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What goes into a top-notch fabrication estimate?

Woman sat in front of computer using Tekla PowerFab

The estimator talent pool has never been more impressive. While this is good news for the continued progress of the construction industry, it does raise the issue of market saturation. Given mounting talent options, how do you qualify a great fabrication estimator? How do you identify the traits that will lead to cost-effective, quick estimation work?

Effective project estimation is much more than mere number crunching — a mixture of the right technology and a little strategic planning is just as integral to project success. The project buck starts (and stops) with estimators, so make sure to look out for these key fabrication estimate elements.

When is estimation most effective?

Despite the infinite variability of project needs, effective estimation comes down to two factors:

  • Balance — Estimation is all about balancing speed and accuracy. These factors are two sides of the same coin: who doesn’t want to reduce time commitment without sacrificing delivery quality? Estimators that are able to strike a balance are most likely to uncover project savings while still satisfying customer needs.
  • Duplicatable — Carrying over successes from previous jobs is an invaluable estimator asset. If something worked well under certain conditions, that means it will likely work again. Truth be told, effective estimation is half adaptability and half self-plagiarism. It’s a good idea to recognise productivity wins and attempt to duplicate them when possible.

Any estimator worth their steel knows that, no matter the project, the above ideals are universal. But, how can estimators actually transform these lofty goals into tangible results?

That brings us to the next most important element of effective estimation: technology. The right technology is often the defining difference between a good estimate and a great estimate.

Key estimating technology

As the project origin point, estimators have the power to affect the results of all stages of a  construction project. This is a powerful position, but can be lost without the proper tech. Estimators use the following technology to uncover optimal fabrication estimates:

  • Project management platform — One of the greatest tools in an estimator’s toolbox is a historical record of previous project results. Estimators are able to look toward the future by looking into the past. A platform that collects estimating, detailing, fabrication, and erection data into one cohesive, optimised workflow can inform the estimation process going forward.
  • BIM Software — With the right BIM software, estimators can simply do their job more effectively. BIM software for fabrication estimation is an intuitive way of actualising ideas. 3D models are an interactive source of fabrication information that can be used for CNC processing, material handling, and robotic welding, and can then be carried directly into the erection phase without requiring translation.
  • Automation — Many estimators have jumped on the automation bandwagon to eliminate redundant, repetitive tasks and improve day-to-day productivity. Automation technology for fabrication estimation can be used to automatically generate a Bill of Quantities and cost estimate from a 3D CAD building model.

As you can see, there is no hard-and-fast rule for effective estimation. This is a complex job full of inconsistent variables. However, one thing is for sure — estimators at the top of their field combine strategic planning with cutting-edge technological solutions. Together, these crucial elements culminate into a valuable estimating win/win: reduced project cost and streamlined fabrication workflows.