How do you manage counting takeoffs when faced with a huge new electrical project?
In many companies, this raises the spectre of large quantities of drawings strewn across the office as estimators work to count all the elements manually.
When you look at large projects especially, this time spent on estimating adds a significant number of manpower hours to a project, something Mike Tydd and the team at ROC aim to reduce.
Here’s how their journey with Countfire has helped:
ROC has grown up since 2004, from starting as a small electrical contractor, to a full mechanical and electrical solution for major projects. Some of these past projects include work on the London Olympic Stadium, Gatwick Airport, The Ivy and Hilton Bankside.
We spoke with Mike Tydd, who is an estimator with the company and has been there for roughly 18 months. He says; “the company has a turnover of around £16m and we do a lot of commercial and residential work; for example, with lots of high-rise apartments. There’s a big demand for that at the moment. We’re currently working on the new Brighton hospital, which is our biggest project at the moment.”
Besides Mike, the company employs Neil, a bid manager who also estimates, and a junior estimator. They also subcontract parts of their projects from time to time. Mike says all estimators use Countfire for counting takeoffs and that their surveyors and works department will also get onboard with using it shortly.
“I’ve only been with ROC for 18 months so the Brighton 3Ts job is the first proper project that I’ve been involved in from start of tender to contracts being signed. It’s a £5.5m package, although it’s not the only electrical work on that project. It was a major milestone for the company and it would have been incredibly difficult to land this project and do the work without Countfire,” Mike says.
“ROC has been using Countfire for a while, certainly before I joined, which is why I learned how to use it myself. I did training with Countfire over the phone and like anything the more you use something, the more efficient you become with it.” This has proven to be enormously helpful on large projects...
Challenges with large electrical projects
Like many electrical estimators, Mike started out as an apprentice at a local company before progressing through the ranks to run projects himself. “My career in estimating was not planned,” he says. “I was asked to assist the office with a tender for the second phase of a project where I had worked on the first phase. Then, as time passed by I was asked to help out more and more with estimates, until before long I was offered the role on a permanent basis.”
Of course, like many other estimators, Mike’s introduction to the role involved a lot of manual work. This meant working with printed drawings and counting takeoffs by hand, with the aid of a highlighter and spreadsheet. “In previous jobs I was manually counting, Mike says. “It was not fun. Highlighter pens and A1/A0 bits of paper everywhere.”
This can be particularly exacerbated on large projects. “When you’ve got massive quantities of certain things you can see how vast the project is; especially in such a small area. We need to be able to zoom right in close to the screen and mark it. Doing it on A1 drawings with pens would be a nightmare” Mike says. “Secondly it would be a nightmare to try to log it all - if a phone call came in, going back to it would be an absolute nightmare.”
Mike also thinks about the environmental and printing costs of multiple large drawings. “It would be a huge waste of paper. Brighton 3Ts is over 250 electrical drawings and to print all of those out would be a huge cost. It would also be very time consuming,” he says.
An improved estimating process
Using Countfire to count takeoffs helps to eliminate or mitigate some of the major estimating challenges on those large projects. One common danger is that elements might get missed during counting, especially on those large, very detailed drawings. Countfire allows estimators to zoom in and to easily see what has and hasn’t been counted already.
“At the moment we’ve got so much work on that we’re trying to keep our heads above water. It’s exciting,” Mike says. “I always think of tendering as something that happens in three stages: one, you’ve got to understand the job and get your head around it. Then you’ve got to do your takeoffs - which is when we use Countfire - and then you have to do your inputting.”
Countfire has helped Mike and the team to simplify how they conduct estimates by automating the counting of takeoffs. “For me, personally, there is no doubt that Countfire is extremely easy to use - the more you use it the easier it becomes and the better you get at it. It’s quicker, you’re not wasting paper and you’ve got records of what you’ve done.”
It’s not just the initial estimating where a good tool for takeoffs is needed, but over the course of the project too. A common characteristic of large projects is that they change over time. It’s vital that team members can quickly access up-to-date information.
“We have site teams as well who’ll also dive in and out of Countfire,” Mike says. “If we use the Brighton 3Ts hospital job as an example it’s a huge job. Jobs change and develop after you win them and things need to be kept on top of. So our site teams do that; we have quantity surveyors and project managers who will keep an eye on the variations. The estimating doesn’t stop at the office.”
Mike also enjoys being able to easily answer queries and run checks on the data he has:
“If you’ve got queries you can go back into (Countfire) and it’s amazing that the data goes into a spreadsheet,” he says. “Once it’s in a spreadsheet format you can do formulas and all sorts of things.”
Mike explains; “There are certain jobs where I do a material list before and, for example, I may think that for one item I may need three conduit boxes, and for another item it will be another conduit box. And then at the end the spreadsheet spits it all out. When you input something into Excel it’s fantastic. What we do know is that Countfire makes our takeoffs quicker. It’s good for us. Our company is growing and I expect we’ll be increasing our licenses at some point.”
“If you’re still on the fence about Countfire I’d recommend you do a trial for a month, maybe on a big project when you have some time. Because once you’ve tried Countfire on that you won’t go back,” Mike says.
Mike and the ROC team are enjoying how Countfire saves them time, helps to streamline their processes and allows them to easily check for any queries.
“I’d describe Countfire as extremely efficient. Most estimator’s desks are covered in paper and have bits and pieces all over the place. Countfire helps with that; you haven’t got drawings everywhere. It’s faster and tidier,” he says.
“If we didn’t use Countfire we’d have to go back to manual work with paper.”