It’s hard to think of a slide rule as being an ancient artifact that belongs in the Museum of Old Estimating Tools. Yet the rapid pace of today’s technology relegates it to the primitive display- right alongside graph paper, column ledger pads, pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, triangular scales, colored pencils, colored highlighters, dividers and protractors.

These once essential tools for quantity takeoff have been replaced with super-fast software that empowers estimators to do in hours what they once did in days. Remember way back when - earlier in this century when blueprints were actually blue or on a black background with notes, images and lines were white? Today, drawings are viewed on our computers in the office or on the go with our mobile devices. We even use Building Information Modeling systems for projects and determining takeoff quantities and drones to supply data points for maps.

From Colored Pencils to Calculators

Let’s take a closer look at how far we’ve come in terms of takeoff speed and accuracy. Before the era of personal computers, electronic spreadsheets and compound formulas, there were the days of colored pencils, highlighters, notepads and calculators. In this era, takeoff was a cumbersome process where you would open the plan and use colored markers to highlight your takeoff as you counted or measured. 

For those still doing takeoff this way, the hardest part is staying focused to keep up with your counts, right? Just when you grab the yellow pad to write down a count like “45 doors,” the phone rings or someone stops by with a question. Then there is the issue of knocking over your eighth cup of coffee—all before 10 a.m.

By comparison, takeoff and estimating software programs today can count as you click so you can visually see if those doors are counted or not. Another example, manual takeoff of linear measurements means you have to first measure the length of that wall or concrete trench, then go back over the same area, using your highlighter to mark properly that the takeoff was complete. 

If It’s Colored, It’s Counted

The good news is that takeoff software will only measure what you highlight, meaning you can stop mid-sentence or mid-wall—or even mid-sneeze—and have that conversation without losing your place. Before digital takeoff, measuring complex volumes was difficult, requiring a protractor, slide rule, calculator and an intimate knowledge of how diameter, pi and radius all work together. 

Now, you can choose the type of complicated formula takeoff and the software automatically calculates the volume and surface area based on built-in formulas. For example, the old round concrete columns with tapered round caps are now just a quick click instead of having to put your geometry and calculus to the test. In this example, the old way of doing it involved having to write another line on your accounting ledger sheet, then go back and perform the count, measure and calculations for the rebar in one column, another line for the concrete and even more lines for the labor, waste and form removals. Can we all agree this is and was tedious - not to mention error prone?

Draw the Takeoff Once

Consider what a great leap forward we’ve experienced when it comes to today’s takeoff solutions that provide options for using assemblies or multi-function takeoff. Now, you can assign to the takeoff condition to all the parts and pieces that make up that column, wall, ceiling and footing. This can include excavation, haul off, compaction, rebar, rebar tie wire, formwork, tiebacks, nails, concrete volume, concrete pump and labor for each individual item. For the modern estimator, this quick setup takes about two minutes and the actual takeoff takes seconds. 

Now, imagine what this would look like if you were still doing manual takeoff. What if you had multiple floors, multiple conditions of the same thing? You had better get that calculator tape going so you can justify your counts to the senior estimator. Now you can use digital takeoff to do all this in two minutes and using multi-takeoff complexities to count columns for an entire building in minutes. Even more amazing—you’ll also be able to produce a detailed report to show how many rolls of tie wire you need.

Organize Data Automatically—Minus the Fax Machine

The old way of doing manual takeoff wasn’t pretty. We lived in a world of FedEx, fax machines, yellow legal pads and old green accounting ledger pages. Everything was written by hand. Different people would rip spec books apart into various stacks to perform takeoff. Manila folders were labeled by estimate or projects, there inside were other folders marked “concrete” or other detailed portions of takeoff. You would have to file vendor/supplier quotes in there as well. Without email, you had to deal with fax paper that kept rolling up on you. 

What is truly mind-boggling is that we now receive twice the volume of electronic documents compared to paper plans. We also use computers and software to transmit and receive plans, bids, takeoffs and RFIs. The cloud, servers and hard drives can now be used to store data, files, plans, photos, notes, bids and takeoffs. Estimators can literally sort through millions of pieces of data in seconds, instead of rummaging through the storage closet for hours trying to find the as-built drawings.

Quite frankly, perhaps the only old school, paper takeoff item to miss is the cheat sheet, which was a checklist for keeping you focused during takeoff. If you haven’t transferred your old checklists and processes to the digital world, you could skip right over something. There was also the convenience of flipping quickly between sheets in a set of plans, visualize the entire sheet and flip back again. With takeoff software, if you see nothing highlighted, then you know you missed it. 

Trade Your Slide Rule for Software

Let’s face it, if your job involves calculating detailed conditions, it may be time to start a campfire with those old ledger sheets and join today’s multi-user, multi-sheet takeoff with built-in mathematical functionality. Why not give those worn out highlighters with only eight colors to your children? Isn’t it time you put your calculator in the Museum of Old Estimating Tools? Go ahead and join the millions who are using their mouse to highlight a zillion different color combinations for takeoff.