Software Set for Takeoff

Still digitizing? Considering onscreen? Ready to integrate everything from takeoff to project management? Whatever your goal, there’s software out there for you. To help you decide, we crossed-referenced the features software manufacturers talked about with benefits contractors say they liked.

From Paper to Onscreen
Andrew Koehn, cofounder of Keystone Excavating in Versailles, MO, thinks going digital with Maxwell Systems software was one of the company’s best investments. Koehn particularly likes zooming in for specific details on digital files, which he finds is a lot more efficient than working on heavily marked-up paper plans. Like other software developers, Maxwell’s estimating product manager, Mike Gillum, touts the speed and precision of digital fundamentals, specifically the point-and click-feature of onscreen takeoffs. “Contractors can save money throughout a project’s life cycle by improving the preconstruction process. Maxwell’s ProContractorMX offers earthwork features to help estimators determine a job’s cut-and-fill quantities, then efficiently calculate equipment and labor costs.”

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Turbo fit is new this year in Trakware’s Earthworks software, a feature that allows you to autotrace both solid and dashed contour lines. On a scanned PDF, click on a line and the software automatically fits the contour to the line on the screen, considerably faster than manually clicking point to point. The feature works on color as well as black-and-white. Earthworks has had a basic trenching routine for years, but with more trenching companies looking for a combination of excavation and trenching, this year Trakware added the Enhanced Trenching feature, which allows contractors to maintain a library of pipes in various sizes and types. The software will track all materials for up to 10 pipes or conduits in a single trench as well as the bedding and backfill. And for contractors who use them, Earthwork’s new version automatically provides cut bands. Trakware has also amplified its in-software training options, presents webinars three days a week, and is offering Takeoff Accelerator, which is a takeoff service for anyone who’s bought or is buying Earthworks and wants to occasionally outsource.

“Since we’ve been using Earthworks, we have increased the amount of numbers we can put out in the same amount of time by probably 500%,” says Jason Schultz, chief executive officer and president of Jason Schultz Trucking Inc. in Stoughton, WI. “I learned how to take off by hand from my father. We used to say, “˜Bid five, get three.'” When the economy went south, we were bidding 20 jobs and getting one, and I was still taking everything off by hand, and getting farther and farther behind.

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“I was very, very skeptical about doing onscreen takeoffs. But not only can you do things like check the scale really quickly, you can change it. And you can zoom in deep to a contour line or into an area, which you can’t do on a digitizer. And there’s no more guesswork-are we off? One of the things I was nervous about was not being able to look at the whole plan while I’m doing my takeoff, so the biggest selling point for me was being able to use multiple monitors. For a small $300 investment, I can be zoomed in on the area I’m working on and still look at the overall plan view.”

Not bad for someone who says he’s not a fan of the computer. “We’ve budgeted 10 jobs already this year for clients who are trying to determine if they have the money to build. Typically, they’d give us a drawing that’s “˜kind of’ to scale but there’s not a grade. With Earthworks, if you come up with two common denominator grades and you spread it around, you may not be getting a very good takeoff, but you can measure all your areas, lengths of buildings, and lengths of the foundation runs. Another thing we’re finding is that our budgets are getting closer and closer to our bids.

“We can also give a general contractor a way to visualize what has to be done on a project, in color, with all the cuts and fills, so they see there’s a lot more to the job than just numbers. It also inspires confidence that we’re working hand in hand, which can maybe help us hang onto some of the old loyalty you don’t see much anymore in this business.”

Vertigraph Inc. describes its SiteWorx/OS takeoff software as reasonably priced, easy-to-use software for calculating cut-and-fill volumes using both PDF and CAD files. Use a mouse to identify existing and proposed elevations in relevant areas, hit a button, and you’ve got a 3D model that shows you the existing site, the prepared site and where to cut and fill, and gives you your volumes and material. Then export it to Excel to do your estimating. Vertigraph’s market is approximately 40% large general contractors who want to verify their site excavation quantities and 60% to 70% in the small-to-midsize range of excavation contractors.

Stellar J Corp. is one of the 40%, a general contractor in Woodland, WA. “We do our own concrete, mechanical, and earthwork, but we also sub it out,” says estimator Marty Thibert. “So it’s good to have a detailed takeoff to be able to compare with the subcontractor’s. Vertigraph’s onscreen takeoff is very user friendly. If we don’t have the drawings electronically, we scan them in. The software isn’t a high-maintenance expense, and it’s been a very reliable program.”

eTakeoff is one of a suite of takeoff options available through Sage Construction and Real Estate, which also offers OnCenter and Planswift. “Probably one of the biggest differences,” says Dennis Stejskal, vice president of strategy and customer retention, “is eTakeoff “˜s powerful advanced pattern search. If you’re doing a lot of curb and cutter work and you want to count every particular drainpipe, you focus on one drain and have the program search the rest of the drawing for all occurrences. A PDF doesn’t have that metadata. This is one of the more powerful features of the application we looked at very closely, because it was step above some of the other tools.