” version. This version allowed me to count and measure items right on my computer screen by pointing and clicking the mouse.

 I played with the program for a couple of weeks, and discovered a few problems. The most significant was that very few projects were available as digital files at that time. It was also expensive to purchase and maintain. Most of us already have multi thousand dollar estimating systems with annual maintenance fees. At the time I did not believe that I needed another $3,000 program and more maintenance fees.

Fast forward to 2007. We had been receiving about half of our estimating projects as digital files this year, so I did another survey of on-screen estimating programs. I found many more offerings with a price range of $1,000 to $5,000. These new programs had many more tools, features and improved interfaces. I did a free demo on the $1,000 program and found that it had the power to takeoff and organize the most complex of electrical projects. We have been using it for about 18 months now, and purchased another license today.

 On my next post, I will talk about what I like and dislike about on-screen estimating.