Surveying: Then and Now

September 1, 2004
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A progressive firm in Indiana proves that advanced technology is the future.

When a county's population increases by 19 percent in three short years, construction projects increase as well to accommodate new residents. Indiana's Hamilton County, northern neighbor of Indianapolis, has experienced such a population growth, leading to the development of numerous subdivisions. The Schneider Corporation, a multi-disciplined consulting firm headquartered in Indianapolis, has been involved in the construction of many of these large projects in Hamilton County, providing an integrated mix of services including surveying, engineering design and geotechnology.

With a population of about 175,000 on a land area of 400 square miles, the growth of Hamilton County could be said to benefit from the innovations experienced in surveying technology and by Schneider Corporation during the past several years. In fact, one of Schneider's largest Hamilton County projects, the Brooks Chase Community, is a 113-acre showcase of how advanced technology has changed the way the company completes projects today.

When Schneider started the 551-lot project in 2001, our crews used conventional total stations to do most of the surveying. As the project progressed we've used Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) Global Positioning System (GPS) technology with a mobile reference station to do an increasing amount of the work. Later in the project, we added a permanent GPS reference station, as well as our own proprietary tools-V.link for communication, V.depth for confined space measurement and V.builder for project management. This inventory greatly enhanced productivity, and in turn, the project time line. In addition, new software enabled us to establish a digital connection between field and office, providing seamless data transfer and greater efficiencies. Finally, we became involved with machine control, providing the digital data that enabled fine grading to be completed by the earthmover more efficiently and effectively.

It's been an exciting time, with much technological change. How these technological tools have impacted the ways we work can be directly seen in the Brooks Chase project.

LandMark uses Trimble SiteVision on its Caterpillar dozer (track-type tractor) for enhanced accuracy and efficiency during fine grading work on the Brooks Chase project.

The Services

The Schneider Corporation has been doing large development projects like Brooks Chase for years, just not in the time frame we're completing them now. A large-scale project of this type could take four to five years elsewhere; in fast-growing Hamilton County, homes are sold before they're available. The five sections of Brooks Chase were finished in 21⁄2 years, requiring rapid completion of all development tasks. Anything that enables us to complete our work faster and more efficiently helps us-and our clients. That is why Schneider has a strong commitment to using advanced technology; as project and time demands increase, we demand more from our technology.

Schneider also strongly believes in an integrated approach to client services. As a one-stop-shop, we can provide a seamless link between surveying, engineering and all project tasks. When we control the data from start to finish we are more efficient. There is no need to wait on an outside design group for the required electronic files, nor do we face data conversion issues. And because we use the same coordinate system across our various disciplines, we're all speaking the same language, keeping the process smooth and efficient.

For example, before Brooks Chase's developer CP Morgan of Indianapolis purchased the land, they called us for the land title survey. Because we were also under contract to provide the design and construction staking, we were able to immediately start on the topographic survey, plat and lot design. Since it's all done in-house, project site control can be kept to a minimum; if another consultant were brought in they'd almost have to reinvent the wheel control-wise to establish themselves on the same system of our original boundary and topographic surveys.

The Tasks

In mid-2001, we sent a three-person survey crew to the Brooks Chase site to do the land title and topographic surveys for the entire parcel. Our GPS equipment was in use on other projects, so we did the majority of the work with conventional systems. The survey group used Autodesk (San Rafael, Calif.) Land Desktop to create the survey and build the plat, which became the basis of the lot design created by our engineering group.

Because Schneider is always looking for new, innovative ways to approach a project, we continually integrated new technologies throughout the Brooks Chase project. For example, we have long used Geodimeter (now Trimble) survey systems-440s, 510s and 610s. During the course of the Brooks Chase project, we purchased and utilized a growing number of Trimble 5603 DR Servo total stations (Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif.). These instruments proved to increase productivity over the mechanical systems. We also increasingly used GPS technology. Over the project's course, we found our productivity and accuracy growing in direct proportion to the amount and type of new technology implemented.

GPS & Construction Staking

In the fall of 2001, Schneider started construction staking for the Brooks Chase subdivision. While we initially used mainly conventional systems, by the end of the construction staking portion of the project in December 2003, we were using GPS for 50 percent of the staking work. As we increased our GPS use throughout the project, we also realized significant increases in efficiencies.

A number of developments impacted those increases, including the mix of GPS and servo technology, installation of a permanent GPS reference station, and the development of Schneider's V.link communication system, a wireless data broadcast network for high-precision real-time GPS applications. (See POB's upcoming November 2004 issue for more on this technology.)

As GPS use moved from static to real-time, flexibility, efficiencies and applications have steadily increased. For Schneider, GPS today allows us to expand a three-person crew into two crews: one person using GPS and two using a conventional system. While robotic systems enable one-person operation, GPS remains more productive, with less setup time, greater range, increased capabilities and no line-of-sight limitations. Additionally, as GPS equipment has continued to advance, Schneider has progressed with it: today, we have four Trimble 5700 RTK GPS, eight Trimble 5800 RTK GPS and three Trimble NetRS GPS systems. Our 5700 systems are lightweight and easy to configure; the 5800 even more lightweight, compact and-with Bluetooth capabilities-cable-free, allowing us to move easier and save on setup time. As Schneider continues to increase the amount of GPS equipment we own, we will be able to further increase our GPS use and realize continued and potentially even greater efficiencies.

While GPS provided the greatest productivity increase, our use of servo total stations impacted efficiencies as well. When you have to lay out 200 to 400 points a day, servos save time and reduce errors. Because our processes are all electronic, data is simply uploaded into our controllers and faceplates, further eliminating errors and increasing productivity.

John Wilson, Schneider party chief, sets rebar with cap at established lot corner after Rudy Lee, instrument operator, establishes location of lot corner for monumentation with Trimble 5800 RTK GPS system (lot corner monumentation is a new law in Indiana).

GPS Network

The need for "˜out-of-the-truck' initialization was the driving force for investing in the NetRS GPS permanent reference station. A large amount of capital was being invested in equipment and labor costs setting up reference stations onsite, both at Brooks Chase and other Schneider projects. That same need led to the development of our V.link communication system. Our GPS use now required minimal setup time, and V.link enabled us to gain communication coverage much farther and in areas where other RTK correction methods were not available.

Another factor behind the development of our permanent GPS network and V.link system was our Home Builders Services (HBS) department. In 2003, HBS staked out more than 4,200 houses. Staking houses can become quite time consuming when the proposed houses are geographically spread across an individual subdivision or multiple subdivisions. We needed to find a better alternative other than conventional methods or the need to repetitively set mobile base stations on each residential development site. Both of these methods are costly and time-consuming. That's when we turned to a permanent GPS network; along with our V.link system, the network allows for immediate (or "˜out-of-the-truck') initialization anywhere inside the subdivision's calibration.

Today, Schneider has permanent NetRS GPS reference stations at three of our four offices, creating an RTK GPS network that covers most of central Indiana and encompasses the majority of the projects we do. Due to the scalable nature of the technology, we can continue to add reference stations as the need arises; we are also in communication with Indiana government agencies as they determine needs for a statewide network.

Software Advances

We also gained efficiencies through software innovations. Because we do all our design work in Land Desktop, for the Brooks Chase project we utilized software that creates a digital connection between office and field. Trimble Link software allows us to quickly and seamlessly extract the street centerline data designed by our engineers in Land Desktop and upload it directly into our survey controllers. Design plan revisions are quickly and easily communicated to the surveying department in order to keep all files current and up-to-date in the survey controllers for layout. We implemented this software in three sections of the Brooks Chase subdivision, saving time, and again, increasing our productivity.

For checking cuts and fills, we also developed an Excel macro that essentially eliminates human error. The macro takes each point's design and measured elevations recorded in the survey controller and compares it to a code we enter into each shot. Our code is in a format detailing the measure up and cut or fill written on each stake. If the difference between these two exceeds a preset amount (such as 0.10'), the macro flags that particular point for follow-up. Rather than wasting time and risking errors by physically checking cuts and fills, the macro does it in the field on our laptops instantaneously. If any error occurs, it can be remedied immediately.

As our surveying group completed each section's construction staking, other contractors moved in to build the future neighborhood. Here too, new positioning technologies impacted how the work was done-and how The Schneider Corporation views the future.

Schneider Party Chief Austin Yake performs construction layout with a Trimble 5603 total station.

Machine Control

CP Morgan contracted site development firm Landmark Construction LLC of Indianapolis for all earthmoving and grading tasks for the Brooks Chase subdivision. Landmark utilized a Trimble SiteVision GPS Grade Control system on its Caterpillar (Peoria, Ill.) dozer (track-type tractor) to finish grade the entire subdivision. Because the house pads were close together and at different elevations, machine control was very helpful, according to Landmark Project Manager Joe Grove. The machine control system, which Landmark now uses for finish grade on most large projects, increases productivity, assures the accuracy of grade work and eliminates guesswork. It also frees personnel to do other tasks since no one is needed to check grade in front of the operator.

Because machine control uses three dimensions-vertical, horizontal and elevation for precise location and grade-data must be available in three dimensions. And it must be accurate. At Schneider, Project Survey Technician Jim Fisher spends an increasing amount of his time doing 3D data preparation, using our local calibration and engineering design work to convert the files into machine-ready format. These files can then be easily loaded into the machine control equipment using a simple Flash memory card or PCMCIA card.

Machine control has impacted how Schneider works by shifting our way of thinking. For many years, one of our main services has been residential construction staking. Through our ongoing market research, however, we realized the need for traditional staking services would eventually dwindle. While we don't anticipate seeing machine control systems on every piece of contractor's machinery in the near future, we recognize the need to work toward that end. Just as we strive to be the "consultant of choice" in our area for residential construction staking, we are today doing the work required to become the "consultant of choice" for machine control conversions in the future.

More Innovations

Two other Schneider innovations made our tasks easier on the Brooks Chase project. Throughout the project, we were required to deliver precise sewer elevation data. Existing sewer pipes need to be surveyed correctly for connection to new sewers. We utilized V.depth, the sewer measure-down tool that Schneider has invented, to assure the pipes were accurately placed. At the project's completion, all new sewers must be as-built. Again, we used V.depth to verify that the slopes required for proper drainage were properly maintained in construction as well as to create as-built drawings for county records. (See POB's upcoming November 2004 issue for more on this technology.)

As a result of our work with CP Morgan and other production homebuilders, Schneider developed V.builder, an online project management tool that allows Schneider's HBS clients real-time access to their project status. Clients can order HBS services, track work and retrieve project data. V.builder makes planning and implementing services more efficient for both Schneider and our HBS clients.

By investing both time and money on enhancing our technological tools, standards and procedures, Schneider will surely continue to raise our effectiveness and productivity, allowing us to complete tasks faster, better and more efficiently. And time continues to be increasingly important to our clients. Due to our precision planning tools, ongoing innovations, commitment to excellence and large number of surveying crews, we are able to respond to job requests immediately-often the same day. With that outcome, it's not hard to see why we are dedicated to implementing new technology-and why we will continue to do so in the future.

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