New technology continues to grow and change, offering greater benefits to the construction industry than ever before. For hvac and plumbing contractors, this means more cutting-edge solutions that will improve the way business is done.

One key to solutions that will improve contractors' daily business activities is ease of use and total integration, vital features that allow for completely seamless business processes. Estimation, Inc.'s Productivity Suite,¿ is designed to streamline the estimating, purchasing, and project management processes.

Productivity Suite components include the latest version of Estimation's industry-standard estimating system, the Bidmaster NET Series®; a comprehensive materials management system called the Purchase Master NET Series®; and an on-line project management system, WebManager,¿ which helps facilitate project communication. Together, these tools carry contractors from start to finish on projects of all sizes.

The project process begins with the bid, and, with Bidmaster NET, creating a bid to submit is a fast and efficient process. The system comes equipped with an extensive database of industry-standard materials, accessories, and a choice of labor units, which can easily be customized to fit individual needs. The hvac database includes a complete inventory of both rectangular and non-rectangular items, allowing contractors to estimate the full layout, fabrication, and installation of sheet metal. For plumbing contractors, Bidmaster NET contains a full range of pipes, valves, fittings, fixtures, by-products, and standard hook-up assemblies.

What gives Bidmaster NET its speed is a combination of pre-built, yet customizable, material assemblies, which eliminate the time-consuming repetition of takeoff, and a innovative device, called a Power Pad,¿ that lets contractors focus entirely on their plans during takeoff. The Power Pad is a flat and portable, 9 1/2" x 13" touch pad with changeable menus that contain all of the information needed for takeoff. When combined with an electronic digitizer, the Power Pad eliminates the need take your eyes off the blueprint while stripping blueprint measurements. Pre-built assemblies can be taken off with a single touch of the Power Pad without the contractor ever looking up from the drawing.

Once takeoff is complete, Bidmaster NET takes all of the information entered, including conditions, materials, by-products, accessories, and labor, and creates a detailed bid analysis called a Summary. To help cut costs, the contractor can use Summary to sort high-cost materials in order to focus on the critical portions of the project. Summary can also be used to sort selected high-priced items or out-of-date prices and search for current or more accurate prices.

Following Summary, Bidmaster NET generates a bid summary report to break down project costs quickly and easily. Bid Summary automatically calculates and adds in taxes, wages, travel time, quoted items, fringe benefits, subcontractor costs, direct job expenses, and more and enables you to produce a variety of custom reports. All of the Bid Summary information can also easily be imported into Microsoft® Excel¿ for extra flexibility.

When it's time to begin purchasing and managing materials for the project, Purchase Master NET helps contractors take control of these processes. The system generates and manages purchase orders, requisitions, and back orders, plus tracks project materials. Delivered with a Trade Service database, Purchase Master NET also puts your entire purchasing history at your fingertips so that you can negotiate for better discounts.

Purchase Master NET also has important integration capabilities. For instance, the Bill of Materials, a report created in Bidmaster NET, can be imported into Purchase Master NET, allowing materials to be purchased directly from it. With Purchase Master NET, you can even get material price quotes over the Internet, instantly. You can e-mail the Bill of Materials to your supplier or multiple suppliers and receive material prices, availability, back order information, and more, all on-line. This integration saves time and allows for a streamlined estimating and purchasing process. For an even more streamlined process, Purchase Master NET integrates with many industry-standard accounting systems. With Purchase Master NET, estimating, purchasing, and accounting departments can finally share important information.

(Tina Fleming is the marketing director for Estimation, Inc., Linthicum Heights, Maryland; contact them at 800-275-6444; fax 410-789-3207.)