Controlling the Chaos

October 1, 2007
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The Leica ScanStation’s ability to simultaneously scan overhead and at ground level is a versatile function for scanning this old power station due to be converted into a restaurant.


Mention Calgary, Alberta, and people tend to think of oil and long, frigid winters--and even the Calgary Stampede annual rodeo event. But in recent years, Calgarians have noted another characteristic prominent in its region, one that has been taking shape with increasing persistence: construction.

Spurred by relentless growth and a healthy economy, the Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation (AIT) agency has been taking its aggressive plans for roadway improvements and expansion to the streets. Though road and bridge construction typically mean lane closures, detours or both, local survey company Tronnes Surveys has been rolling out its full range of positioning technology to help the AIT minimize traffic congestion and put a little civility back into the common chaotic consequences of construction.

“Closing lanes is very expensive and it costs a lot to society and to business when people are stuck in traffic because of road work,” says Stephen Tronnes, president of Tronnes Surveys. “Our GPS, total station and high-definition laser scanning technology allows us to shoulder the responsibility of producing highly accurate and efficient road or bridge surveys from literally the shoulder of the road. For example, we recently performed an as-built survey for a new interchange at the Alberta Children’s Hospital without ever stepping foot onto the road. Not having to shut down a lane to do the survey was a net gain to the public and to our client.”

Indeed, the need for speed has not been lost on Tronnes and his teams as they strive to meet the demands and intricacies of diverse projects and deadlines while ensuring that efficiency and productivity are not delivered with below-par results. To do that, Tronnes uses advanced positioning technology to allow them to be as versatile and precise as their project work. The tools enable them to easily integrate the diverse facets of survey work and geospatial data to create a seamless workflow that allows crews to fade into the backdrop of daily life in Calgary.

The seamless compatibility between GPS, total station and 3D laser scanning technology allowed Tronnes teams to survey with improved productivity and reduced potential for human error around the Elbow River traverse for the upcoming South West Calgary Ring Road.

A Well-positioned Philosophy

Tronnes Surveys began 41 years ago as a small, single-purpose surveying company. Today its crews can be found all over Calgary, performing legal, construction and topographic surveys, and providing consulting services for GIS data creation, integration and management. Well known for its high quality work and ability to deliver on deadline, Tronnes has been chosen to provide survey services for some of the most expansive and expensive transportation and engineering projects around Calgary. Though diversified growth has been a welcomed trend, the diversified positioning equipment Tronnes had been using to meet that growth became problematic.

“We had a number of different instruments and each had a different interface, so if a crew’s instrument went down and they needed to take a different one, we could lose half a crew day while they learned how to use that new interface,” Tronnes says. “The data also wasn’t easily interchangeable. To move data from one provider’s instrument to another, we’d first have to change it to a common data source and then import it. That’s not only time consuming, but it leaves you more vulnerable to errors.”

Seven years ago Tronnes unified its positioning technology with Leica Geosystems (Norcross, Ga.) to include the Leica GPS1200 and Leica TPS1200 total station series, a Leica ScanStation high-definition laser scanner and a number of Leica DISTO laser meters and Leica SPRINTER electronic construction levels. Coupled with the strong service relationship it has developed with local positioning and service provider Spatial Technologies, Tronnes says the company now has the positioning platform and technical support to keep crews well versed on the instruments and working at a steady pace.

A Leica ScanStation mounted on the Canadian Pacific Railway high rail in Calgary.

“One of the most significant advantages we enjoy with the equipment, particularly the 1200 surveying systems, is the seamless compatibility we now have between different types of instruments,” Tronnes says. “With the standardized interface and the common data platform inherent in the systems, any person familiar with the GPS can also run the total station without needing a half-day training session first. We can quickly and easily transfer all relevant job data between our GPS and total stations without needing to set up two different jobs and importing points. That greatly enhances our productivity and reduces the potential for human error.” Also, Tronnes says, the reflectorless technology of the Leica TPS1200, as well as the remote data collection abilities of the Leica ScanStation “enables us to work from a distance, improving the safety of our crews and helping minimize the disruptions to those affected by the work.”

In addition to the technological benefits the instruments provide, Tronnes says Spatial Technologies and the training and technical support it supplies is also instrumental in helping them achieve success. In kind, Rick Kurash, president of Spatial Technologies, says Tronnes is a real testament to the benefit of training and how that commitment translates to benefits in the field.

“Tronnes is a great example of a firm that recognizes the value of training,” Kurash says. “That dedication to learning and becoming intimate with the technology and software features really shows in the quality of their work and their productivity.”

Tronnes’ philosophy toward applying its technology, however, could also be partly attributed to the company’s growth. Despite the steady growth of its business, Tronnes has resisted the common temptation to snatch up the latest advanced technology available and then sell it, making projects fit the technology. Rather, Tronnes has always made the technology fit the project.

“Ten years ago many companies purchased expensive RTK GPS solutions and then tried to sell an RTK GPS survey,” Tronnes explains. “Our philosophy has always been to adopt technology that will add further value to our existing service portfolio and then to decide the best method and technology to use to garner the best results for the project at hand.”

One of 10 interchanges Tronnes is surveying for the Stoney Trail ring roads around Calgary.

Righting Ring Roads

Tronnes applies this practical approach to all its assignments, whether it is a straightforward legal survey or a multi-million dollar, multi-faceted roadway project such as the Northwest Stoney Trail (NWST) and Northeast Stoney Trail (NEST) ring roads around Calgary.

The NWST and NEST projects are part of a 30-year approved plan to design and build an entire ring road around the city. The NWST project began in 2003 and involves the expansion and construction of 17 kilometers of roadway, including four major interchanges and 12 bridges. NEST started in 2007 and consists of 21 kilometers of four- and six-lane roadway, six interchanges and 23 bridge structures. The NEST is scheduled to be fully open to drivers in 2009 followed by the NWST in 2010.

For Tronnes, such an involved project has afforded his company the opportunity to utilize its full range of technology and to match it to the particular survey need. Using the Leica GPS1200 and the Leica SPRINTER level, teams set the control. Then, using a previously loaded geoid model, they lay out the roads with the GPS unit. Crews use the Leica TPS1200 to survey the bridges, a process they can do simultaneously to the GPS work thanks to both units having the same interface, Tronnes says.

“The ability to use two pieces of equipment with the same crew is very efficient,” he explains. “You can use GPS to survey up to a bridge, take the GPS job data and put it in the total station to survey underneath the bridge, and once on the other side, switch data back into the GPS and continue surveying without ever having to shut down or lose time typing in coordinates.”

Once the bridge abutments have been erected and the bearing pads have been seated, crews perform an as-built high-definition survey with the Leica ScanStation for enhanced quality control. To date, Tronnes’ field personnel have surveyed 30 kilometers of roadway and nine interchanges, and provided layout and 3D laser scanning surveys for 14 bridges.

“Being able to scan bridge points remotely from the ground greatly improves the safety of our teams,” Tronnes says. “It removes the need to have our people up on top of bridge abutments or bridge piers where their safety can be at risk. And even from a distance we can collect scan data to within six millimeters, which is extremely accurate and provides really valuable design detail to draftsmen.”

The remote data collection capabilities of the Leica ScanStation enable Tronnes’ teams to work from a distance, improving the safety of its crews, such as on busy 7th Avenue in downtown Calgary.

Setting a Standard

Tronnes also used the Leica ScanStation on a recent downtown building project for the construction of “The Bow,” Calgary’s tallest building. Designed for oil giant EnCana Corporation, the glass and steel tower will sit in the heart of the city’s center, encompassing 1.7 million square feet and rising 59 stories.

A Tronnes team surveyed an entire city block of existing historical buildings, a survey needed because those buildings’ facades will be integrated into the new Bow complex. In addition to acquiring the elevation data of the buildings, the team also surveyed the corners using the 3D laser scanner, which provided such high data detail that EnCana’s architectural team was able to determine its needed brick coursing for the development. An additional benefit, says Tronnes, is that the scan data also revealed previously undetected deformation to the front of one of the historical buildings.

Tronnes says the Leica ScanStation is proving its value as predicted, a success that he in large part attributes to the partnership with Spatial Technologies. “Spatial Technologies committed its own technical staff to us for several training sessions on the high-definition scanner--sometimes for an entire day--at no cost to us,” he says. “For three years they also rented the equipment to us so we could become more experienced with the technology. That support was integral to successfully developing our HDS (high-definition surveying) solutions, and in fact, we wouldn’t be involved in HDS had it not been for Spatial’s support and consistent training.”

More importantly, by standardizing the positioning technology, Tronnes’ crews are able to use the right tool for the job, which will ultimately provide the best results and the best turnaround time to the client.

Data like this 3D model for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) station redevelopment provides a far more valuable and efficient data set for drafting, Tronnes says.

“Having everyone use Leica Geosystems’ products allows us to maintain training levels and offers us the flexibility to change field teams,” he says. “And with the ability to interchange equipment, party chiefs can load their individual configuration setup and data onto any one of the total stations or GPS receivers and they’re immediately ready to work.”

He continues, “As most mistakes are made in the field by either inaccurate data conversion or manually typing in a wrong coordinate, being able to automatically and directly transfer data from one tool to the next is a huge asset. We’ve been able to reduce our errors by standardizing our equipment and choosing equipment that’s reliable. This equipment has really allowed us to be more efficient in the field and with the hectic construction schedule in Calgary right now, that’s important.”

Indeed, as the desire to change Calgary’s landscape appears unabated, it’s clear that Tronnes can’t afford to slow down or stop its own survey traffic because of equipment issues. He credits the seamless workflow of his firm’s advanced surveying equipment as providing his team with an efficient platform to carry out its work while blending into the background of the city. It’s civil surveying--literally.

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