Review: Stockpile Reports

I like to look at new software. When approached by a vendor for a review, I like to look at the product from several different angles;

 • What is the maturity of the product? Even if something shows promise, nobody likes to have to learn new commands as they become available. The software must perform the advertised tasks completely.
 • Ease of use. Can the software be learned in a time frame consistent with the function? Engineering software takes years to learn, simple stakeout software for a GPS rover should be an afternoon of training.
 • Cost. The cost of a product is the sum of the initial purchase price, added to that is the time and money spent on training to become proficient and the ongoing cost of any annual maintenance and upgrades. Often times when I look beyond the initial cost, some products are not a good bargain.

With these parameters in mind, I would like to talk about stockpilereports.com. They are a relative newcomer to the civil construction world, but have substantial accomplishments in the world of photogrammetry. The term refers to the ability to take a 2 dimensional image and extract 3D point information from them. Their entry into our world is recent. Starting with an introduction to quarry owners, their technology was tested and adopted at an impressive rate. With the success of the aggregate producers, it was time to talk to contractors, that’s when I heard about them.

Measuring Stockpiles
The day to day civil construction site is dynamic, there are differences from a quarry operation and the benefits to a contractor are somewhat different, but just as important;

  • Report the amount of topsoil stripped at the beginning of a job. Excess can be sold leisurely during the job to command the best price as opposed to trying to get rid of it cheaply at the end.
  • Measure material delivery. No need to count trucks and verify each one was full, measure the pile after delivery to confirm.
  • Measure expensive excavation. Blasting is expensive; an accurate measurement of blasting quantities is a great way to get paid for the work done on a project. As you will see through the course of the article, accountability is comprehensive. Satellite images and 3D images of piles confirm data to the owners.

The Process
The software is easy to use and takes very little time. Here is how that goes;

 

  • Download the app from the iTunes Store and load on an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5. Make sure you have some space for loading reports. A 16GB phone will store at least 50 piles.
  • Log in to the app and enter information about the pile, this is mostly for your reference.
  • Set 2 traffic cones 25 feet apart measuring from the center. You can take 2 cones and tie the bases together with rope to make that part easy.
  • Start filming the stock pile. Keep the top and toe in the frame at all times as you slowly walk around the pile. Overlap your video the length of the cone distance and stop filming.
  • If you have LTE cell service, you can upload from the field or wait and do it back at the office.

The web site www.stockpilereports.comhas four and a half minutes of video that explains the process. Now that I have their description of the process, let me explain what happened to me.

The Software
When I review something, I want no special treatment. If it’s hardware, give me the same training a new operator would and turn me loose. I need to see what our readers should expect. This is what will happen when you buy a product, why should it be any different for me. Any special access to cell phone numbers of the developers to answer questions is not a real world experience in my opinion. Throw me to the lions and let me fend for myself.

  • Galen Kovak-Lewis of Stockpile Reports gave me access credentials. This will get qualified demo users the ability to measure five stockpiles and see how they like the program.
  • I logged onto the web site and accessed the users’ area. I watched the four short videos.
  • I downloaded the app to my iPhone and headed to Williams Arizona.

One of our clients, LP’s Excavating is located in Williams, a great little town and the gateway to the Grand Canyon. We built the data for a Love’s Truck Stop they are doing. Across Interstate 40 from the job site, they also own and operate a gravel pit. Jamie Mace, of LP’s gave us the opportunity to go and measure all we wanted.

Measuring Stockpiles
The biggest question we all have about this technology is accuracy. Stockpile Reports has conducted comparisons using GPS, LIDAR, aerial and iPhone measuring. Results show iPhone measuring close to LIDAR data and far exceeding a GPS topo. Let’s look at the process and result to better understand it.

GPS Collection
The default solution for measuring recently has been with GPS. The equipment is on site and crews already know how to use it. The default measurement method, at least when I have to hike up there, is to shoot the toe then the top. Additional points are taken at significant grade breaks and you can call it good, simple and quick.

Back in the office, the points are loaded into your takeoff software and two surfaces are generated. The existing surface is a flat plane generated from the toe of the pile. The finished surface starts at the toe elevation and picks up the additional points for the top and grade breaks. The finished surface model is an accurate representation of the pile to be measured.

The graphic of the GPS pile shows a simple pile lacking some detail that can have an effect on quantities. Many of us have been using this method with varying levels of success since GPS became viable for field use.

LIDAR
The practical application of LIDAR technology for the mundane task of stockpile measuring is not cost effective for most contractors. If you happen to own the technology, it can be put to use for the process. With the multiple setups required and time involved, it may be more trouble than it’s worth.

For quality control purposes, Stockpile Reports measured the demo pile shown here with LIDAR as well. The point cloud is typical of good LIDAR data collection and the resulting surface is detailed and highly accurate.

Most of us are not going to do this. Even if we have LIDAR, it is much too expensive an asset to use for the task of measuring a stockpile.

iPhone
With the other two collection methods representing extremes in collection density, let’s now take a look at the iPhone collection and resulting model by Stockpile Reports.

I was impressed with the detail. All it took was a walk around the pile with a phone and the results are on par with LIDAR. Some advantages;

     • Shorter time spent measuring
     • No need to climb piles
     • Cheap and easy to use
     • Millions of tons measured to date.

My experience
I drove to the gravel pit owned by LP’s Excavating and decided to measure two piles. One of the features of Stockpile reports has the web based interface that shows a map of the piles overlaid on Google Earth and clickable links to get pile information. You can also click on the full report and reconstructed video links for more information. The full report also provides a plan view contour drawing of the pile for reference. The information can also be accessed from your phone. You can verify if a pile has been measured or replay the measure video while walking around the pile to see if there has been enough of a change to warrant another measurement.

I set the cones 25 feet apart and pressed the button to start the video capture and slowly walked around the pile. The app will warn you if you are walking too fast or the camera is at too oblique an angle for a good point cloud. In 2 minutes and 50 seconds I had collected 342,044 points in the process of reporting 3,062 cubic yards. Your point count will vary; this is just an example of the detail the program provides.

After measuring the two piles, I pressed the sync button to upload the files to Stockpile Reports. Later that day I had the pile volumes and tonnage based on material type. I have no way of verifying the accuracy of the piles I measured. I’m going with the history of the big rock producers who ran the product through its paces from the start; it has to be accurate for them. They thoroughly tested the product and have verified they quality of the data.

I found learning the program to be easy. After a few short videos I was ready to go. I got no additional information and no help from the staff. I bought two of the same size traffic cones and placed them 25 feet apart. The video was easy to do and took a short amount of time in relation to the density of data points I generated.

The Bad News
If a product was really poor, it would not be worth my time to review. I don’t want to let you know about an inferior product in the hopes it would someday get better. I could not shoot any holes in the program or the process involved in measuring piles. There are some things to be aware of though.

If the piles are too close together, you need to have more advanced training on how to perform the measurement. You can use the phone in portrait (vertical) mode for these situations, but landscape (horizontal) mode is preferred. A pile close to trees will cause the same issues. With a little loader operator training the issue is quickly resolved. The piles will also become neater as operators now know they are being filmed.

If you are a producer and your inventory is placed against retaining walls, the measurement will include the wall. You can measure it and subtract from the report for an accurate volume.

Adverse weather can affect the capture, but only on extremes. Light to normal snow and rain have no bearing on the accuracy. I might suggest a waterproof case for your phone.

Summary
The product does what it is supposed to, accurate stockpile measurement from your iPhone. The price varies depending on how many piles you plan on doing, you will need to contact Stockpile Reports to get specifics. Take my word, it’s low cost. You can sign up for a demo and go out and try for yourself. I did and I think it’s a great tool.

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