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Why is Construction Estimating so Broken?

Construction Estimating

Construction Estimating Problems

Can we agree to spend less time interpreting plans and more time building high quality buildings? Construction estimating is a broken process. Imagine a scenario where you are a material scientist looking to analyze another scientist’s data on the structural properties of gingerbread. So the other scientist sends you a yellow folder with a piece of paper in it with a coffee stain and 5000 data points about the compressive and tensile strength of gingerbread with no units. Next you type each of those data points into your computer and double check each number to make sure you entered it correctly. Then you ask the scientist what his/her units are. That is how construction feels. Plans are treated as generic pictorial representation of how the building should look and be built rather than databases worth sharing.

I studied Mechanical Engineering in college, and I was astounded to learn that the construction industry uses the term LOD which means Level of Detail. LOD can vary from 100-500 where level 100 is very basic architectural sketches and level 500 is as built. Doing mechanical design and creating shop drawings there is no LOD. Everything had to be detailed and dimensioned as built. It isn’t up for a “field fix” or for the shop people to figure out. Tolerances are notated, fastener location and types indicated, material lists created, and nothing is left up to the discretion of the people fabricating or assembling.

Estimating Information Sharing

Imagine if all the work done by structural and mechanical engineers as well as architects could be directly translated into a database of takeoffs for the building. In the engineering world this is called a Bill of Material or BOM. It is an essential list of all the items in an assembly. This would help clarify scope, allow subcontractors to estimate faster, and material to be ordered more accurately. Furthermore, as BIM (building information models) are developed they allow designers to avoid costly construction mistakes from interference of mechanical, structural, and aesthetic systems.

Boxy is working towards better estimating systems, but to do this we think there needs to be fundamental systems for transferring this data between different software, vendors, and designers. There needs to be a design language that doesn’t just consist of different styles of lines but also physical materials, properties, and a whole host of information that will allow us to build faster, high quality, and at a lower design and build price. Take a look at our last post about open source construction to see some ideas about information transfer.

Comment below or reach out to us to see how we are bridging the design and construction process.

Build with Boxy,

Mateo Atwi

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