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Tomorrow's Estimator

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June 12, 2019

In June 2003, Richard Manrod presented his paper, “The How, Why and Future of Estimating” to NECA's Academy of Electrical Contracting. Since things change so rapidly, we talked to Manrod to find out if some of his ideas have come true.

Manrod, an instructor for McCormick estimating systems since 1999, has an impressive resume. He operated Manrod Electric Inc., in Rockford, Ill., for 35 years. A NECA member since 1968, he served on the Northern Illinois Negotiating Chapter for more than 20 years, as chapter president for 10 and governor for two. He has also developed his own computerized estimating system and taught computerized electrical contracting at the University of Wisconsin.

Manrod's presentation to the academy touched on the likelihood of an all-digital future for plans an specifications. He wrote:

“The days of picking up paper plans will have ended, and drawings will be sent over the Internet or on a CD. This transition will happen almost overnight, similar to how the fax took over the industry. Users of a CAD estimating program will have the advantage of being on the leading edge of the industry.”

Some contractors have been successful in obtaining digital drawings and others haven't, Manrod said. Engineers have made the shift from paper to digital quickly, but electrical contractors need to keep pace.

“Our industry is probably the most technical industry other than HVAC in construction. And I think a lot of our contractors are behind the plumbers,” he said. “It's a shame, because we gave away some industries. I remember back when we used to do all the HVAC controls. We barely do any of that work anymore, unless we specialize in controls.

Educating contractors on the benefits of CAD is essential. Traveling the country as a McCormick trainer, Manrod finds many contractors want to know about CAD.

“Some contractors are afraid of it. They believe they wouldn't be able to use (CAD) after they get it,” he said “Quite frankly, in probably a day or a day and a half, almost any contractor can learn enough about Auto CAD to be able to do the 2-D drawings needed. It used to be difficult. It no longer is.”

Manrod said contractors are so busy with their day-to-day tasks, they don't have time to get into it. They think they'll have to hire someone with CAD skills, but teaching themselves the program isn't hard.

The last five years he was in business, Manrod used CAD for most jobs his company did. If field personnel can get the complete drawings, they are not using a lot of time on the job doing drawings with a pencil so people can install the work. Manrod said it is a lot easier to have the 'as-builts' already drawn.

CAD/estimating packages will be “the future,” Manrod added.

“If you have to do the as-builts anyway, my concept is, even if you can't get the drawings to estimate with, draw the job the way the field people need to install it, take it off with the CAD estimating system, and furnish a material list, so the workers in the field have the right material at the right time,” he said.

To help contractors who use traditional blueprints, it might be wise for NECA national to furnish the tools necessary to create architect/engineer committees, as his chapter did.

“We had a plan-deposit card system. To obtain plans, one needed only to present the card to the architect. It eliminated the up-front money for plan deposits,” Manrod said.

Manrod said the most important part of the paper was his insistence that contractors know exactly what they are getting into with every job they bid. That holds true no matter how technically sophisticated the operation. He trains contractors all over the country and has discovered many bid jobs simply because the plans are there.

“If you think about what it costs for an estimate, that estimator, he's probably making foreman's wages or better, and if he's bidding a job that has more than three bidders on it, the guy that's going to get that job is somebody who really shouldn't have it,” Manrod said. “Estimating's expensive and I gave them a whole bunch of reasons not to estimate. Look at it and say, 'Is this some job I really want to do?' Something I want to spend the time on or is there something else out there better for me?'”

Successful contractors, he's found, have discovered a niche and exploit it.

“And when you do that, the profit's there. Hopefully, otherwise you shouldn't be doing it. Then you have this bid market where you're bidding against 10 or 12,” he said. “If you've got a job with 10 or 12 bidders and you get the job, you'd better go back and look at what you did.” EC