Automated take-off vs. digital take-off - What’s the difference?

​​Intro to electrical estimating
Automated take-off vs. digital take-off - What’s the difference?

Are you looking for a quicker method to count your takeoffs? The traditional approach suggests that you get better at accurate manual counting with experience, but however you slice it pen and paper remains a time consuming process. Consequently, many electrical estimators are exploring automated software solutions for streamlining their takeoffs. 

Once you start to look around, you’ll notice there can be considerable differences in terms of price and software features and functionalities. Some software packages offer digital takeoff capabilities while others, like Countfire, provide a fully automated end-to-end estimating solution. 

So, what sets these options apart? What value do they bring, and how might they enhance your overall productivity? Let’s delve deeper: 

The difference between digital and automated takeoff software

Counting takeoffs is the process of quantifying all the materials and components involved with completing an electrical project, before providing a cost estimate. In the past, when only paper drawings were available, estimators relied on manually counting symbols on the drawing, usually highlighting them and then filling in a spreadsheet.

With the majority of plans now available in digital formats, the transition to working from digital files offer numerous benefits to estimators. For example, there is less need for physical paper and minimises the space required for the job. Moreover, digital takeoff and estimating software becomes a valuable tool for ensuring accurate counts. 

However, when seeking out an automated solution, it’s crucial to exercise caution when encountering claims of a “digital takeoff feature”. Not all claims of automation deliver the time-saving advantages one might expect. The effectiveness of digital takeoff software varies, with some solutions advertising themselves as “automated” when, in reality, they require manual pointing and clicking for each symbol on the drawing. A process that often turns out to be slower than manually counting (and a recipe for RSI!)

Occasionally, software packages blur the lines between “digital” and “automated”, claiming to offer an automated takeoff solution while still relying on mainly manual interactions. It’s important to be aware of the differences when looking at software solutions to ensure you don’t come away disappointed.

What is true automated takeoff software?

A truly automated software offers substantial benefits and eliminates that manual “point and click” method that digital takeoff software involves.

True automated takeoff software goes beyond this and will automatically count the quantities for each symbol on your drawing. It will produce a report to show these quantities and should incorporate a robust checking feature to ensure nothing is overlooked. The idea is that the software should save you time and improve your accuracy – it shouldn’t create extra, unnecessary headaches.

When evaluating various options for takeoff and estimating software, it is important to really scrutinise the actual counting mechanism. We strongly recommend seeking out a solution that genuinely automates the process, otherwise you probably won’t see much of a difference in terms of efficiency gains.

Some products, like Countfire, go a step further and provide a full end-to-end estimating solution, enabling you to create takeoffs and complete estimates all in one place.

Software pricing differences

When you’re comparing the pricing between various software options, the ability to automatically count can be a major differentiator. Software that offers truly automated counting has more advanced technology and would therefore come at a slightly higher cost, however, it usually provides a worthwhile return on investment in terms of speed and accuracy improvements. 

For instance, Countfire is a truly automated end-to-end estimating solution and we’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback that allows us to quantify potential benefits of using the tool. A common observation by our customers is that Countfire more than pays for itself. On average, companies who implemented Countfire managed to save an average of five days per month, per estimator with each estimator needing to dedicate only 2.5 hours to each project. 

The bottom line is, when exploring estimating software solutions, it’s crucial to thoroughly understand what each option offers, how it can enhance your business, and the tangible benefits it brings. Sometimes a lower price tag might seem attractive, but the features might not deliver sufficient time of accuracy savings to justify the investment. On the other hand, a seemingly higher price might translate into cost savings and efficiencies that ultimately save you money overall.

Additional considerations

The primary objective of integrating software solutions is to streamline your processes and enhance efficiency, not introduce unnecessary complexities. So, here are a few other questions to consider: 

  1. How does the software cope with intricate, complex drawings? Are you able to hide or otherwise control the background to make counting easier? 
  2. How intuitive is the software? Let’s say your drawing has multiple symbols to count, but some of the symbols are shown sideways or upside-down – will the software recognise that it is looking at the same symbol, just from a rotated perspective?
  3. How straightforward is it to check the software’s accuracy? No estimator should be “out of the loop.” Estimators should know that the software has given them an accurate count. Features, such as the checksheets function in Countfire, are important and should be easy for you to use.
  4. What level of support is offered with the software? Timely and efficient support can be crucial, and responsiveness can vary among different software, and not to mention it’s also tied to cost. Make sure you have the level of support you need. 
  5. What are your goals? Ensure you go into your search knowing what you want to achieve from implementing software. This will help you to devise a list of “must-haves” and sort through your options based on those that meet your requirements.

Final thoughts

There can be some marked differences between takeoff and estimating software solutions and these often reflect in the cost of the product. It’s crucial to distinguish between digital takeoff software and genuinely automated takeoff software, particularly when your primary objective is efficiency. 

Digital solutions may still necessitate an abundance of manual clicks which can result in limited time savings. On the other hand, automation should imply that symbols are counted automatically and many solutions may still fall short in this implementation. 

An important consideration is the ability to access a software demo and gain a full understanding of its functionality. If you find the software lacks user-friendliness, it can then be challenging to implement it within your team effectively. 

On the flip side, it might offer a simple interface but lack the essential features you need. Therefore it is essential to have a clear understanding of your requirements before embarking on the selection process. This knowledge will guide you in making an informed choice that aligns with your company’s needs.