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I entered into the bidding world 6 years ago, and to be perfectly honest, I was clueless. One thing you learn fast is that people hold their bidding practices tightly, and rightly so! For me it’s taken 6 years to get to some point of uniformity in my bidding practices. Being an employee for 16 years in the earthwork trades you think you have a grasp of cost and the complexities of bidding, but in most cases what you think you know and what you actually know are worlds apart!

 “Construction cost estimating is demanding work, no matter what type of construction is involved. But I think estimating earthwork is the hardest of all. Why? Two reasons. First, excavation has more variables and unknowns. You never know what’s under there until you start digging. Second, you have to rely on info from many different sources and some may not be accurate. ” Quote: Estimating Excavation by Deryl Burch

The book Estimating Excavation was the first book I ever read on estimating earthwork and I highly recommend it to all who are thinking about entering our field. The addition I read was published in 1997 and luckily for us, a lot of things have changed…if you’re willing to make the investment!

The first platform to transform my bidding process was Bluebeam.  This is a 2D software, but the price point cannot be beat!! The 3D systems available today can cost you $20-$30 thousand dollars or more! Great for the big outfits, but what are us guys in the middle suppose to do? Bluebeam is a great platform to get fairly accurate calculations for earthwork fills and cuts if you understand the basics of earthwork takeoff in the first place. The great part is you can download and use it for free in its basic form, and if you decide you like it you can buy its service for in the hundreds of dollars not thousands! Using the volume calculation tool can save you hours of time on the floor with a tape measure and a sore back. One feature I love is the ability for you to actually lay out a full set of plans and take a photo of the page you need. You can then email yourself the photo and upload it to Bluebeam allowing you to do takeoffs without the hassle of dealing with a full set of plans.

Like many in my field I was resistant to change at first. I was tough the old ways and was quite frankly, afraid to step outside of my comfort zone. It took real life situations to wake me up. If used correctly, this technology gives us valuable time back, saves us money in costly mistakes, and allows us to provide a more professional and well rounded estimate of job costs.


Moving on, we find ourselves in a new world of technology. Every day we read about new advances in earthwork systems and I could write about them for the next year, but why? Let’s cut through the BS as many of us will not be able to afford some, and the rest of us don’t have the time to learn because we’re actually out on the job working.

Drone Technology


Barely a day goes by where “something drone” is not mentioned in the news – drones for delivery, drones as the #1 Christmas gift, drone registration.

While the reporting has not always been favorable – drones landing on the White House lawn, delivering contraband to prisons, flying too close to airplanes – the market’s awareness of this new technology is at all time highs.

The value of these systems simply cannot be denied, and with companies like SkyDirt Topo offering affordable, effective and accurate takeoff services, even the little guy can get in on the action. Arial drone service companies are offering flight based calculations for the following and more:

Aerial Drone Topography

Aggregate Stockpile Measurements

Gas & Utility Mapping

Earthwork Cut Fill Volumes

Progress Payment Measurements

Balance Haul Planning

Aerial Site Mapping – As Builds

Construction Site Videos

Asphalt Overlay and Pavement Staging Scenarios

Aerial Inspection Services

Earthwork Production Tracking

Wind Machine Inspection

Solar Farm Inspection

Insurance Assessments

Site Topographic Takeoff Systems

The Trimble SPS585 is an introductory GNSS Smart Antenna and is great for doing some surveying tasks here and there. It’s very accurate and is meant for guys that don’t need to be out surveying 100% of the time.

The SPS585 is used to run Trimble SCS900 Site Controller Software. It is the ideal positioning solution for supervisors or construction surveyors.

The SPS585 GNSS Smart Antenna with SCS900 Site Controller Software can be used for:

  • Measuring and verifying original ground levels and site features
  • Monitoring real-time cut/fill information
  • Checking finished grade and laid material thickness against design elevations and tolerances
  • Computing progress and material stockpile volumes
  • Monitoring, and conducting quality control for earthworks and paving operations
  • Assessing as-built measurements and generating high quality reports for approvals and payment

This system can be obtained by the average Joe too! The price tag ranges from 13 thousand to 17 thousand depending on the system you choose. Yes, 13 thousand to 17 thousand sounds like a lot of money, but 13 thousand to 17 thousand in missed material import or export, spread out over even 2 or 3 jobs, can easily make up the cost of this system.

Final thoughts

The world is changing and many of us earth work contractors have been slow to change. I get it, it has taken years upon years to master our craft, but I’m here to say that the new technology works! You learn to trust it. I will say this, either we get on board or we will be left behind by companies who do. I for one plan on growing and being on the front lines of technology, I embrace it, I’ve learned the old ways, and now it’s time to learn the new.

As my friend Deas Plant would say, “Just my 0.02”.

Thanks again. You have a wonderful day. Best wishes Michael Willhite / Owner Willhite Grading & Excavation Inc.


Owner and operator of Willhite Grading

This Post Has 2 Comments
    1. I’m just using the “Standard” package. Try it in trial mode for awhile. You can find tutorials on YouTube to answer questions. Just remember #1 thing to do above anything is “Calibrate” your plans when you upload them. Simply click on Calibrate button then use the scale model on the plans so you are using proper scale.

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