Industrial Pursuits

December 2, 2011
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Surveying for industrial projects is both highly challenging and immensely rewarding.




When the economy collapsed in late 2008, one of the first places to feel the impact was southeast Michigan. Long considered “the car capital of the world,” the region is heavily reliant on the automotive manufacturing industry and other industrial operations. Layoffs and plant closures affected virtually every sector of the market, from real estate to commercial development and other areas traditionally serviced by surveying and engineering firms. Companies like Spalding DeDecker Associates Inc. (SDA), a multidisciplinary firm headquartered in Rochester Hills, Mich., were faced with an unprecedented drop in demand.

Looking down from above on the nearly completed blast furnace “C” at Severstal in Dearborn, Mich.

Although residential work still shows few signs of life, industrial investment has resumed and is providing a glimmer of hope for the local and national economy. It’s also providing new opportunities for surveying professionals who are up for the challenge.

Industrial surveying is sometimes used to describe the precise alignment of industrial machining or equipment and is also sometimes termed “optical tooling.” Although some overlap exists between this process and traditional surveying techniques, SDA primarily focuses on the precise surveying layout work that is required to set the foundation for a project before the millwrights, boilermakers, machine installers or toolmakers take over to perform the final measurements and installation. In these types of applications, surveyors are often followed by other professionals who use tilting levels, laser trackers, and other measurements to achieve sub-millimeter accuracy.

Projects for manufacturing plants, steel mills, refineries and power plants comprise the bulk of our industrial work. Owners include automotive companies and suppliers, defense manufacturers, energy producers and steel makers. Services involve providing layout for installing process line support steel in existing facilities; setting control for process or assembly lines; layout for piles, footings, piers, foundations, and anchor bolts for new construction; anchor-bolt and steel-erection surveys; crane rails surveys; and verification and as-built surveys. The common thread between these projects is the large scale of the construction, the exacting tolerances required, and the relative complexity of the projects and plans.

Safety is a prime consideration when tackling these projects, and for good reason. These sites and activities are inherently dangerous, filled with moving equipment and machinery, congested work spaces, fall hazards, and potentially dangerous atmospheres. Working in such environments requires strict adherence to safety procedures and the utmost attentiveness to the surroundings.

To ensure that workers are focused on safety and their judgment is not impaired, drug testing is a key requirement on these projects. One of the programs recognized on a majority of industrial sites in Michigan is the Management and Unions Serving Together (MUST) system. Projects designated as MUST sites require initial and annual drug screens along with random testing. To ensure compliance for all staff, SDA took the step of designating all of its offices as MUST sites. All employees, from the receptionist to the president, participate in the program. Some jobsites are administered by different organizations that require additional testing for employees to stay current.

In the foreground, survey technician Mark Andrews, CST III, confirms the dimensions for an anchor bolt template while survey technician Ryan Rupp puts the finishing touches on a template in the background. SDA prefers to make templates for anchor bolt surveys where practical. The templates provide a quick check that the base plates will fit on the anchor bolts, indicates if any of the individual bolts are askew and allows the surveyor to center the target in the middle of the pattern, regardless of the number of bolts.

Industrial sites also commonly require specialized training in addition to the orientation provided onsite at the beginning of a project. This may include OSHA 10-hour training in construction or OHSA 40-hour HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) training. The MUST program also provides training in 18 specific modules, ranging from aerial lifts to welding.

A comprehensive written safety plan is mandatory when tackling industrial surveying projects. It is increasingly common for such plans to be reviewed by the project owner or a consultant, with each site having its own requirements for what is included in the plan. Firms looking to position themselves as industrial service providers should be aware of the additional administrative requirements.

Personal protective equipment for these sites includes at a minimum hard hats, eye and hearing protection, reflective fluorescent vests and proper footwear. On some sites, surveyors must also wear fire-retardant clothing and gloves and carry chemical splash goggles, an intrinsically-safe emergency communications radio, and hydrogen sulfide detectors. Other sites may require long-sleeved shirts, steel-toe boots or metatarsal guards, four-gas detectors, disposable Tyvek suits, respirators, or harnesses.

Fall protection is a substantial concern on these projects. Many of SDA’s crews routinely operate aerial lifts and have become skilled at using these even in some very congested areas. Proper use of harnesses and lanyards is a must; some of SDA’s staff have performed precise measurements while standing on a beam more than 120 feet above the ground.

Attention to detail is paramount on industrial sites. One of my surveying professors in college once said that only a fraction of our time surveying involves setting new points, while the remainder of our time is spent repeating measurements to eliminate random and systematic errors and blunders. Nowhere is this more evident than when trying to maintain the exacting tolerances required for industrial surveying work.

Survey technician Mark Andrews, CST III, carefully marks the exact location for the centerline of blast furnace “C” at Severstal prior to installation of the final piece. Working at nearly 200 feet above the ground, Andrews is required to maintain positional tolerances under 1/4 inch.

There are times when surveyors run traditional traverses, performing as many redundant measurements as possible and adjusting the network using least squares. However, often the work primarily consists of extending or maintaining straight, parallel, or perpendicular lines. Rather than a traverse approach, work is performed from baselines or parallel offsets, turning 90-degree angles for perpendicular lines or extending lines by double-centering. Technicians work meticulously to scribe the marks in concrete, adjusting the location of their mark by the width of the point on the scribe until their sight is precisely on target. When setting parallel control from a baseline, new marks are typically set using a mini prism. Before moving the instrument to the new marks, technicians set a tripod, tribrach and prism over the new point and repeat the measurement. Once the instrument is on the new points, the first measurement performed is a check back to the baseline from where they started to ensure there are no variations in how the new points were set. Crew chiefs sometimes have to chase errors under 1/16th of an inch in their main control lines.

Survey technician Brian Walter uses a Leica DNA03 mounted on a tripod with an elevating head that raises the unit above the points to be measured.

Inherent in this style of layout is the need to sometimes “buck into” control lines–a tedious process that requires setting up and leveling the instrument, sighting one line, flopping and sighting the other and noting the variation, then moving the instrument over slightly and repeating the process. In these situations, a dual-lateral adjuster is invaluable. Set between the tripod head and the instrument, this piece of equipment slides the instrument laterally with the turn of a dial. The dual adjuster can move the instrument in two planes, allowing the user to evenly buck into two sets of perpendicular lines. The movement of the instrument occurs smoothly and precisely, and the instrument usually does not need to be releveled before retrying the sights.

To minimize the effect of error in the rod bubble, SDA’s crews frequently use short prism rods or mini prisms. Looking for an even better system, we began using a Seco Mini-Prism Monopod kit recommended by John Lindstrom from Michigan Surveyors Supply. This attachment steadies a mini prism and can be used hands-free, eliminating the need to balance the prism manually. Used with a mini prism with a white tip and white site cones, the kit works well for sighting in the low-light conditions that are prevalent on many industrial sites.

Based on Lindstrom’s recommendation, we also use nodal point prisms, which are designed so that the nodal point of the prism is located along the tilting axis, assuring that the point of measurement does not differ as the prism it tilted up or down. Small variations in measured distances between individual prisms are corrected by carefully indexing the prisms and assigning a slightly different offset constant to each one.

Survey technician Brian Walter sets a Seco mini prism with a monopod kit over a reference point. Once set up, the unit allows hands-free use. The mini prism is a nodal prism, meaning the point of measurements coincides with the axis of rotation, assuring that the measurements don’t change as the prism is tilted up or down. The setup can also be used with a white tip, which aids sighting in low-light conditions.

Inherent in this style of layout is the need to sometimes “buck into” control lines–a tedious process that requires setting up and leveling the instrument, sighting one line, flopping and sighting the other and noting the variation, then moving the instrument over slightly and repeating the process. In these situations, a dual-lateral adjuster is invaluable. Set between the tripod head and the instrument, this piece of equipment slides the instrument laterally with the turn of a dial. The dual adjuster can move the instrument in two planes, allowing the user to evenly buck into two sets of perpendicular lines. The movement of the instrument occurs smoothly and precisely, and the instrument usually does not need to be releveled before retrying the sights.

To minimize the effect of error in the rod bubble, SDA’s crews frequently use short prism rods or mini prisms. Looking for an even better system, we began using a Seco Mini-Prism Monopod kit recommended by John Lindstrom from Michigan Surveyors Supply. This attachment steadies a mini prism and can be used hands-free, eliminating the need to balance the prism manually. Used with a mini prism with a white tip and white site cones, the kit works well for sighting in the low-light conditions that are prevalent on many industrial sites.

Survey technician Brian Walter bucks into a reference line using a Leica TCRP1203, assisted by a precision dual-lateral slide adjuster. The dual-adjuster allows the instrument to shift smoothly and precisely until the instrumented is located exactly on the reference line.





Based on Lindstrom’s recommendation, we also use nodal point prisms, which are designed so that the nodal point of the prism is located along the tilting axis, assuring that the point of measurement does not differ as the prism it tilted up or down. Small variations in measured distances between individual prisms are corrected by carefully indexing the prisms and assigning a slightly different offset constant to each one.

One technique we have borrowed from the machine-setting industry is the use of adjustable elevating tripods with telescoping heads to elevate a digital level above the points to be measured. With an invar rod and a Leica DNA03 level supplied by Rick Sauve of Leica Geosystems, we can achieve results approaching those possible with a tilting level. At a Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas, crew chief Mark Andrews and survey technician Fernando Munoz performed precise layout as the owner’s crew came behind them to set the tooling using a Leica Laser Tracker. Andrews and Munoz measured to the same points as the laser tracker crew and noted variations from the prior day’s measurements in the range of 0.003 foot due to the concrete slab shrinking as it cured. These variations were confirmed with the laser tracker, which proved the precision of the digital level.

Surveying for industrial projects requires being vigilant with safety practices. It requires specialized equipment and techniques, a keen eye for detail and substantial administrative oversight. It is a very challenging specialty that doesn’t appeal to all surveyors. However, for professionals who are interested in expanding their services and are willing to invest in learning a new field, industrial surveying can provide rewarding opportunities at the heart of America’s economic revival.

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