Evaluating PostFrame Manager


Introduction

This guide is intended to help you shorten the time needed to evaluate, pointing out the things you may want to look for. Evaluation of a product such as this is tricky. Because of the sheer number of features and the use of new concepts, it's easy to get overwhelmed or sidetracked. In the standard sales model, i.e. having a salesperson demo the product to you, we can control and meter the information so that you see each concept in a certain order. On the other hand, with downloadable copies this isn't possible... hence this guide.

Doing It Your Way

You may have heard or read from the literature that this product does things your way. This is largely true when this is configured. However, right out of the box, we don't know what your way actually is. It's up to you to set it up. What we mean by this is that if your way is to put rafters in for end (gable) trusses, this product will do that. And if your way (your standard practice) is to use structural gable trusses, this product will do that as well. But that does not mean that as it comes out of the box, it's preconfigured to guess which one of these options any given builder uses. That's up to you to configure things.

This product accurately reflects most standardized building practices. What we mean by this is that you can have, for example, purlins that are butt-joined, overlapped, or hung; they can be applied on edge or on face, and you can even specify that the fascia board also functions as the first (edge) purlin. For endwall overhangs we can even drop the outer trusses by the purlin size. These are all fairly standard methods of purlin application. What we mean by Doing It Your Way is that we have a number of standard practices built in that you can use. You choose the one that reflects your practice.

Some people have interpreted Doing It Your Way as meaning that there is native, push button support for non-standard methods. For example, say that in your area you add a 2x4 to the left hand side of every third walk door. Do we have a built-in option for this? No, we don't. But, the product doesn't specifically preclude this, either. You can add the extra (non-standard) boards manually via the "Add to BOM" feature. There are also options for this addition via automatic assembly (part collections) addition as well as reading this in from a table (the GBRC file.)

The upshot here is that you shouldn't assume that the product can't do a particular thing your way merely from perusing the menu items. Chances are, unless it's really off the charts obscure, it can.

What Should You Look For?

A number of people have approached this product with the idea that a proper test is to find a building from a price book that is already hand-optimized by an estimator or experienced builder, and then they dupe this with the software and see how close it is. The purpose of the software isn't really to micro-manage every possible design, but to come as close as possible to what would be specified for any building design, not just limited price book building size increments. There will always be cases where an estimator or experienced builder may cleverly, but manually, select a lumber length for a specific condition and save the purchase of an extra 2x4 length.

While it often ends up the same, the object of the software isn't necessarily exact duplication, but in coming up with a solution that works properly for all program allowed designs and is within a reasonably close price range (in most cases the program comes to within $50 or closer of a manually calculated price). What is in a price book may have been optimized for a number of hours. This software has to be able to come as close as possible to this -- and do so within seconds! The design object was to reliably create working solutions across an infinite variety of building sizes and configurations. We optimize as much as is practical, of course.

The best way to evaluate this software is to look at three perfectly random sizes that *could* be built. Not ones you have already built. Then, create the buildings using the software and have your estimator create the same buildings as quickly as possible. Then, compare the results. Your typical result will be as follows:
  1. The software will generally be either spot on or be slightly overpriced on hand optimized (price book) buildings. It is rarely off by more than a piece or two of lumber.
  2. The software will be reasonably close on any three random buildings, sometimes slightly under and sometimes over what the manual estimator came up with.
  3. The software will flat out surprise you, catching little things you forgot to include.
This is why the three random building test is important. Part of an evaluation will be how well the software performs in a real world mode. That is, try to determine how long it takes an estimator to nail the costs (every board, every nail, every minute of labor) for a given structure and then add this to your overhead price. Compare to the average time per building that the software used (the time of the salesperson to draw and click the price button.) This is where you discover whether or not this software can meet your business goal.

Look at this another way. If your salesperson can use this software to lay out a building design in 25 minutes and the result is reasonably close enough, your estimator can spend less overall time per building.

There's More Than One Use For This Product

There are two distinct ways of using this software. The first, most obvious way is to use it to generate sales and derive materials lists etc. from this.

The second way, not so obvious, is that this software can be used as an investigative tool to improve your bottom line. You have a good idea of your own practices, i.e. you figure that using say 8' post (bay) spacing tends to be more price effective than 10' spacing from experience. You may even calc labor based on bay counts because you've got enough experience to average out per bay. But... let's say you get a great deal on a slightly different grade of posts that will support 10' bays or you discover you can save 40% on 10' oc trusses by buying elsewhere. To test this, all you have to do is open up an example building using the old settings, make your changes, and you can see the new price reflected immediately. Just like using a spreadsheet.

In other words, this software can and will function as a research tool. People don't tend to think about this, and why should they? After all, there aren't any other tools that can do this. In your evaluation, you may want to look at whether or not this aspect can be useful to you.

The Effect Of Labor

Many builders don't have an accurate across the board method for calculating labor. Some approximate it by averaging post/bay spacing times the bay count. This is why you see some builders who generally build only one standard spacing; they have an approximation table that's been worked out over a few years. It's difficult and time consuming to do labor estimates otherwise. At least until now.

Sometimes assumptions such as optimizing material sizes or lengths to meet a condition in an attempt to save a little on raw material may result in increasing the overall price slightly because the labor or perhaps another material has changed. It's been difficult and time consuming to do the calculations to prove this. At least until now.

One feature in the software is called Ignore Small Openings. The idea is that application of framing, siding and insulation ignores walk doors and most windows so that less time is spent framing things. The opening is then cut out later. This is an effort to save money on labor, generally by the builders who approximate labor costs by bay sizing. This feature is part of the product as an aid to builders who are transitioning from labor averaging.

When you evaluate this software, keep in mind that you aren't constrained to guesstimating labor costs based on a rule of thumb. You can get accurate estimates based on the exact configuration your customer wants. It's built into the software and doesn't take a single second longer to do. In other words, why guess if it's not required?

Product Spectrum, Speed, And Bang For The Buck

The spectrum of available products ranges from text based (spreadsheet-like) to CAD. This spectrum also represents a rough approximation of estimation and drawing speed. Text estimators, while fast, generally tend to average the materials and labor, and are limited to very basic single wing structures. CAD is exact for drawings purposes, but it takes a long time to do, often requires a lot of training just to use and does not typically allow for customization of materials and methods - if it provides a materials list at all. This product, in the center of the spectrum, is designed to give you the CAD neighborhood of precision and a speed faster than text estimators.

What exactly do we mean by speed? Basically, you draw some outline boxes, add some openings, and you're there. As before, there will be cases where a human might save say $15 on materials by using this piece of lumber rather than that piece of lumber, but usually this price offset is made up for tenfold in the (highly accurate) labor calculations anyway.

There is also a hidden speed. This product is designed to use a look-up table called The Matrix which pre-selects materials and types based on the building. Let's say you draw a building of 40' span and The Matrix enforces the use of 3 plies of 2x6 to use as post material. Now, expand this building to use a 60' span, and The Matrix will now enforce posts as 3 plies of 2x8. (The actual data you wish to enforce is up to you; this is just an example of use.) The upshot is that you can allow this product to be used by people that don't have to be experts and you will still have it produce buildings to your engineering specs. The Matrix works "behind the scenes" so to speak; the user doesn't have to do or know anything -- s/he just draws the building to the size needed. This adds speed to your ability to estimate reliably that a spreadsheet based product simply can't match.

Overall, you don't have to sacrifice speed to get accuracy. For an overview and graphical depiction of the PostFrame Manager solution, see System Overview.

As You Move Forward

This product has a number of features you won't find anywhere else. Some of these you may not use now or even think about. But later, when you need these features as the industry changes, they're there. You won't be kicking yourself for not asking about them beforehand; after all, how are you expected to know? That's why you can trust us to know these things even if you sometimes don't know what to ask.



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