The end of manual take-off for Estimators


Any Estimator or Quantity Surveyor will tell you that they have mastered the ruler and pencil in their profession and have the perfect recipe to measure a drawing with great accuracy. But in the past few years, new efficiencies in quantity take-off for Estimators and Quantity Surveyors are now available following the demand to improve a visual design construct environment.

Measuring quantities is a key component in the production of accurate estimates and when re-engineering bill of quantities on a tender. Quantities drive project costs and as a result are critical to the estimating process.

Electronic take-off vs manual take-off

As a Quantity Surveyor for more than 14 years I have had the opportunity to understand the value in electronic quantity take-off and the advantages as to why it is much faster than traditional methods. Apart from the software being more accurate (getting down to measurements within thousandths of a millimetre) most applications also offer tools to highlight and mark-up comments on issues and share with other parties involved. Much of the effort in the tendering and cost control stage is worthless if the subsequent control of the quantities on a bill of quantities is incorrect.

Estimating database

Often quantity take-off is referred to as the “brain drain” when drafting a bills of quantities. Even if you maintain an excel spreadsheet template, keeping them up-to-date with resource pricing and worksheet details can be time intensive. Many contractors find it much more efficient to populate their estimates using a software database that stores all items, pricing sheets, productivity factors, formulas, and other estimating details.

Most electronic take-off systems store databases that also store “assembly groups” allowing estimators to group items and various tasks into one measurement. For example, measuring a brick wall, plaster, painting and other building components in one group.

Built-in error protection

I recently read an article about how 88% of Excel spreadsheets have errors ( and more specifically, in construction where spreadsheets are used across various roles and disciplines to capture and manage data, errors are more likely to occur. Just by simply manually capturing quantities onto an excel spreadsheet, you run the risk of under or over measuring on a tender.

The role of Excel in Electronic take-off

Electronic quantity take-off software (sometimes known as e-Takeoff or QTO) is the groundwork to any estimate or Bill of quantities. It also forms part of the assembly in planning schedules and procurement for a construction project and can be measured off many different electronic file types, including TIFF, PDF, DWF, JPEG and most CAD (computer-aided design) drawings including IFC models in a BIM environment.

Once the quantities have been captured within the electronic take-off  software application of choice, the data can either be exported to an  Excel spreadsheet or shared with a third party estimating software application. This then reduces any duplication or human error while maintaining a full audit trail.

Is there a demand in quantity take-off software?

In my 21 years of industry experience, one valued reason why Estimators and Quantity Surveyors are utilizing quantity take-off software is to improve their efficiency and eliminate risk. With many contractors currently searching for better ways to improve and sustain their growth, increasing efficiency and accuracy is not the only major concern, but integration with estimating software is vital in ensuring that professionals and contractors are measuring apples with apples. It is often too common to hear of a contractor disputing over incorrect bills of quantities measurements with the client professional team.

Is integrating quantity take-off a top priority?

I would definitely say the majority of those using electronic take-off would want integration with an estimating application. While this particular topic does not talk about integration with BIM (Building Information Management), you should also consider how estimating processes will flow if the schedule of quantities were to come directly from the Drawing. i.e Revit or  AutoCAD. This would also have improved controls when re-engineering a bill of quantities, procurement, monthly valuations and sub contract management.


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