The Common Denominator
Development in the central-most part of Florida has been anything but stifled in recent years. The city of Ocala has been labeled as one of America’s five “Best Places to Live” by Money magazine because of its mild three-season climate, scenic beauty, great variety of shopping and restaurants, impressive medical facilities, low crime and magnificent horse farms. Numerous developers have been drawn to the area and more than 50 percent of Florida’s high-tech companies have located there. From this development, surveying and construction companies have seen a boost in work. Steven Counts Inc. (SCI) of Ocala, Fla., is one of these firms benefiting from the prosperous economic climate unseen in other areas of the country. As the head of SCI’s surveying department, Chuck Counts knows the definition of “overtime.” He has not been a stranger to working 15- to 18-hour days.
And while plentiful work frequently calls for such long days, Counts and his crews could be forced to work much more if they weren’t equipped with advanced technology and efficient software. It’s this arsenal that supports SCI’s multifaceted capabilities, helping it to earn more jobs and complete them more efficiently. The as-built surveys SCI’s crews supply to central Florida developers are one particular service product advancing SCI’s reputation and extending its client list.
Building Stone CreekSince its founding in 2000, SCI has built an impressive list of clients across central Florida--and the list is growing. In the fall of 2005, SCI gained service contracts for development of a 1,500-acre residential complex called the Del Webb Stone Creek community. The site, to be developed by Pulte Homes, will hold a planned 4,000 residences, and includes an 18-hole championship golf course with 13 lakes, a sales and model center, a construction management facility and a major four-lane boulevard.
SCI was hired to do the mass grading on the ample lots, including the decorative and stormwater management ponds, and to develop the residential areas and adjoining roads, including all of the underground sanitary stormwater systems, lighting and cabling. SCI provides all of the road infrastructure, grading, asphalt, concrete, curbing and sidewalk materials via its own asphalt plants, mines, concrete ready-mix plant and trucking facility. As a single subcontractor, SCI has a lot to offer. But even with this complete lineup of qualifications and resources, several phases of the project can be held up if engineering plans fail to be matched during actual layout. To this end, SCI’s as-built surveys act as overseeing parents to the project. Many other phases and services of the project are dependent on the accuracy of SCI’s as-builts. It is the crews’ application of advanced technology that assists in this seamless progression. SCI’s employees use both total stations and GPS to produce their as-builts. “We have used the total stations for high accuracy as-builts on hard improvements (curbs, pavement, manholes, etc.) and the GPS on grading as-builts (drainage retention areas, mass grading, golf course shaping, etc.),” Counts says.
A Main Link in the ChainArmed with advanced technology and software, SCI’s survey crews keep the developer up to date with confidence. “We use GPS a lot,” Counts says, “especially with the ongoing recording of the dirt moving. With GPS mounted on a truck or an ATV, we can do quick mini topos and evaluate the amount of dirt moved in real time, where it is in place and where it needs to be…keep the developer informed of the quantities of dirt that’s been moved [and] where it’s been moved.” This information helps to determine if a project will stay the course or fall behind schedule. Several others onsite depend on the results of the surveyor’s work--surveyors are a main link in the work chain.
“The engineering company has relied on us a lot,” Counts says. “Because of the size of this project, they know where they have dirt to use and what (phase of the) project they want it used in. We can keep them up to date with that information. As construction progresses and is finalized, we use our conventional survey crews to prepare underground as-builts for submittal to the regulatory agencies to get clearances on [the] water system or sanitary sewer system.”
In addition to aiding in the placement of underground utilities and providing detailed and updated information whenever needed, Counts says the as-builts his crews produce are used as part of the closeout documents sent to the regulatory agencies for final approval after construction ends and for locating improvements for future planning.
Technology to ToutCounts’ six, two-person survey crews use a variety of advanced technology to get the job done, including total stations, levels, GPS and machine control. Two additional crews use GPS to assist, and supervisors have GPS models at their disposal for rough staking jobs.
“GPS is a major factor in our quality control, as our supervisors use it to check grade behind the equipment,” Counts says. And, he says with pride, “our variations (between plan and as-built) are few and minor because of our fine employees and quality controls that we have in place.”
Counts says that conventional methods are the most accurate way of collecting data. “You don’t have to worry about how many satellites are up in the air (as with GPS),” he says, but adds that the weather can be a hindrance and that more workers are required for total station operation. When SCI’s crews can, they turn to GPS technology.
"GPS only requires one man, but the satellite initialization requirement can be a drawback,” Counts says, adding that this is rare with SCI’s access to both U.S. GPS and Russian GLONASS satellites via Topcon’s (Livermore, Calif.) GPS+ technology. “The reason we went with Topcon is because of their access to U.S. [GPS] and [Russian] GLONASS satellites,” Counts says. (SCI got on board with Topcon’s GPS+ technology in 2002). “You’re pretty much going to have all the satellites you need all the time.”
SCI has a number of Pacific Crest (Santa Clara, Calif.) UHF transmitters from its beginning days on the job and has upgraded to the cellular use of an RTK reference network when available. The survey division also anticipates the use of Topcon’s full reference network program for machine control; SCI has participated in the manufacturer’s beta testing of the system due out in the very near future.
SCI also uses GPS technology in machine control applications and has approximately 20 graders and dozers in use with GPS today. Rover units are sometimes mounted magnetically on earthmover pans and tractors with bowls, Counts says. The progressive firm has also started to incorporate Topcon’s Millimeter GPS technology into its field surveying practice to “get that next degree of accuracy,” Counts says. The crews currently uses two units for stakeout and a full system on a motor grader. “It’s speeding things up,” Counts says happily, knowing the technology cuts down on those long workdays.
“It’s been a big boost in our production,” he says. “It’s helped me in my survey department because when my people in the office can put together the surface files and the line work files, and all that I’m required to do is to localize the site and get the files to the field supervisor, then they can get the equipment out there and start balancing the site with no stakes at all. That takes the pressure off me to get stakes out there to start these projects. And it also looks good for our clients. By the time they get their permits, they want us on the jobsite working. With a minimum amount of field time and office time, we can have the files put together to get started.”
Counts says the firm is looking at another major bulldozer purchase and that it will most likely be used with GPS machine control.
Tomorrow's SolutionsCounts says SCI was introduced to GPS in 2001 and outfitted its first dozer with GPS in 2002. Within three months of this introduction, three or four more units were bought. The company now has about 20 machines equipped with GPS. He says the “regular” GPS has given SCI a 25 percent increase in production, sometimes more; the machine control addition has afforded the company even more productivity, not to mention happier clients and shorter workdays. And though Topcon’s Millimeter GPS has just begun to be used on SCI’s jobs, Counts says he expects to see an increase of 15 to 20 percent in the survey crew’s time spent staking and as-builting. “Imagine not having to set up instruments over control points or set up backsights,” he says. “Just get out of the truck, turn on the GPS receiver, and set points and collect information.”
For tomorrow’s jobs, he’s also looking more into Bluetooth connectivity. “We (already) use it with our rovers, and between our HiPers [geodetic receivers] and our FC100 data collectors.”
Counts is also anticipating more use of the reference station network across Florida. “We installed two reference stations ourselves, one in Summerfield and one in Ocala,” he says. “It works fantastic.” He adds that Topcon’s largest U.S. dealer, Lengemann of Florida, has developed and operates L-Net, a growing cellular reference station network. “Our area is pretty well covered. Most of the state of Florida is covered right now,” he says. “It saves us at least two hours a day. You’ve eliminated setting up the base station and taking it down.”
Counts’ hunger for new technology doesn’t end there. He also has his eye on Topcon’s new G3 receivers. “The G3 has been touted as a better, more durable piece of equipment and you know how rough construction people are on equipment,” he says.
Data On DemandWith several more years of development due on the Stone Creek job, SCI looks forward to implementing its current inventory of equipment and software, and adding more advanced technology to keep the project on schedule and the developer happy. The technology is the common denominator to SCI’s success.
“The use of ongoing as-builts during construction allows developers to stay informed of earthmoving activities and not be hit with massive change orders at the end of construction without hard data to support the additional charges,” Counts says. “We as a company strive for no change orders in the projects that we take."
He adds that the arsenal of technology his crews use give them “the ability to market ourselves as a cutting-edge company using the latest in technology. Our clients do see the benefit. To be able to drive out on a jobsite and ask the superintendent, ‘You know, that area over there looks a little high. What do you think?’ and he takes his GPS rover and says, ‘Let’s go over and check.’ [allows you] to have an answer right then and there. Being able to do that is a big plus.”