How a Steel Estimator Can Help Optimize the Entire Fabrication Workflow

As a steel estimator, you’re in a prime position to influence the competitive advantage your company is chasing.

Project efficiency is directly correlated to your efficacy as an estimator. Cost control and improving profit margins are lofty ideals that can only be achieved through your efforts in creating accurate and competitive steel project estimates.

The project buck starts, and stops, with you, so how can you best live up to these paramount responsibilities? It’s time to be proactive — leveraging the right strategies and processes, at the right time, is the best professional tool in the estimator’s toolbox.

There are several key areas of the fabrication workflow where an estimator’s influence can have a tremendous impact:

  • Estimating/Bidding
  • Fabrication
  • Erection
  • Analysis

Let’s explore the challenges and solutions associated with each of these stages to better understand how estimators can help boost project profitability.

Estimating/Bidding

From the volatility of steel prices to the complexities of predicting labor requirements, the estimator’s job includes plenty of room for error and inefficiency. 

However, don’t take this challenge lying down. There are strategies you can implement to help keep material costs down, avoid erroneous charges, and improve the accuracy of labor predictions. Here are just a few examples:

  • Keep your PM in the loop: Talk to your project manager. It’s better to keep them abreast of sourcing materials to ensure adequate supplies are on-hand and to avoid costly delays. 
  • Benchmarking: Industry benchmarking helps establish a standard against which to measure materials costs. By doing thorough industry research, you can ensure you’re not overpaying for steel.
  • Adopting the right software: By developing estimates using the right software solution, you can not only make your own job faster and more efficient, you can also improve the detailing, fabrication, and erection phases as well. (More on that below.)

Fabrication

Production managers have the power to affect the results of any stage of the project. This is a powerful position. However, this advantage can easily be wasted without proper project management tech.

Without effective project management, fabricator control is likely to be wasted in favor of less efficient, more fragmented, processes. The best way to improve project efficiency, end to end, is for fabricators to be able to combine estimating, detailing, fabrication, and erection phases into one cohesive, optimized workflow. 

There’s only one way to do this: a tech solution that integrates all of the above and flows information throughout the workflow. With the help of the right software, fabricators can better reap the benefits of prior estimator and detailer collaboration. Look for software that can take an estimating model and utilize it from detailing to fabrication in a format that all project stakeholders can easily read and understand.

Erection

All of the efforts of the previous stages don’t amount to much if a project experiences inefficiencies in the erection stage. 

The primary concern during erection: putting the pieces together. That’s a little reductive, but workers at this stage are mostly concerned with how quickly and efficiently they can put the steel in place without wasting time or effort on errors or compromising crew safety.

Similar to the previous goals, this cannot be achieved in a vacuum. The people erecting steel on the job site must rely on estimators, detailers, and fabricators who are all well acquainted with project challenges. The best result is achieved, if the erector can plan their work early and when necessary, also give their suggestions/recommendations to the fabricator before the job is delivered to the site. 

Solutions are uncovered through cross-disciplinary collaboration, and the erection stage can be greatly streamlined when workers are able to depend on established models already optimized from the estimate onwards. 

Analysis

The last step of any successful project is a retrospective — an analysis of what went right and what went wrong. The construction field is always changing, and remaining competitive depends on strategic analysis and regularly implementing improvements. As a result, analysis must be given proper attention and effort.

Analysis can be significantly streamlined by consolidating records from all phases into a central, digital location — this means choosing the right modeling and fabrication software solution. 

With all phases of the project housed in a centralized solution, analyzing the timeline, quality, and profit of the entire workflow is easy. And, when it’s time to take on the next project, insights gained from the analysis stage can be quickly and easily applied going forward. 

All of the above points have one thing in common: estimating challenges are best addressed through strategic integration of fabrication software. A platform that covers all stages can help uncover improvements project-wide and maximize profitability across the entire steel workflow.

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