Ever lose a bid and wonder how the winning fabricator will ever do that project for that price? If you’ve been in business for more than a few months, I’m sure you’ve experienced this head scratcher.

Bid prices can run the spectrum with a 300% (or more) difference between the lowest and highest estimates. This drastic price difference often comes down to knowledge about the scope – they know something you don’t know, or the contrary can be true and they missed something vital.

Most experienced steel fabricators can estimate over 80% of the projects they bid without consulting an engineer just by utilizing their experience and talking with their team members. These are their repetitive, bread-and-butter projects that they’ve estimated hundreds of times. The other 20% of projects are unique or have too many unknowns to easily bid accurately. This percentage of unique bids with many unknowns also seems to be increasing on a daily basis.

Instead of licking your thumb and pretending to measure wind speed to make up a price out of thin air (come on, we’ve all seen that method done), for unique scopes it is worth consulting with an engineer to better define the scope so you can bid it more accurately.

Overview of Pre-Bid Engineering

Pre-bid engineering is not expensive because the deliverable is different. We develop a proof of concept, only engineering a small, but representative portion of the project, and provide only preliminary sketches and information.

For example, a client engaged us to help them optimize a few repetitive connections for a hospital project. Their $800 investment in pre-bid engineering saved them $125,000 in their scope!

Pre-bid engineering does not always reduce the fabricator’s estimate; sometimes it does increase the estimate, which is important to know otherwise you’re bidding in the dark. Hence my opening remark about scope knowledge; if the pre-bid engineering work does increase the scope, at least you know so you don’t lose money on the project. Losing a project doesn’t sting as much when you know a competitor is in for a doozy!

You’re probably wondering what red flags to look for and when to consider pre-bid engineering.

Use Pre-Bid Connections Engineering When You Have:

  • Unique or complex connection styles, especially if you haven’t done similar connections
  • Mass number of connections to refine materials needed
  • Determining special code requirements for connection design
  • Potential “gotchas” in new markets – for example, New York City Building Code Integrity Provisions
  • Determining the requirements for reinforcing, doubler plates, and stiffener plates

Use Pre-Bid Erection Engineering When You Have:

  • Complex work sites, like inner city, or complicated logistics
  • Long-span trusses or girders
  • Temporary bracing requirements
  • Temporary shoring requirements


Imagine the difference if you’re off by just 1% on labor and material costs for a project with 12,000 shear connections.

Knowledge is power and reducing the unknowns of the scope allows you to bid on projects more accurately and confidently because you’re assuming less. When you’re still in the bidding process, you usually have a chance to ask a client to clarify ambiguities.

A pre-bid engineering analysis can drastically improve your chances of winning (and being successful) on a project because you can remove the fluff pricing or properly identify the extent of the scope on a project to lessen the unknown risks associated with your work.

Next time you have a project that you’re not sure how to estimate because it has unique connections or challenges during erection, contact us to talk through the scope and we’ll see if it makes sense to engage pre-bid.

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