The Technology Driven Job—Our World has gone beyond a GPS base and rover

A 942Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

We all struggle to keep pace with this modern world in which we live. This is an exciting time in all phases of our lives, from the autos we drive to how we build our projects. I would like to address the concept of how the most advanced construction sites look now, and what you can do to capitalize on the technology that can help make you money.

This offering represents the advancement of positioning technology and telematics and what they can do in different phases of a project and the overall benefit they can provide. My primary focus is and always will be profitability. A technology does me no good if I cannot clearly and quickly explain how it can make multiples in returns from the product cost. The cost includes purchase price, training and time it takes to get the new process to the point where it becomes second nature. Some of these ideas are quick to get integrated, others take time.

Site Connectivity
The long awaited seamless movement of information has arrived. Not only are we moving files to the machines to update digital terrain models, anything electronic can be shared. Here is an overview of the possibilities;
• Surface Files. This was the initial push for connectivity. The ease of sending updated site information to the machine would streamline the data transfer process. Now the new information can be sent as well as a message with information about the update and the option to install now or later.
• Production status. Real time machine information is available. Available information includes remote access and trouble shooting, cut/fill mapping, machine activity and health and more. The Trimble Connected Site and Topcon's SiteLINK 3D are branded solutions from these providers. The information available may seem a bit overwhelming at first. We find that filtering the data to those who need it and leaving out the balance will make it more palatable.

The machines are easy to set up and the connectivity is straightforward. The biggest hurdle is finding out what information different people need, this seems to take the most time. Start out with less information, if someone needs to know something they will ask for it.

The adoption time seems to be about three months. It is best deployed on a job that will last that long. When started on smaller jobs, budget three jobs for the learning curve.

One person in the company can set up and distribute information. Once the template is assembled, the process is easily adapted to subsequent jobs. A note here from a former estimator; just because the estimator knows computers, it may not be best to give them another job. This can be outsourced or another task for a computer user in the firm with some additional time in their schedule.

Defined, telematics typically is any integrated use of telecommunications and informatics. For use in heavy construction equipment, we are able to track movement and receive and send information from measuring devices and sensors on board the machine.

Any equipment manager knows the benefit of a machines health status. A small repair at the right time will stop a major issue in the near future. Vehicle monitoring and alert systems will stop the problem before it becomes one. The manufacturers have known this for a long time and they have led the push to integrate technology into diagnostics. An example is John Deere's WorkSight. This solution brings together five separate technologies to fully inform the dealer and user of all aspects of a machines performance and utilization. JDLink, Fleet Care, Service Advisor Remote, Payload Weighing and grade control are all centrally combined in a comprehensive look at a machine.

The major sticking point with this technology is the fact the equipment manufacturer controls the data and allows a look into the information on their web portal. When a machine is misused or poorly maintained, everybody will know. This will eliminate poor maintenance schedules and give the owner of the machine a life cycle the manufacturer stated.

Some feel this is big brother looking over the shoulder of the user to see if they are doing everything correctly. Don't get mired in the thought of losing control of your machine to the dealer. Our clients who have embraced the reporting and diagnostic advantages of telematics have saved money. The savings come from reduced operating costs, (even though they thought there was more maintenance being done). Operators have become more efficient, properly using the machine to optimize payloads and not overwork the unit.

The systems vary, but there is customization available so different staff can see reporting related to their aspect of the machine. Production crews don't want to see when the oil needs changing. The progressive user will embrace this technology; it's a great way to keep an eye on the job from anywhere on earth.

LIDAR, (light detection and ranging) is one definition of this technology. Also known as laser scanning, quality of the data has gone up, prices have come down and they are easy to use. Lidar can be done from the air, with a moving vehicle or a stationary unit on a tripod. Depending on the size of the job site a decision will need to be made as to which method to employ. The current state of the product is the ability to take 3 dimensional measurements of any area with very precise results. The uses for Lidar are increasing as the cost of the equipment gets lower.

Lidar has the ability to take thousands of point shots per second. The data is collected from one or multiple setups. The raw data is then stitched together back in the office. Initially it is easier to use the manufacturer's native software to do the post processing. When you have a good file, it can be exported in a format you can use with the software you are building the data in.

Any time there is a critical requirement in 3 dimensions, Lidar deserves a look. When doing a building addition and parking lot upgrade, a precise look at the existing conditions are going to make the work quicker and better. The additional frustration to rehabilitation work is the fact that the facility is in use and hefty penalties are often levied for work done late. Buildings can be in the way, cars and people move about and make the thought of a simple GPS topo a nightmare. Lidar can take care of the problem any time of day or night and the resulting point cloud will prove highly accurate.

Another use can be with rework of a limited access highway interchange. Bridge heights, current ramp conditions and drainage issues are hard to measure with traffic still moving before work starts. Lidar can safely map the area in three dimensions, helping the job to make sense and verify it will perform when completed. Temporary detours are easier to plan when you have a dense point cloud instead of a cross section survey done every hundred feet.

The Lidar image here shows the result of a slide on a road bank after heavy rains. The product lends itself well to situations like these. Work needs to be done quickly, nobody knows how much material it will take and there is no time to topo the site. The area was dangerous due to instability and could not be walked on. Lidar made a quick easy job of it.

Initially there may be no need for you to invest in a scanner. There are firms who do this and will provide you with data in the format you need. When you decide to invest, here are some uses for a Lidar unit you own and want to put to work;
• Progress topo maps. Nothing says accuracy like a million points.
• Stock pile measurement. Quick and accurate. No need to guess on quantities.
• Pre-job TOPO. Fast measurement of a site for bidding or planning purposes.
• RFI information. With good density, the 3D picture provided by a scan will help to explain the conditions surrounding a proposed change order.
• Scanners fit the bill for the "never too much information" crowd. We have developed uses for Lidar data acquired by our clients and 3 party providers that more than pay for the equipment in increased revenue and shorter schedules.

Plan on only a couple weeks to learn the equipment. I always recommend dealer support over brand. Make sure your dealer knows how to train you on the equipment and pay for it. Free training is worth what it costs.

Total Stations
Before the advancement of GPS to be useable in the field. All the work I was doing in the field was with a robotic total station. A "robot" has servo motors that rotate the TS (total station) on all 3 axes to follow a prism mounted on a pole carried along with a data collector by the user. A two person gun needs someone at the TS to rotate the unit and take a shot where the other user is standing. The cost of a robot is far cheaper than another person so I feel they are the best value.

To increase the functionality of a survey TS, the machine control robot has heavier duty servo motors and internals in order to handle a moving machine. It will work for walk around use also. For the contractor who has or is considering machine control, this is the way to go.

Among the reasons to use the device are repeatability and accuracy. Anytime there is a need to place a point in all 3 dimensions a TS can't be beat. Yes, the job can be done with GPS. The vertical component of GPS will not have the same reliability as a TS.

We recommend a TS used by an individual who is required to help maintain the position of critical items on a job. The list of those items is endless but among them are;
• Drainage structures. Where a precast manhole goes when the delivery truck is on the way is a lot easier with a TS.
• Saw cut locations and elevations. When preparing a deceleration lane or driveway cut, accurate location and elevations will insure the work will perform as planned.
• Building corners. You may only do the pad for a site but it pays to know the layout of building corners to help with building related grading on the site. Concrete crews will find a TS invaluable for precise layout.
• Paving. Nothing is more precise than paving with guidance from a TS. Not only can you guide the paver with one but for less critical jobs, trim or blade the base with a TS controlled grader and pave sonic to that. The results will pay for the investment quickly.

You may get sticker shock with a good robot. If you are unsure, rent one for a few critical items and you will be soon wishing you had one at the shop to grab and go when needed.

The learning curve is about zero if you are using GPS. Your same data collector will work, as will the files in there. All the TS provides is a corrected signal from a different source. I have had users feeling confident with a TS in a day. This may represent a quantum leap for any contractor, do yourself a favor and give it a try.

The Cloud
Often misunderstood but not difficult is the "cloud". Simply put it is storing information somewhere accessible from the internet. Companies have servers that are accessed to obtain and upload files. You can use a popular storage program like Dropbox to do the same thing. These files are on hard drives somewhere, you just have the right to access them.

Every job should have access to files and information from the owner to engineer and contractors. Smooth movement of information that does not rely on face to face or email will improve communication. People always can't be together and emails get deleted or can't be found to reference at a later date.

The single biggest issue with the cloud sharing of information is getting everybody to use it for communication. In many cases, the engineers and designers have been using the tool to put the project together. When it comes time to build, just get on their established electronic access ramp to the information and continue on with how they have been performing.

Low cost, sometimes zero for smaller projects with lower need for storage space. Pricing depends on how much data you are storing. Access is easy and basic computer users have little problem getting started.

There was a time when a just rover and a blade could make jobs more effective. They still do. With technology marching on, the potential exists for so much more production and profitability. I have outlined several of the advantages that are there for you to capitalize on. Be sure to do your homework and make informed decisions.

Review potential offerings and see what features and benefits are the most important. Buy the product from a dealer that can service the product. Pay for training and stay current with upgrades and maintenance. Often times we forget that these technology tools require maintenance like machines, they may not throw a rod from lack of care but undesirable results can still occur.

Embrace the change and add the new tools one at a time and fully integrate them into your business. You will be less frustrated and more productive every step of the way. We all desire high quality and profitable jobs, these tools will help.

Marco Cecala is the owner of Take-off Professionals in Arizona and is a nationallyknown expert and teacher of CAD, automated surveying and machine guidance.

A 942Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

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