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 to factor in machine run-time, cleaning, painting, labor, shipping and other associated costs.
Today, automated solutions ensure that quotes are not only fast but can tap into real-time information to ensure accuracy, account for unknown variables and dictate profitability.
For many shops, however, the process still 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.
Unfortunately, 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 that 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,” explains Brad Stropes, COO of SecturaSoft. “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 not the war.”
Therefore, no matter if you’re a small job shop or a larger metal service center, it’s time to take a closer look at your quoting tool.
Electronic spreadsheets 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 landline 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.
What can job shops and fab shops on limited budgets do to improve quoting success? According to Stropes, quite a bit.
“Many have turned to MRP systems in an attempt to automate the process,” he says. “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,” he continues. “Those results are then manually entered back into the quoting software. Such a process is slow, hardly automated and, in turn, not 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? It would not only speed up the quoting process, but it also would create the most accurate quotes while providing a standardized process throughout the company. Gone would be the days of late or wildly inaccurate quotes.
A good case in point is Brunswick Steel located in Winnipeg, Canada. 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 and bars.
What sets the company apart is its value-added metal processing services, a reputation for quality products and service, and a willingness to go the extra mile.
The lights are always on at this Canadian 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, high-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 is clearly being leveraged throughout the shop floor, the same could not be said, until recently, 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,” explains Dallas McInnes, Brunswick Steel’s sales manager. “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, the answer to generating fast, winning and profitable quotes came in the form of a software program called SecturaFab from SecturaSoft. Developed specifically for the metal 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. And Brunswick Steel is doing just that by routinely tapping its entire sales and administrative staff to prepare quotes.
“Automation is the key,” McInnes says. “In the past, those with minimal experience may not have had the true feel for factoring in all the time and costs related to labor, material handling and other aspects of the job. Therefore, quoting was limited to a select few individuals. SecturaFab opens up that process to others thanks to the software’s relative ease of use. 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 perform.”
Brunswick began by only providing SecturaFab to four users. But 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,” McInnes says. “The automation and accuracy of SecturaFab helps us to grow our business while remaining responsive to customers.”
With SecturaFab, 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 to 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 – all monitored and adjusted by management.
Some tried-and-true methods are worth hanging on to, but fabricators that continue to rely on manual (or Excel-based) quoting methods are quickly losing ground to those that 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, required operators and processing times are known, material costs can be added to the equation. From there, real part geometry can be applied against the 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-times and other production variables tied into web-based quoting allows you to dictate profitability – not hope for it.