3D Model Preparation Options

A 405Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Recently I had a conversation with a new owner of AMG equipment (Automated Machine Guidance equipment--new buzzword) about how it can be used and getting the 3D model built. They purchased equipment for the machines and also GPS rover for grade checking and staking.

We had a good discussion regarding what to expect for the machine operator and of course the dealer selling the equipment was going to give them excellent training on one of their projects.

I pointed out the convenience of having the GPS rover to be able to grade check at any random spot on the site. Also, they would have the ability to do some layout if needed as long as these items were included in the model and linework developed in the 3D model. This would give them a lot of flexibility regarding when they would call upon their surveyor to do field staking for them. They should be able to do incidentals themselves.

As far as the machine control goes, we discussed the convenience for the operator to have several viewing options for the site. There would be a plan view showing all the linework for the site, and the ability to zoom in or zoom out. There is the ability to view the machine in a profile view where you can see if the machine is going uphill or downhill. Another view lets the operator see the machine in cross-section view, showing the blade and how it is related to the model that is being followed. Lastly, a view with just numbers, cut/fill (up or down) for the blade, position coordinates, elevations, etc. Much more than the normal operator really wants, but has is an optional view.

Then we got to the meat of the conversation regarding 3D model preparation. Their first question was about my credentials for doing 3D model building. My answer was, "I spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express!" I am not sure they saw the TV advertisement.

So I began to elaborate on their options for obtaining 3D models for their projects. The first point that I discussed was the fact that the equipment they purchased was useable for pretty much any project they planned to do. However, a new 3D model would be needed for each and every new project. There for having a viable 3D model building process that is reliable and responsive is very important.

I would like to clarify one statement above, about using the equipment on every site. There are limitations that should be understood. The size of the project may not make sense. If there are problems with the horizon, such as buildings, tall trees, etc., then GPS may not work. However, the systems usually have a total station option that is not affected by the horizon, but line of sight and distance come into play for this. Having said this, the equipment will work for most sites.

Getting back to getting models built for the specific projects, I believe there are at least 2 main options.

The first option proposed is that the company does their own model building in house. This would mean to have one or many designated staff members to build the models.

First you would designate someone to do this. I have seen some train wrecks because of the people chosen to do the work, and in many cases it was unfair to them because they did not have the skill set to start with. They should have a back ground in construction survey staking, and have successfully done manual calculations for field stakeout. Having a background in engineering and survey is also a significant plus.

They should be put through a significant training program to learn the complete process to go from Construction PDFs and CAD files to the GPS Rover and Machine files. I recommend this be discussed with your sales representative. It is in their best interest to refer or present the best possible training for their clients.

This individual should be able to dedicate a major portion of their time to model building. If they are only going to build a model once every three to six months, then this is a questionable choice. Model building skills will leak out of the brain if you don't do it on a very regular basis.

Another option would be to hire a skilled model builder for your staff. If this is the choice spend the time to research and get the properly skilled employee. Again, your sales rep should be a good resource.

The next point to consider is it fiscally realistic to add or dedicate staff to build models. I know of several large contracting firms that have very successful model building individuals and teams. Also, it is very convenient to have them in-house.

This presents several points to consider when contemplating building your own models.

The second option for getting 3D models for your construction sites would be to contract with a 3D Model building professional.

How do I choose a 3D modeler? There are quite a few businesses that specialize in 3D model building for construction sites. Many can be found on the internet, or by word of mouth. Be willing to have a good working relationship with them.

Again, I recommend your sales representative be approached for some recommendations for 3D model builders for machine control. It is still in their best interest to refer reputable companies. Bad or questionable data can make the equipment appear to be working improperly, when it is really the data.

Ask for references to check about the company.

Should the model builder be licensed, this is a time bomb. Since I am licensed, I will give my opinion and it is just an opinion. Not all licensed engineers and surveyors are good or qualified model builders. As far as I know, there is no direct education required for licenses regarding model building. So just because the individual is licensed, this does not guarantee a good model. Also, licensed people are not supposed to practice outside of their area of expertise. I am not saying don't use licensed individuals for models, I am saying buyer beware there should be many available.

Equally, there are some unlicensed model builders whose models are questionable. You are purchasing a product, and quality is critical.

What should your relationship be with the model builder? Since the model builder is not in your employ there are some basic things to follow. They are really an arm of your company for this project and hopefully many more to follow.

Communication is critical, return their calls and expect the same from them. From my experience, sometimes it is harder to reach my client than it should be. Communicate by phone, email, texting...

The process should be defined to reasonable detail, even to line color. Many model builders have their own standards and since you are beginning, theirs may be adopted to save you from this painful process of defining standards.

Thoroughly discuss every project and have a well-defined contract. Read their contract.

Supply them with all data available possible, PDFs, CAD files, and revisions in a timely manner. I have finished projects and then handed revisions that were obtained weeks or months prior. Remember, you are on the same team.

If you follow some of these basic steps I believe your life will be simpler. AMG is supposed to make things easier?

If you notice at times I say AMG and others machine control. At one point in the industry guidance and control referred to two different types of systems. The guidance system did just that, guide the operator. Show them to move the blade up or down with different color lights, but the operator still controlled the machine. When the term control was used, that meant the system was controlling the operation. It was actually moving the blade up and down as well as tilts. The operator just steered, the system worked the blade. Even the steering is being controlled in some cases, especially in the agriculture market.

Anyway, I hope this helps you make a good decision how implement obtaining 3D models for your AMG/machine control equipment.

One comment about my background, if staying at Holiday Inn Express is not enough. I implemented some of the first models and training for model builders in the late 1990's for some of the first 3D machine control equipment, just after the earth cooled.

Ron Ciccarone, LS, has been involved in survey automation since the 60s, data preparation and 3D modeling since the late 90s, and owns his own business building data files.

A 405Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

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