High Output Planning

March 24, 2003
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How surveyors at an Indiana firm decide which tool to use for each job.



Mounting GPS on an ATV and running continuous topo provides ten times as many shots as walking or riding in a “stop-and-go” method.
Across the nation and throughout the world, surveyors—from individuals to large companies—are seeking ways to increase productivity and profitability in today’s challenging market. How do they attain these goals with the myriad choices available in technology, technique and the deployment of crews? The Schneider Corporation (TSC) in Indianapolis is one of the largest engineering and surveying firms in the state, with more than 220 employees in four offices. During its 41-year history, the company has expanded beyond surveying to also provide services in civil engineering, architecture, landscape architecture and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Schneider’s survey crews use a combination of conventional, robotic, reflectorless total stations, and Real-time Kinematic (RTK) Global Positioning System (GPS) surveying equipment on a wide variety of projects. How they decide which tool to use on each project has become a study in productivity and profitability. Here are some details of a few projects they’ve been involved in and the tools they chose to use.

With 24 survey crews covering more than 200 projects each month, it’s critical to have the right people and equipment on the right jobs to achieve the highest productivity. We at TSC have been able to increase the number of projects we do each month—as well as our profitability—because the equipment we use enables us to get things done faster and more reliably. We’re able to give our clients quick turnaround, typically two to three weeks on any survey, because we’re able to collect and process data quickly.

All projects flow through Tim Bittner, our survey scheduler; he knows each crew’s capabilities and how to most efficiently use the field resources we have. For example, determining which crews or projects get our six GPS units each day comes from a depth of knowledge about equipment capabilities, each crew’s abilities and the best route to increased productivity and profitability. We have projects that use GPS alone, GPS with conventional, conventional alone, and those that require reflectorless technology. Because we use almost all Trimble (Sunnyvale, Calif.) equipment, we’re able to integrate our equipment with no hassle; by using a common controller and software, data from both GPS and conventional equipment can be quickly and easily integrated in the same database and used interchangeably.

About half of our crews are dedicated to specific clients. We found that scheduling crews around similar job types wasn’t as effective as keeping the same crew and party chief on the same project or with the same client. Things go much smoother; the crew knows where things are and what works best for that project and client. If there’s a lull in one of the crew’s schedules, they call Tim and get scheduled elsewhere. The rest of the crews get scheduled based on capabilities and client needs.

The advanced survey systems we use have helped us treat our clients like gold. We’ll do whatever we need to make sure we have the best equipment for each project. Anything that will increase productivity, quality and efficiency we’ll bring on board. By getting our jobs done quicker we get better turnaround to the client—and that’s imperative in our business.

We attempt to quote each project as if we were performing it conventionally. If we can utilize GPS it increases our productivity and profitability. Then, both TSC and our clients win.

Bruce Strack, PLS, runs a Trimble robotic 5600 DR200+ total station to gather conventional locations as Nat Baker gathers RTK locations with a Trimble 5700 GPS system.

GPS Only Uses

TSC has developed standards that guide us in what we can and can’t perform with GPS. We’d prefer to use GPS on all projects, but are currently limited by the number of sets we own. We’re able to use GPS alone in about 20 percent of our projects. We use the Trimble GPS Total Station 5700 system for topographic, construction and boundary surveys as well as any type of location work; we also often perform drainage as-builts in subdivisions with RTK. For most projects involving anything other than pure construction staking we use GPS; it cuts our time in half, doubling our productivity over conventional means. We’re also able to mount GPS on an all-terrain vehicle and run continuous topo over open fields, enabling us to get 10 times the number of shots as we can walking or riding in a “stop-and-go” method.

We share controllers, of which we have several Trimble TSC1 and TSCe Controllers. Using Trimble Geomatics Office software we can upload each projects’ calibration set into each controller. Then, regardless of the controller used, all calibrations are preset. This methodology saves an immense amount of time for laying out points; it can double productivity.

Project: Interstate Relocation for Airport Expansion, April-November 2002
An Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) project, the expansion of Indianapolis International Airport required the relocation of I-70.
The challenge: INDOT contracted TSC to set and establish a control network over an 8-mile section of the existing I-70. Because INDOT prefers not to use State Plane Coordinates in the design phase, we needed to create a local coordinate system for the entire area.
The solution: We used only GPS on this project. With two 2-person crews, we set control and tied in over 30 section corners and over 100 aerial photo (panel) points. We then used Trimble Geomatics Office software to adjust the entire network using numerous state High Accuracy Reference Network (HARN) points. We used the software to create a site calibration using the GPS control, transforming the state plane coordinates to a local system. The site calibration is uploaded into all our controllers for future work there. We also laid out more than 500 soil borings over the eight-mile project area. Using conventional equipment would have required ten times the densification of control points. With GPS, however, we could use the rover to locate or layout anything anywhere in the project area without a visible control point. The groundbreaking was in November. We never would have made it using conventional means. GPS increased productivity 1,000 percent in this case. That sounds outrageous, but it’s true.
The result: This is an extremely accurate network. None of the control in the entire project area was found to be more than 0.05 ft in error either horizontally or vertically. And we now have a large, precise GPS control network and site calibration in the area for future work with any system.

Reflectorless technology has improved productivity by up to four times.

GPS and Conventional Uses

At least 50 percent of our jobs include both conventional and GPS equipment. While GPS increases productivity, there’s usually some aspect requiring conventional. As with GPS, we can upload coordinates directly onto our conventional instruments’ keyboards, most of which are the Trimble 5600 total station series. That provides us an internal dataset from which to lay out anything in the future. And using the same software with both the RTK and 5600 conventional systems further increases productivity. We can do more jobs with the same number of people. Our two-person crews become two one-person crews using RTK or robotic total stations—a 100 percent jump in productivity. And because RTK and robotic total stations are more efficient than mechanical total stations, it improves productivity even more. And this increases our profitability.

At times, having both GPS and conventional on the same project is critical, such as in the confines of a strip mall. If we only had conventional equipment, we’d have to locate GPS-able features (open parking lot) in addition to non-GPS-able features (buildings). Utilizing both conventional and GPS simultaneously we can do the project in half the time. And that doubles our productivity.

Project: Village of WestClay, 1999-2009
Hamilton County is the location of the 686-acre WestClay planned community, one of the largest in Indiana. When complete, 1,362 housing units will surround a Village Center of commercial offices, retail shops, apartments, educational and recreational facilities, a day-care, a chapel and a university building. Started in 1999, Brenwick Development of Carmel, Ind., currently has 30 percent of the project and 40 percent of the infrastructure completed; the project is expected to take ten years to complete. TSC has been responsible for the infrastructure, stormwater management, sanitary sewer, street and roadway design, and coordinating the approval process.

The challenge: This is an immense project including entire boundary, construction staking, control network and site design. TSC uses two dedicated full-time crews using conventional and GPS equipment.
The solution: In 1999 we performed the boundary survey for the entire project using both GPS and conventional tools. Then we performed a large topographic survey using mainly GPS. We like to split up our crews using GPS and conventional. All crews have total stations; when we can also take GPS, we like to schedule a three-person crew—then two surveyors do conventional and one does GPS work. With static GPS, a large control network around WestClay can be observed and brought into the Trimble Geomatics Office software, processed and adjusted. We normally tie most of our projects into the HARN network, enabling all of our projects to be linked on one coordinate system if needed.

Trimble Geomatics Office software helps to make processing easier. When needed, we can export data in different formats, even custom formats, so it’s easy to use GPS and conventional data together. Because of the software commonality, the data is uploadable or downloadable between any two office processing systems or data collectors used. As another example, if we’re locating features such as monitoring wells across a large area, we can collect the data with GPS, export it into the software and upload it into our conventional instruments. Then if we need to lay out those points, the data is already in the instrument. It’s a quick and easy process between the two.
The result: We increased productivity and met project schedules and deadlines much easier. Fewer crews were required for the project, allowing them to work on other projects.

Bruce Strack, PLS, performs RTK locations on I-70 bridge.

Conventional Only Uses

We use conventional equipment alone in about 30 percent of our work for building control and construction staking. We currently own servo-driven, Autolock and robotic systems. With robotic units we can divide a three-person crew as we do with GPS: two use mechanical and one uses robotic. Some projects require conventional use due to an area’s conditions, such as a 30-acre wooded parcel. However, many projects today are conventional only due to our limited number of GPS sets. Otherwise, 90 percent of our projects could include GPS in some form, including layout.

Project: SummerLake, June 2002 to end of 2003
A 400-lot subdivision in Madison County, Ind., Summerlake is being developed by CP Morgan of Carmel, Ind. TSC is performing all construction staking and infrastructure layout. CP Morgan requires stakes at all four corners of each pad on every lot after each section is built and final graded. That’s thousands of stakes.

The challenge: With a project this size, increasing the number of pads/lots staked per day directly impacts productivity and profitability.
The solution: Using the servo-driven 5600 with Autolock, a three-person crew can stake 400 stakes or 100 pads a day. Without servo equipment, we could stake about 200 a day. Our increased speed comes from uploading each point’s coordinates directly into the instrument’s on-board controller. We then type in the point number, press a button and the servo automatically turns the instrument to the point. Prior to servos, we manually typed in each stake’s coordinates and manually turned the instrument. While this was not a painstaking process by any means, it did lower productivity over the long run.

We prefer a three-person crew on this kind of mass staking project: one runs the instrument, one at the rod and the third pounds stakes. It’s so fast that by the time the instrument person and stake pounder verify the stake is correctly set, the rodman is at the next point awaiting instructions. Productivity decreases if we have to both pound the stakes and run the rod—and that’s a scheduling issue. If we’re doing pad staking, we send a three-person crew because it increases productivity. And if we can send a robotic instrument, we only need a two-person crew.
The result: TSC and our client are gaining a 100 percent productivity hike. This would not be possible without servo equipment.

Project: Circle Centre Mall, Mid-1990s to date
Circle Centre Mall is a retail mall developed in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. The multi-story development incorporated significant new construction with many existing buildings. It covers all or parts of four city blocks, including overhead walkways and connecting tunnels. TSC provided land title and topographic surveys, 3D subterranean and sub-surface easement descriptions, construction staking and building control on the project.

The challenge: We need to maintain quality and accuracy for building control. Building control for steel often needs to be accurate to 0.01 – 0.02 ft.
The solution: We use conventional total stations on all building control to get the tightest work. Our 5600 instruments have 1-second angular capability. Many instruments have 5-second or even 20-second angular accuracy. With 1-second angular accuracy, we can turn more precise angles, producing tighter control. We also find that the 5600 instruments won’t “float” (move off line while buttons are being pressed), maintaining angular accuracy while measuring distances.
The result: We have maintained a satisfied repeat client and a productivity increase of up to 20 percent. We’ve also sustained quality work with accurate and precise control.

Reflectorless Uses

Reflectorless or DR technology has saved our clients a lot of time and money. It’s also quicker and safer in many cases for our crews. We use the DR technology in construction staking, anchor bolt as-builts, high-tension tower as-builts, interstates and bridge abutment locations. We’ve measured up to 600 ft with DR, obtaining very accurate results in areas where a handheld prism would not be feasible.

Project: Rails to Trails, May 24, 2002
The Indianapolis Rails to Trails project converts abandoned railroad tracks or inter-urban rail lines into hiking/biking trails throughout the city. One trail ended where an old rail line crossed the White River; the bridge was gone and only three piers remained, one on each bank and a third in the middle of the river. A non-profit neighborhood organization offered the donation of old steel trusses to span the river; TSC was asked (also pro bono) to determine whether the steel was long enough to span the existing piers.

The challenge: The piers are ~20 ft tall, irregularly shaped and hazardous to access.
The solution: A two-person crew using the Trimble 5600 Total Station DR200+ took three hours to complete the project. The crew ran a traverse, both horizontally and vertically, to locate each pier adjoining the banks. They then occupied each pier and used DR to locate the four sides of the middle pier to determine the span.
The result: We discovered that the donated steel bridge was two feet short for the 160-foot span, saving the client a lot of money from finding out the hard way. And TSC saved a lot of time. We estimate it would’ve taken us 12 hours to perform the task without DR, if at all possible considering the inaccessibility of the project area. We also didn’t compromise the safety of our personnel by trying to physically access the pier in the river. We satisfied the client—and ourselves—with the right tool for the job.

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