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3D Models - Its All About the Money

Build it or buy it? When a contractor transitions into 3D machine control they have to decide if model building is a competency they should develop in-house or rely on a specialized modeling company.

Obviously, here at Quantum Land Design, we think most contractors are best served by developing a strong working relationship with a model building company competent in 3D data. There are plenty of good reasons to hire an expert but the two that have tipped the scales for our clients are employee turnover and cost. The loss of the key employee trained in model building is expensive and can stop a project in its tracks. The expense of software, computers, updates and training alone can quickly outpace the cost of outsourcing your model building. In most cases, our clients tell us there is significant cost and time savings in hiring an experienced modeling company.

The following example is from one of our contractor clients. Their gross revenues run about $12 million per year. They complete a wide range of projects from as small as a gas station up to large commercial developments and DOT work. In addition to earth moving, they install underground utilities. We'd consider them a fairly typical business profile for our US client base. They felt like they were spending a lot on machine control models and wanted to look at moving the work in house.

The idea was to take their GPS leadman, currently on staff, and purchase the equipment, software, and training necessary. His field responsibilities would transition over to the foreman on each project. The employee has a salary of $70,000. Software subscriptions required to work in the CAD formats they need run between $20,000 and $25,000 per year; we will split it at $22,500. Software training carried a cost of $3,000 + travel; let's call it $4,000. A new PC was about $3,000. We are oversimplifying a little here but these costs are in line with feedback from other clients, too. Below is a table showing the initial investment and annual costs involved for this contractor.

Contractor Modeling Cost

Another cost, that is not easy to quantify, is the expense of taking their GPS leadman out of the field or the cost of project delays because he would not be as available to check grade and troubleshoot GPS problems in the field - important cost considerations, but to keep it simple, we will leave them out of our calcs.

Now, the big question, what did it cost them to hire out their modeling? Last year, this contractor hired us to complete 49 machine control models for grading and utilities Most of their models cost between $450 and $800 for an average cost of $600. This brings their total expenditure to $29,400. They received all of the machine control models within Quantum's 3-day turnaround time. The files were ready to load into their grade control systems (Trimble GCS900 and Earthworks) without any extra work on their end.

Model Building Cost Comparison

As you can see in the table, the first year it would have COST over $91,000 for our client to bring modeling in house! Each year they would have continued to lose over $67,000 by building their own machine control models, in addition to pulling a key employee out of the field. As you can imagine, our contractor client quickly made the decision to stick with Quantum Land Design.

Outside of cost, there are other benefits in hiring Quantum to build your machine control models. Our team specializes in 3D models and we do it every day. They are efficient and able to take any set of plans and a CAD file to build a model custom made to work with your grade control equipment. We standardize our layer and surface names, eliminating guesswork for your field team. Don't forget we can build 3D utility and structural excavation models, too.

Our team puts a fresh set of eyes on your project, too. If we think there may be a design error or something just does not seem right, we will let you know. If you would like to take a look at value engineering, balance your site, or even look at earthwork phasing to make your work more efficient, our experts can help. We can even make you custom machine control models to facilitate site drainage during construction or even a simple model to level up and drain a laydown area.

To get a quote from Quantum Land Design just email us the complete PDF's of the project plans. Our team can meet your cost, quality and turnaround times for ANY project.

A quick note on software. Many takeoff and modeling packages advertise that they will work with all CAD formats. We are always looking, but have not found that software unicorn. It's expensive, but Quantum maintains subscriptions for almost any civil design software you can name. We do not go back to our clients and ask for CAD files in a different format or saved to a certain version. We just get to work.

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