Kent Companies is the 19th largest commercial concrete contractor in the U.S. It has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Associated Builder and Contractors Awards of Excellence, the national Tilt-Up Concrete Association Achievement Award and the ABC Environmental Protection Award. Their Dallas location serves Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico. They focus on commercial buildings, multi-family housing and parking structures. A typical project is $1-$2 million in concrete work. They have been in business for 20 years and get most of their work through recommendations and invitations. Their work is both negotiated and competitive bid.
We recently spoke with their senior estimator, Dan Hoppe. Dan’s been in construction since 1977 and with Kent since 2001. They began using eTakeoff in 2007. Prior to that they used digitizers but now “they’re all unplugged”. Dan says two years ago only 40% of the plans they received were electronic. Now it’s nearly all of them. They receive plans from various planrooms, from FTP sites and on CDs and DVDs. All the plans go to a clerk, who uses eTakeoff Import to split up multi-page files, assign useful names, rotate them to the proper orientation, assign them to subfolders and add them to an eTakeoff Project. Then she exports the project to their server (where the drawing files are also stored) for access by one of Kent’s three estimators. Each estimator keeps their own database of projects, importing and exporting as needed.
Dan says the biggest improvement from using eTakeoff has been better accuracy. They still generate about 350 estimates per year as they were in 2007, but now they have more time to review their work, takeoff multiple options and handle revisions more effectively. Electronic plans allow takeoff review that’s impossible with paper plans. Dan recently upgraded to release 2.5 from a much older version. A large part of our discussion was about how he might use the new features.
Dan uses the Premier version of eTakeoff and makes extensive use of the quantity worksheet. He assigns measurements to the worksheet items as he creates them, automatically giving them the correct trace, layer, etc. He uses layers extensively because in concrete estimating, the measurements tend to fall right on top of each other. To review one type of takeoff, he needs to hide other types. We showed him how he could use the Audit Mode feature in the quantity worksheet for review. In audit mode, you move the focus to a worksheet item and only the measurements assigned to that item or its children are displayed. In many cases this is easier than turning layers off and on.
Another audit feature Dan thinks might be useful is the Assignment Count column in the Measurement List. If you sort by this column, unassigned measurements are at the top of the list (with a zero count) and multiply assigned measurements are at the bottom. This makes it easy to spot assignment errors.
Dan’s measurements can be complex. He makes extensive use of disconnected points. He sometimes wants two separate measurements for the same object, one for area and one for perimeter. We showed him how he could copy a measurement and change the trace, rather than taking it off again. He uses text annotations to note elevations needed for a measurement but found on another drawing. He uses both text and cloud annotations to note items that need review. We showed him how he can use issues to do this even more effectively.
Dan uses drawing comparison to copy measurements from one floor to another where most of the takeoff is repeated (as in multi-story parking structures). He uses the drawing legend so that he can print drawings with the takeoff and distribute them to the field. Like many eTakeoff users, he has two monitors, sometimes putting one drawing on each one. Before release 2.5, he did that by running two copies of eTakeoff. Now he can use the “Extra Drawing Window” feature.
Dan uses Excel to generate his final estimate but isn’t using the eTakeoff Excel Integration yet. He says he needs to find time to reorganize his spreadsheets first. One future enhancement he’d like to see is to automatically export projects when they’re changed (planned for the next major release). He’d also like to be able to display an additional measurement column in the measurement list and the quantity worksheet. This would allow him to display both the area and the perimeter for a measurement. He’d like to be able to float a quantity worksheet template and grab items from it as needed. It’s ideas from users like Dan that help us make eTakeoff better and better. If you have ideas that you would like to have included in eTakeoff, we invite you to visit the Forum and let us know.