A Fast-track Solution
October 1, 2007
Clients of Wood Rodgers--like clients everywhere--demand steadily faster turnaround on their surveying projects. For them the old adage is true: “We need it yesterday!”
Wood Rodgers, an engineering and surveying firm with offices in California, Idaho and Nevada, has found the key to satisfying its clients’ need for speed with the help of network Real-Time Kine-matic (RTK) surveying. A Real-Time Network (RTN) achieves centimeter-accurate positioning in real time without the use of base stations. Wood Rodgers learned of the solution through its local dealer, California Surveying & Drafting Supply (CSDS), which promotes its capability to address faster job turnarounds as well as greater productivity. This was welcome news to Wood Rodgers, which finds itself fielding more and more work from a dynamic building market these days.
“We can handle an increased volume of work now,” says Steve Mendenhall, PLS, regional director of Surveys and Mapping at Wood Rodgers. “Economically, we can respond sooner so the time factor is re-duced, saving us and our clients money.” Wood Rodgers’ move to network RTK has proven successful, but just as with all successful business endeavors, the end result could not be achieved without careful analysis of the systems available and the market the firm serves.
Understanding the Evolving MarketplaceThe first step to client satisfaction for Wood Rodgers is to recognize the needs of the evolving construction and building market in the three states it serves.
California’s population has grown from 30 million in 1990 to 34 million in 2000, Idaho’s by 13 percent to 1.46 million people, and Nevada’s by 25 percent to 2.5 million. As a result, there has been an increasing demand for housing--and for larger housing units. The average American housing unit size has more than doubled since the 1950s to nearly 2,400 square feet.
Advances in construction technology, better roads to transport construction materials, and the proliferation of many prefab building materials have also had an effect on the construction and building market. Internet communications enable real estate transactions to be completed more quickly. Demand for spatial information of all kinds has increased. GIS is everywhere. Clients expect precise mapping, remote sensing and cadastral expertise now more than ever.
This upswing in construction components has, in turn, had an effect on Wood Rodgers and how it completes surveys for its “need-it-yesterday” clients. The firm’s projects today require more efficient design and foundation work, including surveying. And it all needs to be completed more quickly than ever.
“The marketplace is evolving,” Mendenhall says. “When we realized several years ago that developers and other clients wanted jobs done yesterday or nearly so, we realized we had to adapt.”
Adapting for the 390-member staff of Wood Rodgers (including 100 in its surveying department) means responding to the challenges of this dynamic construction market that includes major home builders and government entities as clients, larger housing units and advances in construction technology. But Wood Rodgers is accustomed to being ahead of the business pack; its walls are lined with awards attesting to its reputation for innovation and progressive approaches.
Responding to an ever-changing market, however, was complicated by another factor: the decrease of qualified candidates for field crews. Hiring field crew members to complete more surveys wasn’t possible due to the graying of the surveying profession. In California, for example, as most other states, the number of surveyors is declining. In 1980, there were 14,000 licensed surveyors in the state. Today, there are 4,700 and by 2025, that number is projected to be 3,000 or less. Fewer surveyors and technicians are interested in doing field work today. Regardless, great volumes of field work still faced Wood Rodgers; someone--or something--had to do it. CSDS was able to help.
Old Solutions Evolve to NewFor years, Wood Rodgers had utilized two- and three-person field crews who relied on RTK GPS technology. With RTK, the base station set up at the known point is linked by radio to the rover. Once communications are in sync, the rover measures new points within seconds. Without a doubt, RTK was an advance over the previous generations of surveying technology: conventional total stations and the chain before it. But Wood Rodgers found that radio-based RTK failed to satisfy the evolving demands and needs of its surveying clients--those faster turnarounds. Wood Rodgers’ field crews were stretched thin because personnel were required to guard the base stations and monitor the integrity of data being collected.
They needed a new solution.
“We started asking, ‘What could we do to solve our data collection needs?’” Mendenhall says. “We wanted to know how we could do more work with the same number of people because we were having difficulty finding qualified personnel.”
Wood Rodgers called on CSDS, whose knowledgeable staff has been providing them with surveying supplies and equipment, industry expertise and reliable customer service since 1999.
CSDS helped the eager surveying and engineering firm by suggesting cellular/Internet technology network RTK. Unlike radio-based network RTK, this new generation can be manned by one person. At about $26,000 for a field unit, the equipment cost is approximately half of the radio-based network RTK field crew because a base receiver and radio are no longer needed. Wood Rodgers was on board; the solution would address its need for faster job turnaround and greater productivity.
Implementing the SolutionThrough Mike Woodel, vice president of the Land Survey and Mapping Division at CSDS, Mendenhall observed how systematically the solution--called the California Surveying Virtual Survey Network (CSVSN)--was able to meet its needs.
An annual subscription fee gives network subscribers such as Wood Rodgers access to the network of base stations covering 12,500 square miles of northern California from Redding to Bakersfield. The system operates much like any CORS application. Trimble (Sunnyvale, Calif.) NetRS and NetR5 reference stations enable one-man data collection to be standard practice. These reference stations rely on cellular and Internet technology and overcome the old line-of-sight problem of conventional total stations. Accuracy is assured to within one centimeter of each station horizontally and beyond the old 10-kilometer range of radio-based network RTK. Initialization takes less than one minute.
Trimble RTKNet software is used on the central server and because of network design and density, even when one base station is temporarily down, the system revises the data and corrects it. This robustness ensures that data is always accurate. DAT and RINEX files retain 100 percent of the data for post processing.
The base stations are linked to a server farm at a Sacramento co-location facility consisting of four IBM eSeries servers that coordinate network operation nonstop. The facility is Sacramento’s most state-of-the-art Internet Data Center (IDC) providing high-speed Internet communications. It’s a system designed for maximum redundancy--the servers hand off functions and back each other up, making the network 99 percent reliable. Built to meet 21st-century earthquake, fire and public safety codes, the facility is designed to withstand outages in power, pipe, routers, switches and cabling. The central server also determines models for ionospheric and tropospheric conditions and makes corrections accordingly.
Along with the technological redundancy, the CSVSN features “human redundancy”--a team of IT pros who rely on the Alert Management System (AMS), which detects disturbances that might affect collection and transmittal of data and cause a delay in workflow. With this constant monitoring of the servers, the integrity of the data, and the “health” of the equipment such as voltage and temperature, the CSDS IT pros ensure that the CSVSN and its services are available every day, year-round.
When Mendenhall and his firm were seeking a better solution that would further the firm’s award-winning profile and cutting-edge reputation, Woodel and CSDS were ready; the CSVSN is up and running, fully tested and fully supported. The two firms have since successfully embarked on an entirely new phase of their relationship.
“The network is bulletproof,” explains Douglas Owyang, PLS, principal at Wood Rodgers. “It has evolved into a first-rate solution for us.”
Getting the Project Done "Yesterday"An example of what Wood Rodgers was able to accomplish with the CSVSN is a project for the Sacramento-based homebuilding and development company Reynen & Bardis. Its development known as The Grove at Laguna Ridge in Elk Grove, Calif., is a 1,900-acre, master-planned community comprised of 7,800 dwelling units and a mix of land uses meant to achieve a jobs-to-housing balance. Wood Rodgers prepared infrastructure master plans, tentative maps and subdivision improvement plans for the first phase of development, which includes approximately 2,000 lots. The land plan analyzes and provides for parks, schools, retail and office uses--all connected by a system of landscaped paseos and open spaces. The highly accurate, efficient surveying design Wood Rodgers was able to provide with the CSVSN helped Reynen & Bardis integrate efficient design based on sustainability methods at The Grove.
“Under normal construction sequencing, it would take two construction seasons to complete this project,” says Gary Parker, president of the Reynen & Bardis Land Development Division. “But with Wood Rodgers’ cooperation, professionalism, work ethic and continuous effort to utilize network RTK technology to maximize their production, the project was basically completed in one construction season.”
Parker adds that “Wood Rodgers’ highly innovative survey technology helped us complete this $250 million project successfully. No other engineering firm in the greater Sacramento region could have accomplished such an aggressive construction schedule and helped us meet our goals.”
What used to take two- and three-person crews with radio-based RTK became one-person crews with the CSVSN. Wood Rodgers estimates that its ability to move quickly through The Grove and other client jobs has increased significantly; it can handle 75 percent more volume than before. In addition, Woodel says the capital investment for the CSVSN was about half the cost of the radio-based approach.
Mendenhall emphasizes that “with the CSVSN, we are able to utilize 18 crews to do the same amount of work that would normally require 24 crews.”
“Also,” adds Ernie Martinez, surveying and mapping GPS manager at Wood Rodgers, “the Trimble technology the CSVSN relies on is user-friendly. And the training is not too lengthy. We were able to get our staff onboard quickly and the transition was very smooth.”