By Ed Faris,
Lead Estimator, Custom Stone Works

Advanced construction automation technology played a key role in CSW’s success in planning and bidding on the Blake Transit Center, Ann Arbor, Mich.

A family-owned company in Livonia, Mich., Custom Stone Works (CSW) began in the granite business in 1999, and eventually went on to fabricate Indiana limestone for residential and commercial projects. CSW’s portfolio includes schools, churches, banks, and multi-use buildings throughout Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee; one such project is the Blake Transit Center (BTC).

The BTC is a transportation hub in downtown Ann Arbor, Mich. Ridership has increased more than 60 percent since 1987, with more than 5,000 riders daily and 1.5 million riders annually arriving and departing through the center. Bus traffic also has increased, with an hourly average of about 40 buses accessing the facility. Because of the increased use of public transportation in Ann Arbor, a new facility was necessary to accommodate travelers.

The $8.1-million project called for demolishing the one-story Blake Transit Center at 331 S. Fourth Ave., downtown and constructing a new, two-story facility in its place. The new, 12,019-square-foot building includes space for a main customer service lobby, restrooms, offices for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and downtown staff, conference rooms, a staff break room, and a basement for storage and mechanical equipment. The project required various size panels of Indiana limestone, CSW’s specialty

Rendering of the Blake Transit Center
Rendering of the Blake Transit Center.

Working with limestone

Indiana limestone is a raw material mined out of the ground from the southern Indiana Mountains and then formed into large blocks. The blocks range in size from seven or eight feet long, to four or five feet tall, and are approximately three feet in depth. CSW imports the blocks to its operation in Michigan. When the blocks arrive at CSW’s shop they are cut into various size slabs depending on the thickness needed for a specific job. Once the slabs are cut to size, they are sent to CSW’s fabrication department. A CNC machine is used by CSW’s CAD department to profile any required decorative detail such as crown molding or whatever else the architect has chosen. Limestone is a classic complement to brick, stone, and other building materials.

Upon receiving the bid for the BTC project, CSW’s estimating team proactively started to dimension the limestone panels to determine how many linear feet were required for the job. Leveraging advanced construction automation technology, the quantities were computed and information was sent to the masonry contractors bidding on the job. The contractors used this information to figure out labor cost to generate a more accurate bid. The manufacturing contract for limestone was awarded to CSW.

The use of advanced construction automation technology played a key role in CSW’s success in planning and bidding the project. Using On Center Software’s On-Screen Takeoff®, CSW was able to produce accurate build information quickly. Price quotes were delivered immediately via automation to allow the contractor’s vision to come to life without going over budget. Upon the completion of the takeoff, pricing information was sent to masonry contractors to help throughout the bid process.

How automation technology works

It is a common practice today for masonry job prospects to be posted online for download. Prior to using automation technology, CSW’s estimators would review the job online, download the PDF blueprint onto a memory stick, and then take it to a local printer. The process was both time-consuming and expensive. The costs associated with paper blueprints are very high, ranging anywhere from $30 to $200 per job without the guarantee that the job will be won.

Deploying automation technology has helped to eliminate these costs, and others, while speeding take off processes. Now, blueprints are downloaded and scaled, saving time and money by eliminating the need for hard copies to be printed. Additional time and cost savings are achieved by the accuracy gained when doing takeoffs through automation, rather than doing them by hand.

Using automation technology, import information, including PDF blueprints and other job details, are imported into the Takeoff program. Pages quickly can be reviewed to see which kinds of limestone are required as the takeoff process begins. On-Screen Takeoff produces area takeoffs with one click. The software reduces errors and missed takeoffs by providing a visual audit trail of the quantity takeoff. Quantities are available instantly in length, surface area, volume, and count, thus eliminating errors and hours spent on manual calculations. All material is accurately measured and accounted for, and data can be grouped by type or area, while pricing is linked to takeoff data. The result is a huge time saver for estimators.

Automation technology proved particularly useful for the BTA project, which was a veneer job requiring multiple panels in three different sizes. Using automation technology, CSW was able to scale the panels and obtain quantity counts on screen with relative ease. With full quantities on hand, the estimator was able to quickly determine the cost of the job and present the bid to the mason contractors.

Automation technology enables CSW to develop more precise, detailed bids ensuring no money is left on the table. Furthermore, bids are developed in significantly less time compared to doing it manually. With the time saved, CSW is able to bid more jobs, which has allowed the company to expand its business beyond Michigan. Furthermore, the professional presentation and accuracy of materials quoted using On Screen Takeoff provides CSW with a true competitive edge.