Techno Mix

October 31, 2003
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Integrating the proper technology into surveying projects helps national firm grow strong.



Founded in 1911, Woolpert LLP of Dayton, Ohio, has always held a strong commitment to technology. Since its beginning, Woolpert has equipped its employees with the latest instruments from mechanical calculators to early model air conditioning units. That technological commitment has helped grow the company into one of the nation's largest and most innovative design, mapping and surveying firms with 22 offices in locations stretching from Virginia to Colorado.

Tom Mochty, PS, is a partner at Woolpert and in charge of the Survey/Global Positioning System (GPS) Services division. While each office's survey operation is led by a local group manager, Mochty helps coordinate survey projects involving multiple offices and project teams.

"My role is often similar to that of a telephone switchboard operator," Mochty says. "I'm usually working with our project teams in an effort to leverage our capabilities, equipment, staff and training to fit the various projects that come up in each area."

Much like the survey division's integration, Woolpert's use of technology has become tightly integrated as well. Woolpert's 150 surveyors combine all their technological "tools in the toolbox," including GPS, 3D laser scanners, total stations, ruggedized field computers, data collectors, digital levels, sub-surface utility engineering equipment, and a variety of field and office software, to stay ahead of the curve in productivity and profitability.

"More and more of our projects require the integration of technologies," Mochty says. "Our clients are increasingly requiring that we provide a fully integrated solution. The technology is out there; we've invested in it in order to broaden our service offerings and enable our surveyors to handle our clients' diverse needs."

"One technology isn't a silver bullet," he says. "Our approach is one project, one problem, solved by all the tools in our toolbox."

Woolpert's creative approach to meeting the needs of their clients includes the commitment to and the integration of the latest technology. Here are some projects in which Woolpert has put this principle to work.

One-person operation: Woolpert collects data near the bridge with a Trimble 5603 DR robotic total station system.

Fulfilling Flood Surveys

Surveying since 1974, Lee Poplin, PLS, survey group manager for Woolpert's Ashland, Ky., and Charleston, W.V., offices, has witnessed first-hand the evolution of the industry. For the past three years, he's headed a flood survey project with Woolpert for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in Pike County, Ky.

Woolpert was asked to perform various surveys in the Levisa Fork Basin, including setting control and performing bridge, culvert and structure surveys. Using a variety of equipment, including reflectorless total stations, static, Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) and submeter GPS receivers, digital cameras and electronic levels, Poplin's crews finalized their portion of the project in August 2003.

"We used several methods and types of equipment to accomplish our goals, mixing GPS with total station and ground-based vertical work," Poplin says. "The ability to roll all our data up at the same time into one dataset makes my life a lot easier."

And when a project includes up to eight crews and 20 surveyors over three years, making your life easier means a lot.

Poplin's crews initially located existing vertical control and set about 200 new USACE disks to assure control was located at half-mile intervals, establishing vertical control using digital levels. They also obtained submeter horizontal positions using Trimble (Sunnyvale, Calif.) Pathfinder Pro XRS GPS systems.

For the bridge and culvert survey they needed more accurate horizontal control; crews set a GPS network of 25 monuments at 3- to 5-mile intervals using six survey-grade GPS total stations for static control. They also set and surveyed 530 pins and caps at the bridges and culverts using Trimble GPS Total Station 4700 systems. Actual surveys were accomplished with conventional total stations; on bridges they weren't able to access due to "˜no trespassing areas' or dangerous heights, crews used Trimble 5603 DR200+ Long Range Direct Reflex (DR) total stations. The crews took 3D positions of the main hydraulic openings. Each bridge was also digitally photographed from both sides and sketched. Electronic and hard copy data sheets on each bridge and culvert were prepared and presented to the client.

Initial vertical control was then used for surveying more than 4,800 business and residential structures in the flood region to gain first floor elevation information. The crews used Trimble TSCe data collectors and pen-based computer systems to electronically collect the data in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Woolpert's programmers also created "Report Writers," which automatically took the Excel data and translated it into Word documents along with photos of the structure and a sketch of the surrounding area. All finalized electronic data was inserted into MicroStation (Bentley, Exton, Pa.) design files for attachment to the USACE digital mapping to form a Geographic Information System (GIS) of the flood area.

"Probably the best thing about today's integrated surveying is that we don't hand-enter data anymore," Poplin says. "If we do hand-enter in the field or office, it is downloaded and uploaded, and not retyped or reentered. Data is gathered in the field with the same software. It not only reduces errors, but makes the whole process simpler."

Woolpert uses the Trimble GPS Pathfinder Pro XRS systems connected to ruggedized Fujitsu pen-based field computers to collect asset data and feature information. They used Woolpert's SmartSurveyor software, which the firm developed for use with Trimble products.

Doing DOT Surveys

"Woolpert has utilized electronic field data collection for [more than] 15 years," says Steve Newell, PS, survey project manager for the firm's Columbus, Ohio, office. "For us, integrated surveying is a natural progression of how we work."

Newell is managing the survey portion of a road widening project for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). The project includes a 1.45-mile section of State Route 750 (SR-750) in Delaware County that ODOT determined was not up to current design standards. Woolpert's transportation group performed capacity, design and environmental studies; the Columbus survey group provided research on property owners as well as on existing control monuments and basic bench marks during this phase of the project. The fieldwork phase of the project began in May 2003.

Newell oversaw crews using conventional as well as static and RTK GPS systems to collect topographic features and locate existing property line monumentation for the project area. Tying into the county's First Order GPS network to provide State Plane Coordinate reference for the project, the crews used a GPS 4700 system as the base station with a 5700 system as the rover to establish primary control. They then completed field topos, road cross sectioning, and ground feature mapping using a combination of conventional and GPS systems running Trimble Survey Controller software.

"We used RTK as much as possible when there were no obstructions-up to 70 percent of the time," Newell says. "Because we used the same data collector, we could easily switch to conventional total station systems when the sky was obstructed."

Survey data was entered into the CAD systems to build the project's base maps that were completed in July. After the base plans were completed the information was used for the engineering design and developing right of way plans. As of September 2003, Woolpert delivered conceptual plans to ODOT.

"This project was more technology than labor intense," Newell says. "Instead of throwing man hours at the project, we put more technology on it to reduce labor. We chose equipment that would provide both the accuracy we needed as well as the time and labor savings we wanted."

The crews also completed subsurface utility engineering (SUE) work to locate and mark utilities in the project. After using Radio Detection Series 400 System equipment to designate or paint the underground utilities on the ground, they located them using RTK GPS. SUE is the emerging standard for utility data collection to support planning and design projects, according to Kevin Stacy, PS, survey group manager for the Columbus office.

"This project took everything from basic control work to using every piece of equipment we can get our hands on-like SUE-into one common base map," Stacy says. "We train our surveyors to use everything available, including SUE, so we can pull any tool out of our toolbox to accomplish the projects' needs."

Software enables Woolpert to integrate all tools; for the ODOT project, the crews downloaded and processed data from both the control networks and RTK data collectors through Trimble Geomatics Office software.

Newell's group used GEOPAK (Bentley, Exton, Pa.) with MicroStation along with ODOT's CAD standards to prepare the base mapping and right of way plans; they provided all CAD files and intelligent projects to enable ODOT to work with the data in the future.

At Woolpert, final data software used is always client-driven. The firm wrote conversion routines so crews in all offices could use the same numeric code collection list; they then translate the numeric codes into acceptable ASCII files for whatever software they use on projects.

"Because we deal with so many different types of deliverables and CAD systems, we have to be able to bounce between each system-and each CAD system entails a little different mindset," said Stacy. "We need to know the tools we have very, very well; we need to know how software works together and make sure it operates properly. Efficiency from field to finish, that's the key. Even just swapping a PC card from a GPS unit to a total station-every step of the way has to be smooth."

Using a Trimble GPS Total Station 5700 system as a rover, Woolpert locates the underground utilities designated during the SUE phase of the DEL-750 project.

Unraveling Urban Asset Inventories

The city of Saint Charles, Mo., motivated by federal requirements for financial reporting of assets as well as its own need to manage its utility infrastructure, contracted Woolpert to inventory all water, sewer and storm utility assets.

Matt Schrader, PLS, Woolpert's survey group manager for the Fairview Heights, Ill., and St. Louis, Mo., offices, originally proposed to set a control network using static GPS for horizontal and conventional leveling for vertical measurements. But after finding little existing high-quality vertical monumentation, Schrader proposed a Height Modernization (HM) project to establish reliable monuments.

Using GPS receivers, Schrader's three crews worked as six one-person crews to run static GPS observations. They also completed several leveling runs using Trimble DiNi11 and DiNi12 digital levels to verify the process and meet the HM specs.

"Using GPS reduced the overall time the HM project would've taken-and enabled us to Bluebook the control horizontally and vertically with very little additional effort," Schrader says. "Conventional leveling would've taken twice as long."

Woolpert also performed photogrammetry and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) services for the city. Crews placed about 40 panel points throughout the city, positioning them with GPS Total Station 5700 and 5800 systems using a Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) modem as a communication link to the base station. CDPD enabled the crews to cover the entire city from one base station. The LiDAR was positioned with airborne GPS. After combining LiDAR data with the photogrammetry, Woolpert delivered digital orthophotography and mapping of the entire city. Then came the inventory.

Schrader ran three two-person crews using GPS Pathfinder Pro XRS systems connected to ruggedized Fujitsu pen-based field computers (Fujitsu PC Corporation, Santa Clara, Calif.). They used Woolpert's SmartSurveyor software, which the firm developed for use with Trimble products. The software allows users to build and see pipe connectivity in the field as well as load background maps and pull up existing data.

"Using Pathfinder systems with our software allows us to get a GPS position on a structure as well as enter information on the asset in real-time-the depth, size, etc.," Schrader says. "At the end of the day, we bring the data in, transfer it to the GIS system and deliver it to our client."

Sanitary utilities required a more critical vertical. Crews performed RTK GPS surveys using 5700 and 5800 systems. They switched to conventional total stations to locate sanitary structures where the GPS observations were obstructed.

"A big benefit of integrated tools is that we can set control with RTK, and five minutes later we're using that control with a total station," Schrader says. "We unplug the GPS and plug in the total station with the same data collector. That's been key: having the same file, same data collector, same crew chief. It increases our productivity immensely; you don't need two separate crews and it eliminates the need for multiple trips."

Integrating RTK with submeter GPS data was easy as well. They just downloaded RTK data into Trimble Geomatics Office and output an ASCII point file. Then they simply loaded it into the GIS database, and it automatically upgraded the positions.

"The variety of equipment we've used on this project made it a lot easier because we processed all the data using Trimble Geomatics Office software," Schrader says. "All project data is in one file and can easily be handled on a laptop computer and taken out in the field. It's also transferable between data collectors. That's why we do integrated surveying. It's just that easy."

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