For more than 30 years, Construction Computer Software (CCS) delivered innovative solutions empowering companies to increase productivity and visibility, and manage risk across engineering & construction projects. Today, the company provides value across each project lifecycle stage to more than 19,000 users in 50 countries.
According to CCS Product and Development Manager Tony Cornwall, the company stakes its reputation on having estimating software “much like the industry it serves” -- robust, dependable, and fast.
In 2015, CCS decided to integrate a free add-on to round out the features of its flagship estimating application Candy QTO3, to let users do quick measures of materials from drawings on screen, a process known in the industry as quantity takeoff.
“As construction work progresses, users need to constantly perform estimates, many linked to payment for ordering of materials. And they need to get that information off the drawing board and through the ranks as quickly as possible,” stated Cornwall.
Three years ago, CCS went with a lower-cost alternative that would let Candy convert drawings sent as PDFs for rendering in CAD format on desktop.
The initial experience was great. But as many customers started to upload bigger and more complex construction drawings, they ran into application memory issues, causing some files to load slowly, improperly or not at all. Customers then started to incorrectly attribute these problems to buggy software, and some looked at alternative estimating packages with a better takeoff feature, giving competitors a chance to “get a foot in the door”.
“Pretty soon, we knew we had a problem,” Cornwall said.
CCS quickly decided it was time for an upgrade. And after carefully evaluating PDF SDK vendors, and testing each solution against a body of 190 demanding construction drawings, CCS chose PDFTron SDK for its unsurpassed memory efficiency, reliability, and accuracy.
linkCCS's Business Challenges
- CCS created a free add-on that would let users perform quantity takeoff directly on screen as part of their estimating process
- However, new CAD software solutions such as RevitⓇ were encouraging companies to generate larger and more complex drawings
- These drawings started to load slowly or not at all, leading to user dissatisfaction with Candy’s free takeoff add-on and giving competitors a chance to “get their foot in the door”
linkHow PDFTron Helped Overcome These Challenges
- Enabled Candy users to perform takeoff directly in PDFs
- Improved load times without taking shortcuts that would harm the UX
- Solved user application memory issues, guaranteeing reliable takeoff on larger and more complex drawings
linkQuantity Takeoff Explained
When bidding for and during projects, contractors need to perform material and labor cost estimates based on measurements taken from construction & engineering blueprints.
Traditionally, this would be done with paper drawings, entailing delays to copy, courier and measure by hand. To speed things up, many companies today do all their quantity takeoff work electronically.
During the computerized takeoff process, contractors assemble and render electronic drawings, sent by architects and engineers. The stakes are high and workflows ultra fast-paced. Contractors need documents that display quickly and accurately to ensure they get their estimates correct and submitted on time.
According to Cornwall, a single rendering mistake -- a vector drawn with the wrong stroke width -- could easily lead to the ordering of too much drywall or cement. And in a worst-case scenario, a rendering error might be literally built in place, creating huge cost overruns, headaches and delays to get it torn down and fixed.
Furthermore, “They’ve got quite tight deadlines with last minute changes and addendums coming in late at night. And if at the 11th hour your takeoff system is not reading that last file, even if you rendered the last 10 out of 11 files perfectly, you can’t get your estimate. That person can’t do their job. Effectively you could lose business by not being able to open one of these PDFs.
linkFirst Solution Before PDFTron
CCS’s decision three years ago was to build a takeoff solution using an open source CAD viewer acquired from the Open Design Alliance. PDF files sent by architects and engineers would be converted into DWG files once uploaded, allowing users to perform takeoff on desktop in a well-known format, used across many popular design solutions for its ease of editing and rich feature set.
Using features from multiple vendors, CCS was therefore able to build a takeoff solution that meet their initial criteria and worked great with the drawings users were uploading at the time.
However, the free add-on, what initially seemed like a win-win, later ran into trouble: Users encountered issues loading and rendering some drawings, which were becoming progressively larger and more complex due to the introduction of new, high-powered CAD solutions, including BIM solutions such as Autodesk® Revit®. In many cases, advanced 3D models were now being partitioned and “flattened out” into compact 2D PDF schematics, shared for upload into Candy. Cornwall stated that when intricate vector information was converted back into CAD format, the memory-consumption of these files would just “blow up”. And some files would load slowly or improperly, or even crash the application.
Cornwall added that inferior takeoff didn’t lead to lost sales because CCS sold its takeoff feature as a “free value-add” rather than as part of the total product, which continued to differentiate based on a robust core estimating package.
Nevertheless, users would call CCS for help with problem drawings, and the free add-on would thus eventually acquire an unreasonable technical support burden. More serious was when some customers and prospects had started to look at alternative estimating packages with a better takeoff feature, giving these competitors a chance to “get their foot in the door”.
When even some CCS resellers stopped recommending Candy’s takeoff add-on, CCS knew it was time for an upgrade.
linkUpgrading CCS’s Takeoff Feature
When Cornwall set out looking for an alternative, he wanted a PDF SDK that would fix their memory problems and scale with their business. “Our primary requirement was, here is a big chunk of demanding PDF files. Can you open them?” he said.
CCS would test each vendor’s rendering engine against a collection of 190 demanding PDF drawings, sent to CCS from customers largely because of issues loading.
Competitor solutions struggled to open at least one or two drawings. Others managed to load all the drawings sent its way -- but only by taking shortcuts, such as rasterizing PDF vector information into bitmap images, which meant that “when you zoomed into a big file, memory use just jumped up 200-to-300 megabytes.”
When it came time to put PDFTron’s SDK through the gauntlet, CCS was able to quickly build a fully functional proof of concept.
“With PDFTron’s extensive list of examples, you can just download them all and run it in your own environment. Then without looking too much at technical documentation -- just read the code samples -- you can work out the capabilities quite fast. It’s all there and well commented,” Cornwall said.
“And from what I could tell, PDFTron handled the memory issue the best.”
linkOutcome and Future Plans
With PDFTron in place and the ink dry on their contract, Cornwall says he has peace of mind.
Thanks to PDFTron, CCS’s users can now perform takeoff quickly and reliably, even on complex drawings -- ensuring the quality of CCS’s quantity takeoff experience matches that of its core estimating package.
Moreover, the full-featured PDFTron SDK has also opened doors to development of new features and platforms. For example: Construction Computer Software now plans to use the PDFTron WebViewer to let users perform takeoff directly in a browser.
“I think there is this perception -- one I had encountered right from the start -- that PDF is easy,” Cornwall shared. “Maybe because Adobe gives away a free PDF reader, the world seems to think anybody can do PDF. But not everyone can do it properly.
“Because if your client-base starts relying on that PDF reader, exactly what happened to us, they still want the absolute best quality. With PDFTron, I absolutely feel we’re in a better position to handle all our present and future PDF requirements.”
If you have any questions about how PDFTron SDK can help enable growth for your organization, please feel free to get in touch!
linkAbout Construction Computer Software (CCS)
For over 35 years, CCS has provided essential software solutions to the construction industry.
Construction Computer Software is a comprehensive and highly scalable suite of integrated software modules for estimating, management, control and accounting system for construction projects. Learn more at constructioncomputersoftware.com.