Empowering non-experts with the ability to create quotes is allowing fabricators to generate more quotes at a faster rate. But Excel isn’t the answer. Today, an automated solution is ensuring that quotes are not only fast but taps in to real-time information to ensure accuracy, account for unknown variables, and dictate profitability.
In the not so distant past generating winning quotes in the metal fabrication industry relied heavily on a certain level of skill and experience. This was true for fab shops, job shops and even steel service centers. Traditionally parts might be measured, material prices tracked down, and estimates gathered for machine run-time, cleaning, painting, labor and shipping costs factored in. For too many fab shops, job shops, and metal service centers the process remains largely based on the inherent knowledge (and a little guesswork) of senior estimators or salespersons. This limitation directly impacts the speed at which a quote can be created, the number of quotes that can be generated in a day, week or year – and ultimately the organization’s profitability.
For too many fabricators this guestimate-driven approach remains the status quo. In today’s fast-paced, quick-turnaround world, the fastest quote often wins the job. Consequently it’s little wonder that fabricators who are not embracing more efficient and automated quoting tools are feeling the effects.
“Quoting speed, accuracy and consistency is vital for any business; and with all of its unknown variables and moving targets this is no simple task for fabricators,” explained Brad Stropes, COO of SecturaSOFT (www.secturasoft.com). “Simply cranking out quotes isn’t the answer as speed without accuracy can spell disaster for the bottom line. Quotes that do not accurately reflect all related costs may win you the battle but will lose the war.”
No matter if you’re a very small job shop or a larger metal service center it’s time take a closer look at your quoting tool. Electronic spread sheets have been around since the late 1970s and were once the standard for quoting and other business applications. But their time has passed - comparing Excel to an advanced quoting application is like pitting a land line telephone up against a smartphone. There’s simply no comparison. It’s time to give Excel the boot and begin using something more automated and advanced.
The Answer: Leveraging Real-Time Information
What can job shops and fab shops on limited budgets do to improve quoting success? “Many have turned to MRP systems in an attempt to automate the process,” said Stropes. “However, most of today’s commercial MRP/Quoting systems remain heavily dependent on users to provide very basic information such as perimeter length, surface area, number of holes, and so on. To get that information, the estimator is expected to load part geometry into a CAD/CAM system and wait for potential cutting paths and nesting strategies to be generated. Those results are then manually entered back into the quoting software. Such a process is slow, hardly automated, and not a very efficient.”
What if there was a way to capture the expertise of your lead estimator in an electronic template format and leverage that experience with the most up-to-date production, material, and resource information? This would not only speed the quoting process measurably, but would create the most accurate quotes while providing a standardized process throughout the company. No more late or wildly inaccurate quotes.
Case in Point: Brunswick Steel
For manufacturers, fabricators, and, welders throughout Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario the name Brunswick Steel is synonymous with quality and service. Like most other metal service centers, the company offers a full range of raw materials including plate, sheet metal, tubing, bars and more. But what sets this company apart is its value-added metal processing services, a reputation for quality products and service, and a willingness to go the extra mile. For Brunswick Steel, business as usual means unmatched service, quality and responsiveness.
The lights are always on at this Winnipeg-based service center where equipment, technology and a skilled labor force are focused on meeting the high expectations and tight delivery schedules of a growing customer-base. With oxyfuel, hi-definition plasma, CO2 and fiber laser cutting capabilities (complete with automated material tower) Brunswick’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility operates around the clock seven days a week. And while automation was clearly being leveraged throughout the shop floor, the same could not be said of the company’s sales and estimating departments where manual quoting remained the norm.
“In our case job estimating relied almost solely on Excel spreadsheets,” explained Brunswick Steel Sales Manager, Dallas McInnes. “Our quoting process was complex, manually intensive and required a certain level of experience and expertise. Consequently quotes were not being created in a timely or consistent manner.”
For Brunswick Steel and a growing number of others throughout the industry, the answer to generating fast, winning and profitable quotes came in the form of a software program called SecturaFAB from SecturaSOFT. Developed especially for the meatal fabrication industry, SecturaFAB accelerates quoting speed and accuracy by replacing unknown time and cost variables with up-to-the-minute information. Brunswick began using the quoting tool in 2017 and the results were immediate.
Automating, simplifying and standardizing the quoting process allows companies to reallocate resources as needed to aid the sales process. This might mean taking advantage of downtime of an employee from a different department to create quotes. Brunswick Steel is doing just this by routinely tapping its entire sales and administrative staff to prepare quotes.
“Automation is the key,” said McInnes. “In the past quoting was limited to a select few individuals; but SecturaFAB opens processing quotes up due to the software’s relative ease of use. Those with minimal experience may not have the true feel for factoring in all time and costs related to labor, material handling and other aspects of the job. Automated quoting allows us to confidently bid on more jobs while being assured of quote accuracy. Simply put, SecturaFAB takes a highly skilled task and reduces it to a task that others can confidently take on.”
Brunswick began using SecturaFAB with four users. Today, because of the software’s success, the company is extending use of the software throughout its sales staff. The results are a measurable increase in quote volume and accuracy. “At Brunswick we pride ourselves on exceeding the expectations of our customers,” concluded McInnes. “The automation and accuracy of SecturaFAB helps us to grow our business while remaining responsive to our customers.”
Intelligent web/cloud-based quoting replaces guesswork and inaccurate data with the most accurate variables. Leveraging known variables such as up-to-the-minute material costs, labor rates, machine run-time, finishing operations and related information allows winning quotes can be generated in a matter of minutes. Additionally, the flexibility of such systems allows each company to customize quoting per its unique standards or requirements monitored and adjusted by management.
Some tried-and-true methods are worth hanging on to. But fabricators who continue to rely on manual (or Excel-based) quoting methods are quickly losing ground to those who are leveraging automated quoting tools. Replacing dated information or best guesses with known variables is a competitive advantage for those with the ability to quickly pull such details together.
Every manufacturing operation costs money. Capturing expenses allows actual numbers to be generated. Known costs can then be marked-up to the competitive situation. Once run-times, operators needed and processing time is known, material costs can be added. Doing this accurately requires applying real part geometry against materials. Employing interactive tech tables to achieve accurate run times from cutting machines, or even welding, can save hundreds of man-hours each year. Leveraging known pricing, run-time, and other production variables, web-based quoting allows us to dictate profitability – not hope for it.