Structural engineers on a tight deadline no longer have to wait for the postman to deliver steelwork costings. Barrett Steel Buildings' on-line service can prepare a quote in two minutes flat.
“I want those steelwork prices, and I want them now,” says the developer. Until now, such a demand would have had structural engineers scurrying back to the office to thrash out a scheme design and send off the drawings to the steelwork fabricator. They would then have had to wait nervously for the post to arrive with the costings.

Not any more. E-asybudget, a new on-line service launched by Barrett Steel Buildings, is set to revolutionise the way steelwork is priced. The company has introduced the UK’s first on-line cost planning service for portal-framed buildings. By logging on to its web site, designers, quantity surveyors, contractors and developers can obtain instant prices for steelwork over the Internet.

The web site is not just a collection of schedules and prices. It is much more sophisticated than that. The software driving the programme has been created to allow engineers to design the building on screen, in real time, using a bespoke software package developed by Barrett’s engineers. This package designs the steelwork specifically for each building, based on the spatial and loading values input by the user. The software then calculates a budget price based on this design.

Before being let loose on the site, designers must first obtain a password. This is done by registering at the company’s web site, at Once accepted, the site creates a secure on-line account where the user can save project details and quotations, and update or modify them.

To obtain a price for the steelwork, all users have to do is click on the E-asybudget icon on Barrett’s home page and work through a list of prompts. This should take no longer than a couple of minutes. For users who are new to the system, the software designers have provided a help icon next to each prompt that gives a short explanation of what information they need to input. This includes things like dimensions, location and type of roof.

To calculate the price, the program measures the amount of steel that will be used in the building and estimates the cost and time of fabrication, based on the company’s own fabrication facilities. The price also includes the cost of design, delivery and erection of the steelwork. Current costing information taken directly from the company’s database is used in the calculations. “This means that the material, transport costs and labour prices are always up to date,” says Andrew Marston, Barrett’s commercial manager.

The program does more than simply price the superstructure, however. To allow designers to assess the cost of foundations, it also produces a table of loads that the building’s frame will impose on the ground. And, having obtained a price, users are then given the option to download a full specification for the scheme. This details the building’s key dimensions, what the foundation loads will be and how the frame will be fixed to them, lists codes and standards for the steelwork, states what assumed loads the services will impart on the structure and details the surface treatments to the steel. This document is in Microsoft Word so that it can be pasted directly into the designer’s project documentation. There is even a facility that allows users to e-mail this quotation to other members of the design team.

Although the service was initially developed to cost steelwork for portal-framed buildings, there are plans to extend it to include cladding. Barrett has teamed up with a cladding supplier and is about to start work on this option. This will allow users to obtain a cost estimate for the whole of a building’s superstructure.

Marston is at pains to point out that E-asybudget is exactly what it claims to be – a budget costing tool. Users still need to submit scheme designs to Barrett for it to be able to provide full fabrication drawings. However, having obtained a budget price for the steelwork in seconds, at least there should be no nasty surprises when the actual price arrives some days later.

The two-minute quote

0 seconds To start the costing process, the user must first define the building by inputting key dimensions such as length and height. 20 seconds To allow wind and snow loadings to be calculated and delivery costs to be assessed, the user inputs the proposed location using a pull-down menu of UK towns. 30 seconds In addition to the variable loads imposed by the weather, the program asks for information on non-variable structural loads, such as the weight of any building services and lighting equipment. Users also have to define the type of roof; for example, whether it is flat, tiled, or of standing-seam construction. 50 seconds Allowance for the weight of any office areas constructed above the ground floor can also be incorporated into the design. The software is sophisticated enough to include up to two floors of offices inside the building, and even offices constructed outside the building as lean-to structures. 70 seconds Door steelwork is next on the list. The program has a huge selection of door models, from single security doors to large rolling shutters. The user also needs to define the quantity and size. Canopies above doors can also be selected. 80 seconds The paint finish is selected. 90 seconds The final section on the sequence of prompts concerns construction details. Check boxes tell the program whether to design the steelwork to allow for dado walls and brick piers. When the user specifies the eaves and parapet details, the program produces a detail drawing on screen so that he or she can check that the design is as they defined it. 120 seconds Having answered all the prompts, the user clicks on the “create a quote” button, and seconds later a quote appears on screen.