Point of Beginning

Technology Benchmark: New Technologies for 2010

January 13, 2010
As we move into this new year, I am noticing a lot of enthusiasm. Developers are starting to commence new housing projects, builders are getting back to work, and big box sites are now beginning to pick up where they left off. Any firm that has not invested in technology over the past year or so might need to catch up rapidly to better compete for this work. Several key technologies are available as we enter the new year.



As we move into this new year, I am noticing a lot of enthusiasm. Perhaps it is the positive psychology that accompanies a new year, or maybe it’s a combination of pent-up demand from doing without in 2008/2009 along with high hopes for ending the stagnation. In any case, action has picked up ever so slightly in the past month or so.

I was in North Carolina last week with some folks from a large firm and a small firm. Both companies said that land development, and specifically subdivisions, had picked up to the point where they actually have some projects breaking loose. I spoke to a home builder today who said they have five homes under contract for construction right now in the million-dollar price range. Nothing like the old days but new projects, nevertheless.

Developers are starting to commence new housing projects, builders are getting back to work, and big box sites are now beginning to pick up where they left off. The stock market is approaching 11,000, and a restrained enthusiasm reigns for the most part.

So, anyone who has not invested in themselves over the past year or so might need to catch up rapidly to better compete for this work. Several key technologies are available as we enter the new year. We know about BIM and GIS and the hope it brings of some work for surveyors. We know about the new equipment available for great discounts, including modular and scalable survey hardware that takes advantage of the successful implementation of GPS satellites and is capable of receiving L2C signals, as well as next-generation robotic stations that are impervious to dust and water and improve over their predecessors. We have hybrid total stations that merge data collection with photography as an alternative to laser scanning. We have the new Amberg Technologies GRP 3000--railway measurement hardware that collects precise track geometry and precise clearance surveying--which sold the first unit in North America over the past couple of months in the D.C. metro area. High tech at its best.

Some advanced tools have been establishing a market presence on the software side, as well. Three technologies that many firms are acquiring now in hope that these tools will allow them to set themselves apart from the competition are SiteOps from Blueridge Analytics, Civil 3D with its counterpart of Navisworks from Autodesk, and Natural Regrade from Carlson Software.

Although Civil 3D has been around some six years, it is now complete as of 2010. It has the full ability to perform surveying functions, geometry, roadway and grading functions as well as hydraulics with the advent of Intellisolve. I am hoping the 2011 version brings us beyond completion by including BOSS’s hydrology in the mix, but we will have to wait and see when it ships. In any case, Civil 3D users should take another look at the 2010 solution if they have waited to implement other recent versions. The aspects of dynamic objects, “ripple through effect” and centralized style libraries are quite visionary.

The Natural Regrade product from Carlson has provided great benefits for those who must reclaim land after a mine is exploited. Mining firms must restore the land to its natural condition or face an endless battle of expensive repair and maintenance for years to come if erosion breaks down the reclaimed site. Now Natural Regrade is also being looked at by firms wanting an advantage over the competition in land development since it can rehab streams and other parts of sites with a “green” process unheard of by most other software manufacturers. The process, which its inventor calls Geofluv, applies fluvial geomorphic principals to upland design--in other words, it mimics the landscape that would have evolved naturally over time.

Some of our counties got into a more natural process a few years ago specifically for stream restorations and called it bio-geomorphism. The solution provides for open-channel stormwater treatment and has a lower cost than traditional methods because it doesn’t require expensive piping, installation or maintenance. Slopes are stable against erosion, and no expensive retaining walls and accompanying anchors are needed. Best of all, it enhances the landscaping with natural slope diversity and produces an aesthetic look to the redesigned landform.

The last product is the one people seem to be abuzz over. SiteOps is a site optimization solution that does not replace an existing product. Instead, it is a SAAS solution (software as a service). The always-current software is housed on protected servers and is accessed over the internet from anywhere. There is nothing like it on the market, and anyone who has seen it marvels over it. Unfortunately, the company estimates that only 1 percent of designers have heard of it--not surprising since the company is only five years old with the first three years being research and development.

SiteOps brings automation to preliminary engineering and planning on the front end and value engineering on the back end. Up until now, we haven’t had any real solution for these pieces of our industry. We were forced to use CADD tools to try to develop alternative designs for clients. This was reasonable given that nothing else existed, but it was a slow and painstakingly manual process that produced only a couple of alternatives within a given budget.

Now this product exists, which does conceptual site layout; automatic advanced parking with handicap spaces; and automatic realignment of islands, spacing, and respect for easements, landscape areas, sidewalks, boundaries, etc. And this is just the 2D version. The 3D version does automatic grading of the site, includes computations for topsoil stripping/replacement, rock and water subsurfaces. It finds where retaining walls are needed or can be omitted, honors min/max slope criteria and has the RSMeans costs embedded for costing out the alternatives.

The figures shown here are of an input sketch with SiteOps laying out a parking lot. Each image includes an initial design and cost. Revisions are done in seconds or minutes, each with corresponding cost comparisons.

This patented software will output its designs to a DWG file as well as several other formats and can then be brought right into the final design process. Of course, you can take your final design into the software near the end of the project to evaluate the efficiency of your design, as well.

There are some marvelous new technologies out there in both hardware and software. Whether you are ready to invest right now or need to wait a bit longer, make sure you’re aware of what can provide you with a proprietary edge over the competition.

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