Modeling is essential in the construction industry for planning projects, communicating ideas and ensuring work gets done correctly. Construction professionals have used two-dimensional (2D) site plans for these purposes for some time, but more recently, three-dimensional (3D) modeling has emerged as an updated approach. Which should you use for your next project?
What Is the Difference Between 2D and 3D Modeling?
2D and 3D modeling involve similar processes, and you can create both 2D and 3D models using computer-aided design (CAD), a set of software tools that assists designers in creating virtual models of structures, machines, components and other objects. However, 3D modeling takes things a step further by adding another dimension, as well as more information and capabilities. What is the difference between 2D drawings and 3D models?
2D modeling involves creating blueprints, drawings and plans in two dimensions. These documents can describe the basic layout of a site, and where objects are placed, but they don’t include the dimension of depth. These 2D plans can be created on paper or in computer programs that are designed for creating models in two dimensions.
The major difference between 2D and 3D modeling in CAD is that 3D modeling adds a third dimension. This means that 3D models contain more information than 2D models. They represent the finished site as it will look in real life. 2D models, on the other hand, provide valuable information, but viewers are left to imagine what the final product will look like. 3D models are created in advanced computer programs and incorporate data from Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) equipment, the Global Positioning System (GPS) and aerial photogrammetry. 3D models can contain a wide range of information types and can be used for grading, site layout and other purposes, in addition to the uses of 2D modeling.
When to Use 2D for Site Models and Land Surveying
While 2D modeling is an older technology, and many businesses have begun to replace it with 3D modeling, it is still valuable in certain situations. Some of the reasons a company might decide to use 2D modeling include the following:
When You Want a Broad Overview
2D maps are useful for broad overviews of sites. They offer a simple, easy-to-read representation of what your site looks like from above. While they don’t include as much detailed information, 2D plans are useful for conducting high-level inspections and comparing large-scale changes over time. They’re usually high-resolution and zoomable, which allows you to inspect various parts of a project closely. If you want to give someone a simple overview of a site or project progress, you can quickly create a 2D map to meet those requirements.
When You Only Need Simplified Measurements
2D plans can also be useful when you just need simplified measurements. You might not necessarily need three dimensions for certain types of measurements, and creating a 2D map allows you to find them quickly and bypass the 3D measurements you don’t need. If you only need a cut and fill number for a certain location on a job site, for example, you can easily find this information with a 2D map. This capability is useful for making quick but accurate decisions in the field.
When Your Equipment Isn’t Compatible
Another reason that companies use 2D models instead of 3D models is that their equipment is not yet able to handle 3D files. As 3D modeling technology becomes more common, this problem is becoming less prominent, but it may still be a concern for certain firms. Some companies may not want to use 3D models at all for this reason, while others might use 3D models in the office but use 2D models in the field on handheld devices that may not work well with the 3D models. It’s important to note, though, that some handheld devices can handle 3D models, and many 3D modeling programs allow you to download models so you can use them anywhere, even if you’re offline. Many sites and computers do have the ability to display 3D modeling, but companies that are using older systems may not want to upgrade to avoid the upfront costs of new or upgraded equipment.
When to Use 3D for Site Models and Land Surveying
3D site modeling offers capabilities that go well beyond those offered by 2D modeling, so it’s a smart choice in many situations. Some of the reasons you might choose to use 3D site modeling include:
When You Want a True-to-Life Visual Representation
3D models represent sites in a way that is true to how they will look in real life. While 2D models can explain the concept behind a plan, it requires some interpretation to determine how the project will look once completed, which can result in different parties having slightly different ideas about a project’s outcome.
3D models, however, show sites exactly as they really look, which ensures that everyone can easily understand the plan and helps keep all parties on the same page. With 3D models, every stakeholder, from engineers to owners to machine operators, can intuitively understand what the result of a project will look like.
You can even adjust 3D models to show what the site will look at different stages of the project or offer several variations on a plan, all in the form of a realistic, easy-to-understand visual.
When You Need Comprehensive Information
While 2D models are useful for when you want a simple view of only specific types of measurements, 3D models are valuable because they can include a much wider array of project information. 3D modeling allows you to collect all of your information in one place so you can get a comprehensive overview of your project.
With 3D modeling, you can include basic site layout, grading, utility lines, landscaping and more all in one model. This capability allows you to see how different elements interact and see what a project will look like at various stages. You can also look at different layers of a model and explore it from different angles to get a more complete picture of a plan.
These features can help you to check that plans are accurate and feasible and ensure that you follow plans closely as you work. It’s also useful for costing and timeline estimating, as the increased volume and detail of information allows for more accurate estimating.
3D models can also help you to take more precise measurements because you can navigate around elements and view them from different angles. It’s easier to distinguish between various elements and ensure you measure them correctly in 3D than in 2D. Even 2D measurements, such as cross-sections, are easier to take when displayed in a 3D environment.
When You Want to Use Models for Machine Control
One of the most valuable uses of 3D models is machine control. Machine control involves the use of positioning sensors, such as GPS systems, sonic tracers, rotating lasers and total stations, to guide machines. These machine control systems use the information from 3D models to determine where exactly on a site a machine should be, the position a machine’s bucket or blade needs to be in and target grades. Sensors on the machinery communicate with the onboard computer, which is loaded with a 3D model of the project, to ensure the project is completed accurately.
In addition to increasing accuracy, the use of 3D model machine control enhances machine productivity and efficiency, reduces machine-related and raw material costs, eliminates the need for ongoing grade checking and increases worker efficiency. It automates significant portions of work and can take the place of traditional methods like the use of surveyor’s stakes.
When You Want to Conduct Virtual Inspections or Walkthroughs
Creating a 3D model of a project also allows you to conduct virtual inspections and walkthroughs. Having a 3D model of a site available enables you to conduct thorough inspections of various aspects of your site from multiple angles without having to physically be at the site. You can also conduct virtual walkthroughs in a similar fashion to show others your site or update them on the progress of a project.
When You Want Enhanced Communication Over Distances
3D models make communication easier, as they enable you to include more information in one document and present it in an easy-to-understand format. Everyone can have access to the same information and see it in a way that makes the information clear so everyone is on the same page. This capability helps ensures that the results of a project meet everyone’s expectations. You can communicate with various parties using 3D models even if they’re all in different locations.
If not every party involved in a project is using 3D models, you may have to convert information back and forth between 2D and 3D. When a model is converted to 2D, it won’t contain as much data, meaning some information may become lost in the process. Converting the model makes communication more complex and susceptible to error.
When You Want to Ensure Accuracy
3D models can help ensure accuracy in various ways. It can make communication clearer and easier. It collects all of the information in one place. When you use 3D models for machine control, it helps machine operators complete grading and other work more precisely.
3D modeling can also help to reveal issues with plans before work on a project begins. Because a 3D model creates a realistic interpretation of what a completed project will look like, it’s easier to spot clashes or inconsistencies. You can look at a 3D model from various angles and check that the design is accurate and realistic. Because you can see more information in one model, you can also see where elements clash, such as electrical lines that a plan shows running through rock in the ground. With a 3D model, it’s easier to spot and correct a variety of potential issues.
How to Make the Right Choice for Your Models
So, how do you know whether a 2D or 3D model is right for your next project? You’ll need to consider certain aspects of the project, what technologies are available to you, what your partners are using and various other factors.
It’s important to keep in mind that, for many projects, using both 2D plans and 3D models may be useful. That way, you have both a simplified document and a more detailed model that you can reference as needed.
When deciding what type of model to use for a project, consider the following factors:
- The complexity of your project: If your project is relatively simple, you may be able to just use 2D plans. Because 3D models can contain and communicate more information, the more complex your project, the more important it is to use a 3D model. While even simple projects could benefit from a 3D model, with more detailed projects, there is a greater need for 3D modeling.
- The information you need: With 3D models, you can include more types of data. 2D models can only accommodate two dimensions, while 3D models can also account for depth. It’s also easier to include various other types of information in a 3D model, such as information about costs or utility lines. In general, the more information you have, the more useful 3D modeling will be to you.
- How you plan to use the data: If you want to use your data for machine control, a comprehensive inspection or a virtual walkthrough, you’ll need to use 3D modeling. A 2D model cannot accommodate these more advanced uses.
- The technology being used: Consider the technologies any partners on the project are using. If others are using 3D modeling, it may be beneficial for you to use it as well, as this will make communication and collaboration easier. Also, think about what technologies are readily available to you. For example, are your machines already wired to work with machine control based on 3D models?
- Costs: Costs are always an important consideration for construction projects. 3D modeling may come with a higher upfront cost than 2D plans, especially if you need to invest in equipment before you can take full advantage of it. However, it’s important to consider the cost savings that using 3D modeling can provide over the long term due to increased efficiency and accuracy. Also, consider the costs of using outdated technology and the possibility that competing firms may be using more advanced technology.
- Consult with an expert: It’s also helpful to consult with an expert in construction and modeling. They may be able to help you determine the right technologies to use for your project.
Work With a Data Modeling Expert
At Take-Off Professionals, our team of licensed engineers, surveyors and 3D modeling techs create, on average, 1,000 machine control models each year. We have over 20 years of experience building 3D models for machine control, site work and layout, as well as providing earthwork takeoffs. We provide detailed quotes and accurate turnaround times and can prepare your data any way you need it. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you win more bids and complete projects with increased efficiency and accuracy.
Civil surveying is essential for the success of many construction projects, from residential and commercial buildings to infrastructure. It gives project managers and engineers the geographical information they need to build a structure that will stand up reliably in the local terrain and helps them map out how their project should unfold.
Within civil surveying projects, 3D modeling using survey data is a vital technique. The Federal Highway Administration recently analyzed an interchange project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and found that the use of 3D modeling reduced operational costs by up to 30.5 percent, especially in the construction of general structures, drainage and bridges.
But what is civil surveying, exactly, and what different forms does it take for different projects? In this guide, we’ll discuss what surveying in civil engineering is, its purpose and how different types of new technology help accomplish civil surveying goals.
What Is Civil Surveying?
Civil surveying is an engineering operation that involves assessing and recording details about an area of land. These observations can then be used to help plan construction projects.
The main purpose of surveying in civil engineering is to determine the three-dimensional relationships between different locations. Knowing information like the distances and angles between points and lines helps engineers determine how to draw up plans for public buildings, homes, roads, bridges and a variety of other construction and infrastructure projects.
The points that engineers measure are often located on the surface of the earth, though they can also be located in space. Because intricate, precise spatial relationships and boundary lines are so integral to this process, civil surveying draws on aspects of different disciplines, from mathematics to geography to law.
Civil surveying also involves specific equipment and GPS data acquired from satellites. High-precision electromechanical and optical equipment is also a necessity for ensuring measurements are accurate.
So, what is the importance of surveying to civil engineers? Civil surveying is useful in a tremendous variety of different applications, including:
- Creating topographical or marine navigational maps.
- Preparing plots.
- Planning for new construction projects.
- Estimating projected paths of roads, railways, power lines and irrigation systems.
- Assessing and recording the boundaries of different properties to determine land ownership.
- Analyzing topography.
- Assessing the position of existing structures like highways, canals, dams and bridges.
- Planning and constructing mines.
- Preparing for military operations and engagements.
- Charting navigational routes.
History of Civil Surveying
The history of civil surveying goes back to ancient times. Egyptians used geometry to reestablish farm boundaries after dramatic flooding along the Nile River, and they used surveying techniques to design and construct the massive, geometrically precise pyramids at Giza, one of the wonders of the ancient world.
During Roman times, the role of civil surveying took on a prominent place in society, becoming an established profession. Land surveyors created the measurement systems they needed to evaluate and create a tax record of the lands they had conquered.
In the eighteenth century, European surveyors developed the technique of triangulation when they realized they could use different angle measurements taken from different places to pinpoint a precise location. And as the British colonized Australia and New Zealand, they used new tools such as measuring wheels, Gunter’s chains, Kater’s compasses and circumferentors, though they also resorted to measuring out paces by foot when necessary.
Gradually, tools like Gunter’s chain — which measures a precise 66 feet, or 1/80th of a mile — gave way to steel bands and invar tapes, and later to electromagnetic distance measurement (EMD) and global positioning satellite (GPS) equipment. Likewise, compasses gave way to theodolites — instruments that measured horizontal and vertical angles with a rotating telescope – which in turn made way for total stations that took measurements of angles and distance with a solo instrument.
Different Types of Civil Surveying
Although construction is the most common type, engineers need to survey a wide range of features, from mountains to oceans to rivers. Engineers use several different types of civil engineering surveys, including:
- Construction surveying: Construction surveying is useful for assessing the arrangement of the buildings, roads, power lines, gas mains and other structures surrounding potential construction sites. Analyzing this information makes it easier to plan construction projects.
- Deformation surveying: Deformation surveying helps to establish if a geographical or man-made feature, such as a road, foundation, coastline or river, is changing shape. In deformation surveying, engineers record the three-dimensional coordinates of specific points. After some time has elapsed, they record the coordinates again to see if they have changed. A comparison of the two data sets can reveal if deformation or movement has occurred.
- Geological surveying: Geological surveying maps out features of the physical landscape, such as rivers, valleys, mountains and more. Satellite data is essential for geological surveying, and engineers frequently use satellite data or aerial photographs to help them in their work.
- Hydrographic surveying: Hydrographic surveying is similar to geological surveying, but it maps out coastlines specifically. Accurate hydrographic surveying is crucial to the work of the Coast Guard and any marine rescue operations. It also helps create navigational maps for sailors and assists conservationists in managing coastal resources.
- Topographic surveying: Topographic surveying analyzes the shape and physical features of a particular landscape. Engineers assess the height of different geographical coordinates and then draw contour lines to indicate areas of the same elevation. They can then use these findings to create topographical maps and to assess terrain for future building or infrastructure projects.
Technology Used in Civil Surveying
Since ancient times, engineers have developed a host of tools to help them survey all types of features. In civil surveying, different types of technology are available, like:
- Computer-assisted drawing (CAD): Once engineers have gathered survey data, computer-assisted drawing helps turn that data into a useful visual representation, such as a map or three-dimensional model. CAD allows for a greater level of precision and detail than could not be achieved with manual sketching or drawing.
- Global positioning satellite data: GPS data is crucial for civil surveying because it allows for the pinpointing of precise locations and coordinates. Where a visual assessment alone would be insufficient for determining whether a corner had shifted or a foundation had sunk, the pinpoint accuracy of GPS data allows engineers to know for sure.
- Aerial photogrammetry: Drones are often useful for the aerial photography necessary in civil engineering. Once they have a number of aerial photographs of the landscape or site in question, engineers can use aerial photogrammetry to extract topographical data from the photos. Aerial photogrammetry combines multiple shots from different angles to create an accurate 3D model.
- Point cloud modeling: To develop accurate 3D survey models, engineers also often create a point cloud or a set of three-dimensional data points. Surveyors use 3D laser-scanning technology to generate a data map of the area they wish to model. Once they have data that represents every surface they need, they can then bring the points together through point cloud modeling into an accurate and detailed 3D model.
Choose the Data-Prep Experts at TOPS for All Your Civil Surveying Needs
When you need 3D modeling to get a construction project or bid off the ground, Take-Off Professionals can help. All our engineers are full-time employees, never contractors, so you’ll always work with someone who is fully integrated into the company, experienced with our techniques and invested and in the success of your operation.
We also stand apart from the competition because we don’t manufacture or sell hardware or software — we specialize only in takeoffs. That specialization has allowed us to develop an unparalleled wealth of technical expertise and vision in civil surveying. We can optimize our work for commercial sites, residential sites, and road work and highway operations, so you’ll always get the customized surveying solution that works best for you.
Check out our compelling list of reasons you should work with us, and then contact us today to learn more.
Surveying is a profession that requires patience and accuracy. Companies across many industries need surveyors to evaluate large plots of land and provide them with detailed mapping and measurements. From construction crews to archaeologists, having an aerial view or 3D model of a worksite is essential to starting and finalizing their work. Without these images or models, workers can’t make informed plans about where to dig, what to fill or where to start building. But surveying in the traditional methods and creating precise mapping takes time.
Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have been changing the way surveyors work. With their rise in popularity, manufacturers have created drones for a wide variety of purposes, including utility models for companies that need to inspect or collect aerial images of worksites. This guide to land surveying with drones will explain what UAV surveying is, how UAV surveying is being done, what they work well for and how accurate of an image they provide.
What Is Drone Mapping?
Drone mapping is the process of surveying an area of land with a UAV. An operator flies the drone over an area of land, taking hundreds of pictures as it moves. Then, with the help of computer software, they stitch and layer the images, creating a model of the site. This process is also how drone photogrammetry works, and the end result is an accurate 3D representation of the area.
Who Uses Drones for Land Surveying?
Many industries require surveyors to provide maps of areas of land. From establishing the general grade of an area to creating detailed maps of every square foot, drone surveying makes the job easier, faster and safer for surveyors. Among the many industries land mapping with drones, some of the most significant include:
- Construction: There are many answers to how drones are used in construction. Companies need surveyors to start almost any project, but they especially require their help on large-scale builds. Drone imaging aids them in establishing plot boundaries, creating legally acceptable subdivisions and evaluating the suitability of the land before beginning any foundations. With the provided information, construction companies can make important preliminary decisions that ensure optimal safety and legality for the project.
- Oil and gas: The installation of oil and gas pipelines requires a significant amount of planning. Drone surveys help these companies evaluate where pipelines can and can’t go, whether it’s due to proximity to natural resources and conservation sites, preexisting construction or infrastructure or privately owned property.
- Infrastructure: When it comes to designing and constructing new roads and bridges, infrastructure companies need to know the details of the surrounding land. Drone imaging can help them examine areas and determine if they need reshaping or if the land is suitable for construction in the first place.
- Archaeology: Before archaeologists conduct digs, they need to survey the area to decide whether or not it looks like a promising location. Using drones allows them to do so quickly and at minimal expense, saving them time and allowing them to pinpoint interesting areas.
- Mining: Quarries and open mines can be dangerous areas for traditional surveyors, but mining companies often need a mapping of their worksites. UAVs provide an excellent method of capturing aerial images and creating computer models while keeping their surveyors as safe as possible.
Is Drone Surveying Accurate?
Before drones had an impact in the surveying field, creating accurate maps or 3D models of large plots of land would take anywhere from days to weeks. Now, UAVs allow surveyors to create models of comparable precision within a much shorter period. But accuracy in the surveying industry doesn’t have a single definition, and many different models of drones are available.
To understand how well drones perform, you have to consider several factors in regard to accuracy. There are many potential influences as to how well a drone can photograph an area. You also have to consider what you’re using the map or model for and what your standard of accuracy is for the given project.
Survey Accuracy vs. Pixel Size
One of the most essential details to consider is the drone’s operating pixel size. The spatial resolution of the UAV, also called the ground sampling distance (GSD) in technical terms, is the measurement of the space on the ground between two side by side pixel centers in the image. A drone’s GSD depends solely on the specs of its camera, including its resolution and focal length. Different camera models will provide different resolution qualities, resulting in varied GSDs.
When it comes down to measuring precision based on pixel size, your judgment should be based on positional accuracy. Essentially, this means the degree to which the model created by photogrammetry corresponds with the real world it represents. Still, there are two ways of looking at the accuracy of your mapping — relatively and absolutely.
In photogrammetry, relative accuracy refers to the objects within a reconstruction and how they are positioned in association with one another. This applies to any orthophoto map, digital surface model or 3D mapping.
Relative accuracy is an acceptable form of measurement for most cases where the surveyor is dealing with a smaller area or simple uses. It can be helpful for providing general volumes, heights and distances, as well as recording vegetation. However, it’s not the most accurate mapping you can obtain.
Whereas relative accuracy is more general and based on its own proportions, absolute accuracy is based on a geodetic coordinate system. It takes the measurements between objects within the model and compares them to their real-world positioning relative to Earth.
Having a geodetic reference system to apply allows the surveyor or digital model creator to complete more complex functions. For example, they can create professional documentation of surveying, use the recorded geographic coordinates and combine layers for more comprehensive data sets.
Absolute orientation uses ground control points (GCPs), which allow the surveyor to create a coordinate system through the known coordinates of visual landmarks within the image. But to obtain an absolutely accurate mapping of an area with drone imaging, you have to begin by measuring GCPs through professional GPS equipment.
What Influences Accuracy?
Many elements can affect the accuracy of your drone mapping, especially if you’re dealing with the precision of an absolute accuracy model.
First, there are the apparent influences, such as the drone’s ability. Higher quality drones will perform better, from the stabilization mechanics to the camera. Beyond hardware, there are also plenty of outside factors, such as the terrain itself. Particularly rough or uneven terrain can throw off measurements and make it difficult to create a fully accurate mapping. Weather also significantly comes into play, as heavy winds and precipitation can affect the flight speed and stabilization of your drone, especially at high altitudes.
One of the biggest factors that can impact the photogrammetry process is your GCP measurements. However you identify these crucial points, your model can only be as accurate as your starting markers. To create the most exact mapping possible, make sure you measure the GCPs with a smaller unit than the pixel size of your drone imaging. For example, if your drone camera provides an image with 1-centimeter pixels, you should measure the points within a single centimeter of accuracy.
Absolute accuracy essentially builds on relative accuracy, meaning you have to have a proper relative model within the absolute one. Therefore, the accuracy of the absolute model depends on how precisely you measure your foundational relative model. Drone mapping involves taking potentially hundreds of photos with a non-metric camera and stitching them together to create a single image. More often than not, this means not every pixel will be sitting in the perfect position in your relative mapping.
How Accurate Can Drone Surveys Get?
While photogrammetry provides surveyors with a far more accurate means of creating a digital model than other methods, no imaging can be perfectly precise. The ultimate goal is to create a model with the smallest degree of difference possible.
For relative accuracy, it’s expected that maps will have a horizontal and vertical error margin of one to three times the size of the pixels. For absolute accuracy, the margin should be a bit smaller, typically measuring at about one to two ground sample distances (GSDs) horizontally and one to three GSDs vertically. Even if your mapping lies outside these parameters, it may not be an issue, as particularly rough terrain can throw off measurements more than flat or level surfaces.
Drones are exceptionally capable of staying within these margins of error, as long as a trained and experienced surveyor is operating the machine. You can improve your accuracy by way of additional measurements between landmarks, using GPS reference points besides GCPs, improving your drone’s hardware, ensuring you’re working in favorable weather conditions and carefully stitching together the base images.
Where Can I Use Drones for Surveying?
As the use of UAVs has been becoming more prevalent in industrial and recreational applications, the regulations have also increased. Before you can begin using industrial-grade drones to your advantage, you need to obtain legal permission to use them. However, it isn’t a particularly challenging process.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has control over all methods of aviation, including UAVs. To use drones in a commercial capacity, the official operator needs a Part 107 remote operator’s license. Essentially, it ensures you are knowledgeable about proper use and following regulations. To obtain the FAA license and maintain its validity, you have to:
- Take and pass a test of your aeronautical knowledge at an official FAA testing center.
- If you pass, acquire your small rating Remote Pilot Certification.
- Register your drone with the FAA and renew the registration every three years.
- Retake and pass the aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months to retain your license.
- Follow all FAA regulations, which include but are not limited to drone and control system inspections before operation as well as reporting any accidents that result in injury or significant property damage to the FAA within 10 days of the event.
Once you are a licensed operator, you can use your drones to inspect any areas you are permitted to survey by the landowners. It’s up to you to gain permission to access areas marked private property or land plots owned by companies.
What Can Drones Be Used to Survey?
The benefits of drone surveying cross over many different industries and provide an accurate method of inspecting and evaluating small or large areas of land. These areas may be bare and ready for developments, they may have thick vegetation or they may even already have developed construction. Since there are many purposes for drone surveying, their usefulness applies to many different areas. From flatlands to deep pits, drone imaging provides an excellent way to safely and precisely create models of an area.
When it comes to how drones are used in surveying, there are many answers. Some of the most significant uses include:
Land Development Sites
As technology has improved over the years, land departments have become more inclined to use drones to provide comprehensive land recordings of real estate or property. Drones suitable for land surveying can take orthomosaics, also called orthophotos. Orthomaosaics are groups of multiple aerial phots of an area edited together to form a single image through photogrammetry.
Land departments use orthophotos for things like developing single object mapping layers and updating land cover on preexisting models. They use it even more frequently to create topographic maps for new developments, such as various forms of building construction or designing noise barriers.
Urban Land Management Sites
Drones are exceptionally useful for surveying many different types of land sites, and they make management far easier for the responsible parties. They have nearly a limitless amount of potential applications and services, such as using the digital surface models produced by the drones to create virtual models of plots. They’re particularly useful to urban land management.
Those working within the industry can use drone surveying to import images into computer-aided design (CAD) software to create accurate virtual models of developments. With orthomosaics, which are essentially stitched and overlapping images, management teams can create defined boundaries with the benefit of a precise, aerial view. They can even use the models for more complex functions, such as simulating where water would flow and settle in the event of a major flood and creating a plan to redirect it.
Construction Sites and Earthworks
When it comes to planning for construction, surveyors and the various landscapers and builders are responsible for a lot of preparation. They have to calculate cut and fill projects, complete surveys for pre-construction and as-built properties and oversee the details of the site from preparation forward.
Drone surveying provides these workers with a revolutionary method of imaging and plotting construction sites. It allows them to create an accurate model and plan without continually needing to access the physical job sites, saving time and money.
Mines and Quarries
Surveyors don’t always have the benefit of a safe site. Mines and quarries can pose a safety risk, especially for those attempting to inspect a site at ground level. Geologists and surveyors benefit from using drones as an aerial method of inspection, enabling them to collect accurate data and spatial measurements while lowering the occupational hazards. They also help to boost productivity in quarries and pits, as drone imaging allows workers to make improvements to planning and inventory management.
Beyond companies looking to build and remodel areas of land, there are still many uses for drone surveying. For one, they’re particularly useful in the field of archaeology. With drones, archaeologists can create 3D surface models and high-resolution mapping of potential excavation sites. Doing so allows them to inspect and assess the worthiness of large areas of land much faster and with more accuracy than any other method. It’s efficient, cost-effective and saves their teams a lot of time and energy.
Get Accurate Models From TOPS
Whatever industry you’re a part of, Take-Off Professionals (TOPS) has everything you need to create accurate 3D surface models of your worksite. Our team of professionally trained engineers and surveyors have years of collective experience using drones and accurate photogrammetry techniques to assist our clients. TOPS can help you tackle any challenging project, and with our services, you can start and finish faster and with more confidence.
Partner with TOPS today — contact us for more information or register your company to get started.
From the ancient wonders of the world to the modern buildings we inhabit today, surveying technology has been helping us measure for thousands of years. We’ve come a long way from the rope stretchers of ancient Egypt, but land surveying technology is still evolving. Like every industry, the future of land surveying is set to change in the coming years. Between an increase in drone usage, improvements in mobile 3D mapping and changes in data management, surveying has many developments ahead of it. The trends have implications for the industry that can improve data collection, change data storage approaches and offer more accessible and flexible information gathering.
Today we’ll be going over what the future of land surveying technology looks like and what some of the top land surveying trends are shaping up to be.
The Use of UAVs
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become more and more accessible and affordable, making them great additions to a surveyor’s arsenal. Before their widespread availability, they were often thought to be cost-prohibitive for many applications and were reserved for military use. Now, they offer several advantages over both terrestrial surveying teams and manned aircraft. Drones can:
- Cover large surface areas in a short amount of time
- Cross difficult terrain
- Take detailed images of hard-to-reach landscapes
- Accomplish land surveys, photogrammetry, 3D mapping, topographic surveying and more
Traditional methods often couldn’t complete these tasks, whether due to complex terrain or the sheer amount of time it would take with land-based approaches. Surveyors can now get their aerial data quickly and accurately with modern drones. UAVs also make the job safer, so human operators don’t need to fly over or enter hazardous environments to take measurements. Drones are becoming standard, less of a “bonus” and more of a necessary component of landscape businesses. Using them may soon become an industry standard.
Drones are also often used for cadastre, opening up a significant area of use. In addition, they can provide data that integrates with computer-aided design (CAD) software to build models for land development and management. Another benefit of drone usage is that it can provide a variety of photos for recording land data and structures.
Some other forms of data that you can collect from drones include:
- 2D Orthomosaic maps: Stitch together photos from a drone to create a top-down aerial view.
- 3D Orthomosaic maps: Stitch together images to compile a 3D birds-eye view of a space.
- 3D models: Create detailed models from powerful mapping software.
- Thermal maps: Record and identify abnormal heat signatures in an area.
- LiDAR point clouds: We’ll talk more about LiDAR in the next section, but drones can help you create a high-density point cloud for use with this system.
- Multispectral maps: Data outside the visible light spectrum can offer a variety of uses, including missile detection and satellite imaging.
- Building information modeling (BIM): Combine high-resolution 3D programmatic or laser models with pre-made BIM objects. This information can help to identify variations and respond accordingly.
When it comes to achieving the greatest possible accuracy, drones can use additional tools, like real-time kinematics (RTK) and post-processing kinematic (PPK) positioning. Both are positioning techniques that can improve the precision of the data using information from satellite-based systems.
Mobile 3D Mapping
Mobile mapping systems can provide extremely detailed images in a short time. They are flexible and allow you to create 3D models from a wide variety of environments. Indoor, outdoor and underground areas can all be extensively detailed with mapping technology.
It is fairly straightforward to collect geospatial data and use software solutions for fast and simple mapping. Surveyors can create digital replicas without cumbersome equipment or the need to wait hours to see the results. Versatile equipment options, handheld devices and aerial recording make mobile 3D mapping a viable and effective approach for many land surveyors. Many of the sites a surveyor visits can be dangerous or difficult to access. While they could spend valuable time and money trying to get into the area on foot and use traditional terrestrial tools, a more efficient option would be to use a UAV. Plus, this method keeps them out of any treacherous terrain. Similarly, if a surveyor needs to make a model of an extensive area, they can attach their recording devices to a vehicle and move through the site this way, offering a less physically taxing job and a faster result. These methods require very little training and are easy for new users to operate.
Mobile 3D mapping is available without the use of GPS and in durable, splash-proof products, offering additional flexibility. This kind of product can help you map out hard-to-reach places, whether they are dark, dank or dangerous, through several different methods. Tools are often made to be light and portable for ease of use.
One of the most notable benefits of this kind of mapping includes real-time, instant results. You can transform your data into 3D visuals quickly, reducing the time it takes to see results. 3D-mapping software also tends to offer robust organizational features, such as bundling data into projects and managing single uploads automatically. This organization can extend to mobile devices, including apps and third-party plugins. Some even provide features such as automated measurements, asset inventory workflows, face blurring and more to offer more of an all-in-one approach.
Another growing piece of technology is LiDAR, a form of 3D laser scanning. LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging and uses a pulsed laser in ultraviolet, visible or near-infrared light to measure variable distances to the ground or nearby objects. The machine is composed of a laser, a special GPS receiver and a scanner, and they usually utilize airplanes and helicopters to gather their data across large areas. This remote sensing method collects information from the light pulses and other data collected from the aerial system to create detailed 3D models or gather survey information about the physical characteristics of the Earth.
There are several different types of LiDAR, including:
- Terrestrial: This type of LiDAR maps the Earth’s surface through topographical measurements that are mounted on the ground. Surveyors can map 3D-point clouds from the scanner with digital images to quickly make realistic 3D models. It can bypass the cumbersome tasks of measuring each item, like power lines, bridges, trees and more that may be in an area.
- Bathymetric: Bathymetric LiDAR measures elevations of riverbeds and seafloors with the help of a green light that penetrates water and its reflection back to a sensor. The measurements are typically taken from the air.
- Airborne: A laser scanner can be attached to an aircraft and used to create a 3D-point cloud model of a landscape. It is detailed and accurate, helping to create digital elevation models (DEM) and digital surface models (DSM).
This system provides a new level of precision and flexibility to the measurement of both organic and manmade structures. It may also pave the way for the automation of vehicles and assisting in lunar-landing vehicles. LiDAR is growing in use in a wide range of applications:
- Agriculture: Topographical data from LiDAR can help identify patterns of sun exposure, insect behavior and features in the landscape to improve farming tactics.
- Archaeology: Archaeologists use LiDAR technology to help plan field campaigns, map features under tree cover and create DEMs of archaeological sites for more detailed images. For instance, in 2013, it was used to rediscover the city of Mahendraparvata in the Cambodian mountains.
- Atmosphere: LiDAR is used in meteorological applications to provide information on surface pressure, greenhouse gas emissions, fires and photosynthesis. It can measure backscatter from the atmosphere and reflections that scatter off a hard surface.
- Physics and astronomy: LiDAR can help measure distances and the position of the moon and create topographic information about other planets.
- Wind farms: LiDAR can measure wind speeds and turbulence to help optimize the performance of wind farms.
One of the major benefits of LiDAR is that it offers real-time point clouds. Not all systems have this option, but many do. This feature can provide significant advances in the way of speed and accessibility, making projects more flexible and efficient.
As LiDAR systems become less expensive and more accessible, they are likely to be more common in survey projects.
Outside of LiDAR, general data accessibility is likely to improve, as more advanced tools become more affordable. Products that were previously reserved for only the most prestigious of tasks, like those in the military, will become more commonplace and may even become industry standards.
Cloud Storage of Data
As scanning technologies have become more complicated and advanced, they have started to create more data. All of that data takes up valuable space and can quickly become a burden on the IT capabilities of land surveying organizations. Many of them don’t have the storage infrastructure to support such a growing amount of information in a physical, on-site data center. To remedy this, many companies are turning to cloud storage, in which data is kept off-site, in a secure location and managed by a third-party company. Often, these companies offer high levels of security with dedicated experts working around the clock to protect their clients’ data. Most importantly, it takes the burden of finding space for the data away from the survey companies. They can spend less time worrying about the security of their information and more time working on projects or investing in better equipment.
These survey organizations have to store data for thousands of projects, and they can repeatedly outgrow their capacity as they accumulate more projects and business. Cloud storage is scalable and allows land survey companies to leave the issue of storage capacity to their servicer. Storage infrastructure can be costly and time-consuming, so many organizations are aiming to offset these problems and let someone else manage their information. Similarly, processing power can also be scalable. Some point-cloud software uses significant amounts of processing power from an off-site cloud center to deliver high-demand results to the user. The option to beef up power when needed is often appealing to surveying companies.
Another reason that many companies are moving to cloud-based storage is for the ability to share and access data more easily. Cloud storage eliminates the need to send files, which is essentially copying and redownloading them, often resulting in duplicates or creating unnecessary data. As well as taking up extra space, this can lead to misinformation or outdated files. With cloud storage, users can instead access the same data, and they can do so from a variety of devices wherever they have a connection. In-field access is an excellent tool for surveyors, offering them the ability to upload scans and view data as needed while on-site.
Here are a few more reasons companies are moving to the cloud:
- Manageable costs: Startup costs for extensive data storage can be high, but many cloud data servicers run off of subscription models. This approach can make the service more affordable and predictable for land surveying companies, but it would also be a monthly cost rather than a capital investment. Organizations will have to decide if that approach is right for them.
- Reduced maintenance: Surveying companies don’t have to worry about updating or installing local software and may save on IT costs and time. Plus, they receive the help of dedicated digital storage professionals to keep an eye on things.
- High power: Some organizations need to run robust programs to read and analyze their data, which may take ages on a local computer. Cloud-based software can offer higher-powered programs that may be able to get the job done quicker.
- Automated scans: Some programs can automatically start registering scans into a composite point cloud as they are uploaded. This approach can speed up the process and even help surveyors access completed point cloud data from the worksite.
- Collaboration: Many surveyors have to work with a variety of partners, including contractors, engineers and other stakeholders. Cloud services make sharing data with third parties much more straightforward than before. Surveyors, management, engineers, clients and more can share information quickly and with controlled permissions, improving collaboration between parties. Surveyors can ensure that only those who need access can view the data, as well.
Though cloud-based storage is a powerful tool, it can change the way organizations operate. For those using massive amounts of data, costs can add up. Surveying companies must crunch the numbers and analyze their unique needs to find out if cloud data is right for them.
Work With Data Modeling Experts
For your data modeling needs, Take-Off Professionals has been creating accurate 3D models for over 20 years. Whether you are a contractor or surveyor, we can provide fast and accurate quotes for 3D machine control models.
When you work with us, you work with industry experts. Our team of licensed engineers, surveyors and 3D technicians ensures that we stay up to date on the latest technology and industry trends in land surveying. Whether its the ease of use and versatility of UAVs, the flexibility of mobile mapping or the changes in data storage, you can be confident that our staff is up to date on these topics and whatever comes next for the future of land surveying and surveying technology.
Learn more about our data preparation, quantity takeoff, and GPS machine control modeling services!
LIDAR is a unique remote sensing technology that has taken the surveying industry by storm. The acronym “LIDAR” stands for Light Detection and Ranging and describes how the technology uses light in the form of lasers to measure distances. Take-Off Professionals’ data specialists can compile the data collected by a LIDAR system and use it to create exceptionally precise three-dimensional information about a specific area and its characteristics. LIDAR is an ideal system for a variety of industries, including the civil engineering, roadwork and mining industries.
How Does LIDAR Work?
A LIDAR instrument consists of a laser, a scanner and a GPS receiver mounted on a platform. This platform may be mobile or stationary, aerial or terrestrial, based on the needs of the application — the laser, scanner and GPS receiver are the only constants.
There are two types of LIDAR — topographic and bathymetric. These are explained in more detail below:
- Topographic: Topographic LIDAR measures distances on land using a near-infrared laser. This is essential for the majority of civil engineering, roadwork and mining operations, which require measuring distances on land.
- Bathymetric: Bathymetric LIDAR measures distances in aquatic environments by using a water-penetrating green light laser. This type of LIDAR is commonly used in civil engineering and roadwork applications that require working with underwater environments, such as under bridges.
But how does LIDAR surveying work on a technical level? LIDAR works by pointing a laser at a target surface on the ground or under the water. The surface reflects the light back to the LIDAR equipment, and the sensor records the reflected light to measure the distance traveled. This data is then combined with the position and orientation of the LIDAR equipment, which is measured using the GPS receiver and internal measurement systems. This creates a set of three-dimensional spatial coordinates that include latitude, longitude and height, creating a combination of data that is called a point.
When land surveying with LIDAR, the LIDAR equipment collects innumerable points using the measurement methods described above. This collection of points is called a “point cloud.” This “point cloud” is what a LIDAR survey is conducted for — it is the crucial data that companies use to create 3D models of the terrain that they are working with.
Advantages of LIDAR
LIDAR is a highly advantageous survey system for a range of industries, primarily due to the following factors:
- Speed: LIDAR can collect a million points of data per second, making it an exceptionally fast method of surveying. Scans of building interiors can last an average of three minutes, but even large-scale surveys can take under an hour to complete, making LIDAR one of the fastest surveying methods available.
- Accuracy: LIDAR systems collect extremely dense data with very little room between points. This means that the results are highly accurate, allowing professionals to plot and model natural and man-made geographies with the level of precision they need to plan detailed projects.
- Flexibility: When it comes to surveying land with LIDAR, there are plenty of options to choose from. LIDAR systems can be mounted on a variety of platforms based on the needs of an application. For small-scale surveying, a stationary tripod may suffice. LIDAR systems could also be mounted to airplanes, helicopters or drones to survey larger areas. LIDAR data can even be collected at any time of day or night since it uses light as the measurement tool.
- Safety: LIDAR systems work relatively quickly and can be operated from a distance, making them a good choice for locations that may be unsafe for human operators to stay for extended periods of time. Their ability to be mounted to aerial crafts also allows them to be used to survey dangerous areas that human surveyors may not normally be able to access.
In addition to these advantages, LIDAR can be integrated with other data sources with relative ease. The key to effectively using LIDAR data, however, is working with a quality data processing company like Take-Off Professionals who can effectively use that data to deliver high-quality 3D models.
Who Uses Lidar?
LIDAR is used in a wide range of industries, primarily those involving land management and planning efforts. The construction and mining industries are particularly avid users of LIDAR, favoring it for its incredible speed and flexibility in a wide variety of terrains. Below are some of the largest industries using LIDAR technology in their operations:
1. Civil Engineering and Surveying
The use of LIDAR in civil engineering and surveying is extensive. LIDAR applications in civil engineering and surveying include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Design: Civil engineering companies prefer LIDAR technology for its ability to offer extremely accurate results within a short time, which is essential for planning projects around terrestrial limitations.
- Evaluation: Civil engineers often use LIDAR to inspect existing buildings and construction products for defects and changes. Comparing the data to previous data can identify changes in structure that would otherwise be difficult to find.
- Surveying: Surveyors prefer LIDAR to help them create detailed 3D images, including the landscape and any vegetation or existing structures.
The key reasons that LIDAR is favored among civil engineering and surveying companies are as follows:
- Speed: Civil engineers and surveyors have a limited amount of time to get their measurements and are often working on a tight schedule due to budgetary restrictions and client needs. LIDAR allows surveys to be completed within a very short time and can work throughout the day and night, delivering results as quickly as possible.
- Accuracy: Civil engineers and surveyors need detailed topographic layouts to plan projects effectively for client needs. Because of the density of the data delivered by LIDAR, engineers and surveyors can collect the precise data they need to get the job done correctly.
- Safety: Surveys take place on a variety of terrains, some of which can be hazardous or difficult to access. LIDAR systems can be mounted on remote-controlled or aerial platforms to collect data at a safe distance, increasing employee safety.
Once the data is collected, civil engineers and surveyors can process the data by working with Take-Off Professionals’ 3D modeling services for commercial applications, delivering the quality models they and their clients need.
2. Highways and Road Networks
Using LIDAR in highways and road networks is another common application, in the construction of transportation infrastructure as well as its maintenance. Some of the most common applications of LIDAR in highway and road networks are detailed below:
- Road planning: Terrestrial LIDAR can be used to survey land for new road projects, collecting massive amounts of data that can be used to create detailed 3D models for roadwork projects. This data can be used for planning and machine control modeling.
- Maintenance assessments: The continuous movement of vehicles combined with environmental factors like rain and temperature fluctuations result in significant damage to roadways and railways over time. If left unchecked, road damage can result in automobile accidents and other critical issues. LIDAR can help by scanning massive lengths of a road with incredible accuracy. The data can then be used to create comprehensive road profiles that can help identify structural problems and predict potential developments over time.
- Bridge construction: Bathymetric LIDAR offers extreme accuracy for modeling underwater environments, which can be a key tool for bridge construction efforts. These measurements can be used to plan and construct bridges with a greater level of cost and labor-efficiency.
In addition to these applications, LIDAR has been used in adaptive cruise control systems and is a topic of exploration for self-driving vehicles.
The key reasons that LIDAR is favored in the highway and roadwork industry include:
- Speed: Roadwork and railway professionals need to work quickly — every day that a road is closed is one more day that traffic must be diverted or paused. LIDAR works exceptionally quickly, reducing the amount of planning time needed for construction and expansion projects.
- Accuracy: LIDAR systems are highly accurate, which is essential for any construction project, including highway and road construction projects.
- Flexibility: LIDAR can be used during the day or at night, can measure terrestrial and underwater environments and can be stationary or mobile. For roadwork applications, this level of flexibility is essential to meet all the needs of roadwork construction and maintenance.
Once road data is collected, roadwork and railway professionals can send the collected data for processing. Take-Off Professionals can help with our top-of-the-line data processing services for roadwork and highway industry applications. We can take your road data and provide the quality models your organization needs to achieve quick and accurate results.
3. Mines and Quarries
LIDAR is used in mines and quarries as an essential surveying tool. By their nature, mines and quarries are often in remote areas with limited access, rough terrain and limited light. As a result, traditional ground surveying methods are largely impractical. LIDAR offers a comprehensive solution that can be applied for quarries and mines, producing accurate and effective results. Some LIDAR applications in the mining industry include:
- Volume measurements: Quarries require regular volume measurements to determine how much product has been collected and how much still remains. LIDAR can accomplish this quickly and easily through detailed terrain mapping, which can be compared with previous surveys to create comprehensive volume measurements.
- Mine mapping: Mines can be extremely intricate and complex in their construction, and regular mapping is necessary to ensure that current maps are accurate and that mines are constructed safely. LIDAR can accomplish this quickly and accurately, creating 3D maps of entire mining networks as needed.
- Tunnel construction: Tunnel projects must be carefully planned to ensure the safety of workers. LIDAR is often preferred for this purpose for its incredible accuracy as well as its ability to be used in dark environments.
Some of the key reasons that mining and quarry companies choose LIDAR for their surveying needs include:
- Accuracy: Mines are dangerous working environments and quarries require extreme accuracy to measure volumes and plan projects effectively. LIDAR systems collect data with incredible density, providing the accurate results mining and quarry companies need to move forward in their operations
- Flexibility: Quarries are uniquely difficult to access due to their limited entrance points and rough terrain, while mines are often dark as well as tight and enclosed. LIDAR offers solutions to both of these problems. LIDAR can easily be adapted for aerial use, making it easy to survey quarries accurately without using the rough pathways. Additionally, LIDAR can work in the incredibly dark environment of a mine since it uses light as a measurement tool.
- Safety: Mines and quarries are both rough environments to navigate on foot. Quarries are often limited in the number of access points they provide and may include steep dropoffs. Mines, on the other hand, can feature rough walking environments and tight spaces but feature the added challenge of extreme darkness. Both environments are dangerous for humans to navigate, but remotely controlled LIDAR systems can handle them.
Once the appropriate data is collected, mining and quarry companies need their data processed as quickly as possible so they can continue with their operations. Instead of processing it themselves, they can rely on a specialist in the field who is familiar with LIDAR data. Take-Off Professionals can help with that. Our point cloud modeling services can be used for a variety of purposes from layout planning to machine control. We will take your mine or quarry’s point cloud and provide the accurate results your business needs to succeed.
Take Advantage of LIDAR With Take-Off Pros
If your company uses or is interested in using LIDAR technology, you need a data industry leader to help compile your data and deliver fast and accurate results. Take-Off Professionals can help.
Take-off Professionals is a data industry leader, preparing 3D models and performing quantity takeoff services for a range of industries. We have extensive experience working with LIDAR technology and understand how LIDAR mapping works and how to use it. We are experienced at taking the data collected through LIDAR methods and compiling it into comprehensive, actionable models that companies in the civil engineering, roadwork and mining industries can use. We can help with any type of project from commercial construction to roadwork and mining operations.
Regardless of the system you use, Take-Off Professionals can work with you. We’ve worked with Carlson, Leica, Topcon, Trimble and more and provided our models in a range of final formats to meet the needs of our clients. This makes us an ideal choice for multi-brand fleets.
For over two decades, Take-Off Professionals has provided 3D models for construction companies and related industry professionals, producing about 1,000 machine control models a year. During that time, we’ve maintained a reputation for accuracy, timeliness and attention to detail that speaks for itself. Our knowledge and experience combined with the most advanced and innovative technology in the industry make us the ideal choice for your 3D machine control modeling needs.
Ready to get started with LIDAR surveying? Contact Take-Off Professionals’ team of Data Preparation experts today by filling out our online contact form or calling us at 623-776-9546.
With 3D technology, earthwork modelers and surveyors can view virtual models of proposed projects before the groundbreaking work commences. Different types of software can generate such visualizations, and this has led to the BIM vs. CAD modeling debate. Both options have their benefits and supporters.
For anyone new to these software tools, it’s important to be able to make an informed BIM and CAD comparison. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the pros and cons of BIM and, likewise, the pros and cons of CAD.
What Is BIM?
Building information modeling (BIM) is a set of software tools that make it possible to visualize a design idea with realistic dimensions from a multitude of angles. With BIM, design teams and work crews can have a virtual experience of a building, road, bridge or monument before the structure is physically constructed. For all the parties involved in the conceptualization and construction of a structure — including earthworks and surveying crews — BIM provides the following benefits and features:
1. Conflict Prevention
BIM tools allow earthwork teams to determine whether any clashes might occur between a proposed design and the underlying conditions of the site in question. For example, if a building would need deep plumbing yet the ground being excavated sits over thick roots and rocks, these discoveries can be factored into the design plans to avoid issues down the line.
2. Error Reduction
BIM technology makes it possible to catch any errors that initially appeared in a proposed design before the construction work goes into effect. For example, if earthwork crews discover that the dimensions of a proposed building design will not be feasible at the prospective site, planning crews can take this information into account and either make adjustments or change the overall plan.
3. Use in Construction
BIM software is used by construction crews who break grounds on new lands to establish the foundations of roads, highways, buildings, bridges, monuments and structures. The software makes it possible to determine which structures will ultimately work over certain types of soil, thus making the processes involved with earthworks easier for planners and crews.
4. Use in Ground Logistics
BIM software contains a range of features that specifically outline the logistics of plumbing at a given work site. This way, planners can determine whether the stretch of land in question will be suited for the project at hand, be it a tall office building or a wide industrial facility.
5. Use in Planning Piping
BIM solutions make it possible for earthworks crews to determine which type of piping will suit the stretch of land in question. The software can be used to create 3D piping designs that take into account the diameters and lengths necessary to transfer water underneath a proposed building site to the nearest reservoir.
6. Collaboration Tools
BIM solutions offer collaborative tools that make it possible for earthworks teams to interact with other teams in the construction process, from designers and architects to builders, planners and investors. Collaboration tools include communication technology that works across different platforms, allowing cloud-based branches to interact with more traditional departments.
7. Visualization Technology
BIM tools make it possible to visualize a site in 3D and determine how a potential structure will appear from the ground up at a given site. Based on the position of the proposed structure, the tools allow earthworks and construction crews to determine how sunlight will hit the walls of the building or factory and potentially light its interiors.
8. Step Sequencing
BIM software programs arrange the building process in a series of steps from the ground up, including the logistics involved for earthworks crews. The tools can be used to determine how wide the clearance will need to measure for a proposed structure and how deep the ground will need to be broken to support the height and plumbing needs of the building in question.
9. Advanced Features
BIM solutions go beyond 3D technology to make a full-scale planning sequence for earthworks and developers. In new and upcoming versions of the software, BIM is activating tools in 4D, 5D and 6D, giving users the ability to visualize cost logistics in tandem with design concerns. These more advanced features also make it possible for users to determine the thermal and acoustic properties of a proposed building on the site in question.
Potential Issues With BIM Software
On the downside, BIM has yet to be developed to the point of universal compatibility across all branches of the construction industry. Companies and crews that have fully embraced the technology may have problems communicating certain ideas, information and visuals with cooperating entities that still rely on older technology.
Due to the relative novel nature of BIM technology, expertise in BIM software is a relatively small field. Consequently, there are few technicians to consult when users need outside support on a given issue.
What Is CAD?
Computer-aided design (CAD) is a set of software tools that allow designers to create 2D and 3D virtual models of buildings, structures, machines and parts. For surveyors and earthworks crews, CAD makes it possible to review a proposed structure before commencing work on the ground. The features and benefits of CAD can be summarized as follows:
1. Enhanced Visualization
CAD software makes it possible for designers and project developers to visualize a product or part in advance of its production. The software can be used to examine a proposed design from a variety of angles, both inside and out. Whereas conventional designs offer a flat illustration of a proposed idea, CAD makes it possible to step inside of a design and view it from a 360-degree perspective.
2. Improved Communication
CAD allows developers to communicate about the logistics and dimensions of a given design and make improvements as discoveries come to light. For earthworks crews in need of new tools and machines for an upcoming set of tasks, CAD provides an easy way for designers to communicate with team supervisors.
3. Use for Structural Engineering
CAD software accommodates the various aspects of structural engineering. Moreover, most CAD programs offer functionalities that apply to specific industries and the various branches that the projects entail. For projects that involve railroad, tunnel or freeway construction, the design features take all the dimensions into account as the design team drafts a 3D visual of the proposed structure, which earthworks teams can then examine and use to visualize the intended finished project.
4. Use in Earthworks Logistics
When the design for a proposed building, road or bridge is created on a CAD platform, the visualizations that the technology provides makes it easier for earthworks crews to foresee how the finished structure will look from the ground up. This knowledge can then be compared to the findings of work teams as they survey the land in question and prepare to break ground.
5. Accurate Design Specs
CAD platforms make it possible for civil engineers to generate maps and analyze specs across a stretch of land. This research enables better-informed designs for railways and tunnels, thus reducing potential errors and costly redrafts down the line. This information can then be communicated to earthworks crews, making the overall plan more efficient and easier to bring to fruition.
6. Input and Feedback
CAD platforms allow conceptualists to take a raw idea and turn it into a three-dimensional design. This allows different branches of a development team to mutually review a proposed design idea and make suggestions that can easily be implemented. If an earthworks supervisor spots an issue with a proposed design, the designing engineer can immediately take this feedback into account.
7. Advanced Tools
CAD software comes equipped with various design tools that facilitate ease of use and also make it possible to achieve visualization effects that would not be possible with a flat illustration. For example, both 2D and 3D CAD software contains a gripping feature that allows designers to pull, alter, adjust and reshape the dimensions of a proposed structural concept. If an earthworks supervisor reports that a road or pavement design requires an adjustment in width, a grip tool can help employees quickly make those changes.
Potential Issues With CAD Software
CAD software typical takes time to master, meaning that the cost of training can be high and the learning curve can be long. Moreover, the number of CAD experts is relatively small, which can make it difficult to find help if a problem arises.
For any company that has yet to migrate to a cloud server, CAD would be a step removed from that company’s technical infrastructure. As with most new technology, CAD is primarily designed for companies that are up to date on today’s more advanced systems.
What Are the Differences?
A quick rundown of the features of BIM and CAD makes the two seem rather similar. So how do you compare BIM and CAD? The two have some crucial differences that make each more suitable for different types of projects. So what is the difference between BIM and CAD?
CAD was developed to design virtual models for everything from appliances and furnishings to automobiles and rolling stock. CAD software tools are used to create 3D visualizations of the surrounding bodies of vehicles and tools, as well as the smaller parts that comprise the motors and fans inside each machine.
CAD can be thought of as a computerized sketchbook in which designs are hashed out and ultimately refined in 2D and 3D renderings. Each line works independently of one another and can be adjusted or eliminated without affecting any of the surrounding or underlying lines in the design. Therefore, if the design for a parking lot or road requires an extra three feet on one side, you can adjust the line that represents that side accommodate the change in dimensions.
Complex CAD designs consist of numerous sheets, each with separate lines that are overlaid in a virtual file. If a design needs to be adjusted, you must adjust all the layers affected by this change individually. If a design consists of many layers that must each be adjusted in tandem with the others, making revisions can be complicated. With CAD, there is no way to synchronize the layers into a single-action item for a multi-layer adjustment.
BIM was developed more exclusively for the virtual design and multi-dimensional visualization of proposed building ideas. As such, the tools are designed to digitally render the complex dimensions of all the parts that comprise the interior and exterior of a residence, factory or office building, including the walls, stairs, doors, windows, ceilings, plumbing, wiring, lighting and ventilation.
A major difference between BIM and CAD is the interactivity of the different dimensions during the editing process. In BIM, the dimensions that comprise an object are interconnected. Therefore, any adjustment that needs to be made in a building design, such as the width of a wall or corridor, can be done in a single edit.
In BIM, the dimensions of a given detail can be synchronized to all instances of the detail in question. For example, if the windows on a building are initially designed to be 3.5’x5’ and need to be adjusted to 4’x5’, you can change all the windows on the virtual building with a single adjustment.
What Is Right for Me?
Earthwork modeling and surveying teams can use BIM software to determine the ground dimensions of a proposed structure. Surveying crews can take a proposed building design and determine whether the chosen piece of land is right for the project in question. Earthworks modelers can then use the software to design the depths and dimensions at which ground will need to be excavated to set the foundations and build the sub-levels or layers of the building, factory, road, parking lot or structure.
For earthwork modeling, BIM tools can facilitate a more efficient flow of tasks because the software is designed to edit complex dimensions in a few steps. When all the dimensions of a construction layout are taken into account, BIM offers a more complex set of dimensions from various angles in a virtual preview. This way, all the parties involved in the construction can review the measurements beforehand and make suggestions or edits in advance of the project’s starting date.
BIM software tools can be especially advantageous for earthwork modeling of designs that consist of multiple levels. For example, if a development team proposes a multi-level courtyard across an acre of land, BIM tools can be used to accurately render the dimensions of this idea. The surveying team can then review this virtual design and provide suggestions and feedback. Construction crews can then reference this final design when it comes time to break the ground for the courtyard.
Data Preparation by Take-Off Professionals
For complex site work, it’s crucial to have 3D models to preview before construction begins. Take-Off Professionals is staffed by a team of expert engineers who develop 3D machine control models for earthworks projects as well as perform construction material takeoffs. Regardless of the size and complexity of the project in question, we can prepare data the way you need it. Contact Take-off Professionals to learn more about our 3D modeling services.
As a professional involved in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), you’re likely familiar with quantity takeoffs. The term has been around a long time in the building industry, and it reflects an important part of the planning process. Quantity takeoff requires a highly specialized skill set to do data management correctly.
This crucial step in a project’s early stage can make or break success. In fact, improper quantity takeoffs can underestimate or overestimate construction costs, causing inefficiency in the entire construction chain.
It can be detrimental to any job when required material amounts and realistic pricing values are overlooked or duplicated. The key to successful construction data collection is thoroughness and accuracy.
What Is a Quantity Takeoff?
Explaining what a quantity takeoff is in construction is relatively straightforward. Essentially, a quantity takeoff refers to estimating materials. You review the project plans and take off information about what physical materials the architect, engineer or draftsperson specifies to assemble the project.
Quantity takeoffs in construction have many other names, including:
- Estimating takeoffs
- Construction takeoffs
- Earthwork takeoffs
- Material takeoffs
- Material estimating
- Material counts
- Quantity surveying
Regardless of what you call them, quantity takeoffs are material-specific. As a rule-of-thumb, quantity surveyors or takeoff specialists don’t account for other project needs like labor, overheads, permits, insurance, equipment or incidentals. They stick to isolating material requirements and transposing that information into cost-based estimates.
Technology has changed the quantity takeoff method, and for larger construction companies, computerization has been invaluable.
Today, advanced processes like Building Information Modeling (BIM) raised the technological bar with more complicated systems than used in the past. However, computers significantly increase estimation accuracy. This helps to solve the age-old problem of low productivity and excessive waste elegantly outlined in a commissioned report by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Computer-aided design (CAD) programs revolutionized the building industry. Many modern projects are built twice. They start life as virtual environment models that work out the bugs and then move forward with reduced-risk structures in the real environment.
While computerization has increased takeoff accuracy and speed, the human element in quality takeoff examples can’t be replaced. Digital takeoffs are still at the mercy of human operators and interpreters just as manual takeoffs are. Today, we still rely on two quantity takeoff methods — manual and digital.
1. Manual Material Takeoffs
This is the oldest and simplest material takeoff form. Manual material takeoffs involve the estimator taking physical plans or blueprints and carefully detailing every material type and quantity specified on the construction drawings. This is a time-consuming data management process and prone to human error. It’s the estimator’s knowledge of materials, experience in estimating and skill in taking off material quantities that ensures accuracy. With manual methods, there’s no substitute for attention to detail.
2. Digital Material Takeoffs
Performing material takeoffs through computer analysis and database application is relatively new in the construction industry. The first effective CAD-based programs date back to the late ’80s and ’90s, and their sophistication quickly evolved to include computerized building models integrated with digital takeoffs. Digital takeoffs are superior to manual methods for large and complex projects because of their speed and thoroughness. The qualifier is the takeoff technician being properly trained and proficient with the software application as well as highly attentive to applying the takeoff information into cost-based results.
Quantity takeoffs can be complex and involved processes. However, they have a single purpose, and that’s accurate data management. Whether you employ manual takeoff personnel or equip them with the latest digital takeoff program, the outcome must be an accurate list of all materials required to complete the project. It also has to conclude with a meaningful price structure.
Who Needs to Do Quantity Takeoffs?
Everyone involved in organizing the front end of a building project needs to do quantity takeoffs. Material takeoffs aren’t a tail-end qualifier. They’re a critical step that begins the bidding process to propose a realistic contract based on accurate material and financial information.
No matter how small or large your project scales, you have to start by calculating how much it will cost and how much material it will need. That’s whether you’re looking at a single residential unit or a larger subdivision undertaking with compounded earthworks, utilities, road surfaces and integrated above-ground structures. It begins by taking off materials, understanding what you have to work with and predicting the eventual price.
Architects, engineers and construction managers aren’t the only people needing to do quantity takeoffs. No matter what industry you’re in, if you build anything at all, you’ll require material calculation and price estimates. Here’s a list of professionals who need to do material takeoffs:
- Urban master planning and smart city designers
- Tunneling and subway architects
- Residential home builders and renovators
- Rail and metro transportation engineers
- Offshore and marine architects
- Landscapers and landscape architects
- Highway and road engineers
- General contractors and construction managers
- Energy and utility contractors
- Civil, mechanical and structural engineers
- Architects and all building designers
Conducting a quantity takeoff takes skill, patience and powers of observation. It also takes a lot of experience. Quantity surveying is a high skill and a vital component to support project proposals. In fact, material data estimation is such a critical part of construction that many managers retain specialized independent takeoff professionals to do quantity takeoffs for them.
How to Do a Quantity Takeoff
Like every facet of infrastructure in building construction, quantity takeoffs are a process. Learning how to do a material takeoff is a skill people can potentially manage if they have the time and resources to train in their system and then allow field time to polish their skills.
Learning in the field can be expensive. Humans are prone to error and manual takeoffs are especially open to misinterpretation, omission and wrongful calculation. So are digital takeoffs if the source input is wrong or the program operator fails to apply sound principles.
There are two ends to ensuring quantity takeoffs are sound and therefore meaningful. Deviating from either path can result in mistakes that can compound errors. An input error is sure to create a wrong end-calculation, and a bad output mistake can have equally damaging effects on money, time and inefficiency.
Getting a quantity takeoff correct is a matter of following a proven process. This formula has been around for years, and it’s the same method whether you use manual or digital takeoff methods. These are the two parts of doing an accurate quantity takeoff:
Proper material takeoffs begin with inputting accurate information into the plans. Whether your draftsperson still hand-draws blueprints or your CAD operator creates multi-layered, three-dimension building models, your takeoff technician is paramount to managing data. This starts by inputting precise information onto the blueprints or into the computer-assisted takeoff software.
Your takeoff personnel only have so much control over what they’re given. Normally, a designated estimator won’t prepare the original concepts, working drawings or CAD layouts. Others in the building chain usually design and specify projects. However, an astute takeoff tech can spot irregularities and account for them during their data management. This is a critical control in the input stage.
Performing material takeoffs is core to the data management output stage. Output turns concepts into physical entities, and this is where accurate material estimation is essential. Putting out hard figures from software printouts creates solid estimates, which are the foundation for successful bids.
Here is where your takeoff person or team has control. Setting aside errors and omissions, your material takeoff relies on a system of identifying materials, quantifying them and then attaching data to a price schedule. This systematic approach, if done right, results in a fair an accurate proposal to move the project forward.
Construction data management professionals take material takeoff output and put this information into schedules based on valid pricing structures. In small-scale projects, estimators might use values based on local suppliers or subcontractors. In large building proposals, estimators often use national pricing. Takeoff professionals know where to look for quality data to use in a quantity takeoff.
What to Look for in a Quantity Takeoff
For the most part, doing a quantity takeoff is a mathematical exercise. You extract or extrapolate material figures on the input side for the takeoff quantities in civil engineering. On the output end, you reference your material figures to values. This creates a base for a total project estimate which adds in additional costs for labor, equipment and overhead.
You’ll hear the term “quantify” used in material takeoff discussion. This is the name for identifying quantities of material being estimated. It might be the quantity of cut and fill required for earthworks. Or, it might be the quantity of pipe, steel or lumber necessary to complete a structure.
Quantity surveyors or material takeoff professionals have a special challenge. They have to turn two-dimensional plans into three-dimensional images to quantify them. Accurate quantity takeoffs come from both the two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds.
With manual takeoff methods, the surveyor needs to think two and three-dimensionally and visualize the concept. Digital takeoff methods relieve a lot of this spatial load, but a technician still has to manage that data. Here are the base formulas takeoff professionals use to look for and quantify construction materials:
- Unit count: This is the simplest takeoff task, yet it’s easy to miss something in a unit count. When planning a building, estimators will count single items such as light fixtures, pipe fittings or door knobs. They calculate the total unit figures and multiply by unit price to achieve a gross total.
- Linear length: Total lengths or runs are specific to materials like lumber, steel and piping. These building products are difficult, or nearly impossible, to unitize. Estimators will add up the combined linear lengths of materials in this category and also add a gross value to it.
- Surface area: Accurately estimating surface area materials is still a two-dimensional task. It doesn’t matter if it’s flatwork stones, floor coverings or roofing materials. The calculation is length times width, and this total gets quantified to a value.
- Cubic volume: Here’s where the three-dimensional reality enters the material takeoff business. Earthworks, concrete pours and insulation are prime examples where you’d use a cubic volume takeoff. This is length times width times height, and it’s applied as a unitized number on a value column.
- Physical weight: Calculating construction by weight often happens in addition to other takeoff quantification. You might hear pounds of steel or tons of backfill. Calculating physical weight is necessary when accounting for transportation costs.
Although material takeoff professionals pay strict attention to their two and three-dimensional calculations, they realize their figures eventually support two more construction dimensions. Time is an additional dimension on construction projects, as is cost. Because of time and cost, it’s vital to make sure material takeoffs are done right.
Why Ensure Quantity Takeoffs Are Done Right?
The United States construction industry generates huge costs and consumes massive time. American construction projects generate billions of dollars and employ millions of workers. Because of the money and people affected, it’s important to get material takeoffs right.
You have two main material takeoff options. The first is using the old and antiquated manual method. The other is using a modern and more accurate digital takeoff system. Your choice might depend upon how much time you have and what the cost of a digital takeoff system will run you.
Comparing time and cost against accuracy might be a tough data management decision. Fortunately, you have a third choice. This one makes a lot of sense when you’re under a time constraint and demand estimation accuracy.
It’s turning to a material takeoff professional to estimate for you. These experienced construction experts make sure your takeoffs are accurate, thorough and dependable. You can trust them to support your bids and your business.
Contact the Take-Off Professionals for Help
We’re Take-Off Professionals (TOPS). We’re a team of experienced and knowledgeable engineers who will produce accurate data so you can manage your business and build your projects without construction estimation worry.
TOPS offers takeoff services to meet your individual needs. You might be a small-volume builder needing a simple material list to complement your proposal. Or, you might require a comprehensive plan for cutting, hauling and filling earthworks. Whatever your need, TOPs can help improve your productivity by ensuring you have the sharpest information based on the best material takeoffs possible.
Professional material takeoffs increase your bidding accuracy and work efficiency. This results in saved money and greater profits. For more information on how we can help with our quantity takeoff services, call the Take-Off Professionals today at 623-776-9546 or connect with us online.