A 3D model of an apartment complex jobsite in Fargo, N.D., that was constructed using GPS machine control.

Most wheelwrights went the way of history once the car was commonplace. Today, many bookstores are closing thanks to eBooks and wireless readers. Could surveyors be losing their importance (and work) with the upswing in the use of machine control?

Not if they know how to capture the new opportunities, says Ryan Murguia, Construction DTM Services for Klingner & Associates of Burlington, Iowa. Work for surveyors, while changing, is certainly not disappearing. The 95-person architecture, engineering and surveying services firm is keeping Murguia quite busy preparing 3D modeling for machine control for their own design projects and also for construction and design firms all around their region. “We have a lot of construction companies hiring us to produce 3D models from the plans they’ve received,” Murguia says.

A 3D model of a street in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that is being graded with GPS machine control.

If surveyors are using modern technology for their surveying jobs, he says, then they’re capable of taking paper plans and producing 3D data prep and the 3D modeling plans that are in demand by construction companies for use on bulldozers, excavators and other big machines. “It’s like the surveyor is staking every square inch of a job site,” Murguia says. “They’re just doing it in their office rather than out in the field.”

But field opportunities are still there and more important than ever. “The opportunity is out there for surveyors to market themselves as specialized construction staking experts because the surveyor who sets the control points can make or break the job,” Murguia says. “[With machine control] everything done in the office with the design is useless without having accurate control points set. It doesn’t matter what your equipment is or how good the design.”

Among the firm’s many other projects, Klingner & Associates is currently working on the design and repair of levees breached and destroyed in the record-breaking 2008 Mississippi floods in Iowa. Nearly a year-long project for the company, the Iowa River Flint Creek Levee District 16 (Main Stem) in Kingston, Iowa, covers a 40-mile stretch of the river.

Ryan Murguia of Klingner & Associates.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) designed and repaired the levee breaches and damage caused by the flood, and then Klingner & Associates was hired by the levee district to survey and review the existing levee for FEMA certification. “Where the levee was not up to original design standards,” Murguia explains, “we designed repairs for the levee district.”

After reviewing the existing conditions of the levees, the design team at Klingner and the district mutually decided to require GPS machine control for the projects due to the remote area and length of the projects, with Murguia providing the 3D models for the contractor’s use. With spring flooding a very high concern, the district was looking for ways to shorten the project duration. GPS machine control met that need, as well.

Carlson software solutions are being used for both the design work and for the 3D modeling plans for machine control. “The uniform levee maintenance involves uniform grading and reshaping and the relocation of material in order to conform to USACE’s design parameters and to meet current FEMA levee certification requirements,” Murguia says. “We’re putting in berms for future flood fighting, stockpiling sand, bringing the levees back to original design standards. Machine control technology is especially well suited for long, linear projects such as this one.”

Murguia says the firm handles the topography in the field and the design work in the office. “We use Carlson for the production of the paper plans, for the 3D machine control files and for the checks at the very end of the projects,” he says. “The software is easy and intuitive. We often end up working with Topcon, Trimble and Leica machine control, and Carlson works with all of them.”

While Murguia notes that each project he works on is unique and challenging, he says that the hardest part is knowing what each client wants. “[For] most job sites, I end up doing the model at least twice,” he says, mostly because of changes the designer, engineering firm or contractor makes. For a recent project, an armory for which Klingner is not the designer but is doing the modeling, Murguia says that the engineers have changed the design three times. “This means we have to go back in and rework the modeling to accommodate the design changes. It’s intense work with a lot of checks and balances,” he adds, “but there’s a lot of demand out there.”

GPS-equipped bulldozers operated by DeLong Construction move material for the levee maintenance project.

Machine control use is undeniably increasing. The 2011 Machine Control Study conducted by Clear Seas Research in partnership with Site Prep magazine shows that 83 percent of respondents currently use machine control, an 11 percent increase from 2010 and a 15 percent increase from 2008, the year the study was first conducted. “The traditional surveyor needs to get into construction surveying--3D model setup for data prep and machine control, plus understanding GPS equipment--and learn what a contractor really needs,” says Harry O. Ward, PE, president of Harken-Reidar, which conducts in depth training for civil engineering, surveying and construction software in addition to selling software for these industries.

“There’s still a need for staking on construction sites, but the use of machine control is growing. Many contractors are making the decision that they don’t want to pay outside surveyors, and construction surveyors are picking up the workload,” adds Ward, who notes that his firm has seen a marked increase over the last four to six months of civil engineering and surveying companies wanting to learn about data prep and 3D modeling.

“Surveyors can still get into 3D modeling,” he says. “The opportunities are there.”

Editor's note: For details on how to obtain a complete copy of the 2011 Machine Control Study, visit www.siteprepmag.com.