Developing Construction Estimates: 5 Ways Technology Has Changed Estimating

Construction Estimates

TechsPlace | A well-prepared estimate will ensure favorable outcomes no matter the size of a project and risks it is likely to encounter.

Construction estimating is an intricate process that has evolved with time and technology used to calculate project estimates.

In a typical construction phase, many cost variables surface as the project develops that should ideally be accounted for—but that would be unrealistic given that unknowns pervade all construction estimates, leading to multiple iterations instead of a fixed final bid.

The U.S. construction industry loses billions of dollars in rework due to inaccurate estimations, and this has forced owners to look for smart technology that saves time and efficiency losses spurred by paper-led estimating take-off processes.

Today, with business information modeling (BIM), amongst other integrated project delivery systems, owners mature project processes continuously for estimators to access the most relevant and updated data. This is particularly beneficial for large-scale or mega projects where estimators deal with hundreds of project variables, and needless to clarify, iterations depending on how detailed a design drawing is to account for material cost impacts and project contingencies.

Here’s how construction estimating software provides a competitive advantage to construction businesses for construction estimates.

Enhanced Productivity

Business information modeling enhances the interoperability of multiple technologies in force for a project. A digital drawings tool that helps architects and contractors co-create a building’s design can work in tandem with estimating software quantifying material costs needed to construct it. Such integration acts as a powerful collaborator between teams while increasing the accuracy of quantity take-offs and reducing the time taken to produce varying estimates.

Nothing makes owners more euphoric than seeing a tested model of integrated building design. Such a model not only adjusts the budget for risks but allows businesses to scale production based on well-founded data.

For lesser-savvy construction businesses relying on proprietary Excel spreadsheets, BIM would quickly translate paper dimensions and estimations into digital formats that can be accessed and updated as field dynamics evolve. This is crucial since contractor teams won’t always reserve time to explain changes to the original design, which otherwise can be easily traced in a design model if any estimate revisions are warranted.

Productivity is greatly helped across inter-dependent teams and third-party contractors whose efforts can be tracked on a single platform.

Increased Project Data Integrity and Accuracy

Every estimate varies by project purpose. Whether an estimator is required to shape a pre-tender estimate or a project bid, calculations differ based on varying levels of effort and scope of work. Procore analyzes the essential differences between project bids, quotes, construction estimates, and proposals, helping construction contractors determine their role in a project’s success.

BIM-led cost estimating improves the perceptive ability of contractors to catch hold of errors and omissions early on. Identifying discrepancies, they’re able to feed accurate project data to the software which then highlight insights by comparing similar variables from past projects. Improved BIM versions provide enhanced computing power in this regard, and aids multi-disciplinary construction teams in carrying out intensive tasks coherently on cloud-based systems. This allows them to visualize each activity, rapidly communicate ideas through detailed notes and photo attachments, and optimize design models as they move along. In realizing these benefits, contractors can control costs from spiraling out of control.

This increase in data automation combines critical internal and external project information. For instance, changing weather conditions over the project’s course can be mapped in line with material availability to withstand adverse climatic changes—it dramatically impacts the way cost indexes are read and applied to validate final estimate figures. These support systems will go far in keeping projects from misguided assumptions that are commonly made in the heat of getting approvals on plans. Subs and suppliers can also log their bids, as they change with time, to avail the most recent direct and indirect costs of actual construction.

Digitized Communication Enables Stronger Teamwork

With this shift in estimating comes a shift in how project parties communicate and assess results. Gone are the days when dense Excels preceded every data analysis meetings. Now, the entire construction plans can be converted into 3D design builds that work with estimating software, where specific values of different material quantities are entered. Estimators, through a couple drag and drops, can visualize how project information directly develops the project estimate—easing their vision of what’s kept and removed in the design-build. They can brainstorm estimate breakdowns and how they relate to the architect’s drawings sheet. Even with periodic information updating, BIM models aren’t always complete which is why project managers and other parties must step in to plug loopholes that can potentially weaken an estimate’s legitimacy.

Communication about project estimates has moved to the next stage, as have estimating techniques with more and more contractors adopting BIM systems.

Incremental Value to Project Owners and Clients

Most construction projects are prone to receiving change orders, whether due to design flaws or arbitrary client desires playing into the mix. This causes alterations in activity across the construction hierarchy, down to the last detail in how a certain fixture is installed on one level of the floor plan. BIM automatically updates design assumptions and cost estimates which can then be validated and tested by relevant project parties. This allows owners to view how variables are changing in real-time and architects to advise on the constructability of design changes.

It helps subs to present concrete findings and schedule of tasks to contractors, contractors to report on overall site progress, and owners to convince clients that they’re competently handling project development without cost and schedule overruns.

Better Coordination with Ancillary Resources

Since most large-scale construction projects employ multiple sub-contractors, owners can directly access data of the output generated by these resources, in addition to their bid documents, requests for information, and other project concerns documented on the BIM model—ultimately helping shape a more accurate project estimate. Owners can trace the supply of materials and if they meet projected costs, making moving forward to the next operational milestone easy. A BIM model becomes an efficient ecosystem of project data and resources that work together to ensure how decisions, plans, and modifications are being implemented within timelines and under budget.

Closing Comments

Aside from BIM integration, construction projects are witnessing a fast influx of game-changing technology including drones, computer-aided design (CAD), automated heavy equipment, and AI devices. Having hit the tipping point in tech innovation, the industry will continue to see evolving construction estimates techniques. Owners and contractors play a big part in ensuring their estimators are well-equipped to handle estimating technology to deliver projects efficiently.

More value offered to clients, as a result, construction companies can gain an immeasurable competitive edge by multiplying profit margins while avoiding costly rework, a troubling reality that has paralyzed the U.S. construction sector for decades.

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