For those outside the construction industry, it may be difficult to tell the difference between an engineer and a surveyor. Land surveyors and engineers work together on most construction projects and share some of the same responsibilities. That said, surveying and engineering are two separate professions requiring different skills and knowledge. Both disciplines are important in ensuring a project goes well, which is why you’ll commonly find them working on the same projects.
In this post, we’ll go into detail about the relationship between land surveyors and engineers and how that relationship plays out during a construction project. We’ll also discuss the different tools and methods engineers and surveyors use and how that impacts your project.
The Relationship Between Engineers and Surveyors
The duties of a civil engineer and a land surveyor are intertwined. They often work together on construction and civil engineering projects. While sometimes an engineer may take on the responsibilities of a surveyor or vice versa, both roles are critical to a construction project’s success.
Beyond the design phase, surveyors and engineers serve as checks and balances for a work site. Both supervise the construction process to ensure the structure is being built according to the original plans. Surveyors conduct as-built surveys, which they use to confirm the engineer’s plans. Engineers then use this information to create any modifications or corrections.
The point of their work is to ensure the crew builds to specifications and that the structure and worksite will be safe. If you were to lose either from your team, construction would have to stop until you found a replacement.
Surveyors and engineers usually work in teams, especially on large projects. In general, more complex projects require larger teams of surveyors and engineers. You also might use multiple teams as the project progresses — for example, you may have a team of surveyors at the beginning of a project and switch to another team if necessary.
The Role of the Land Surveyor
Land surveyors collect data on important geological features like the angles and distances between points above, below and on the surface of the land. They use this data to determine where a structure should sit and establish property boundaries. The types of surveys a surveyor might perform include:
- Property survey: A property survey confirms or establishes the legal boundaries between two pieces of property. This information is especially helpful in case a legal dispute arises between private and public parties.
- Geological survey: Geological surveys map out the physical landscape surrounding a site or structure, including features like rivers, mountains, valleys and more. Satellite data and aerial photography play a large role in geological surveying.
- Construction survey: A construction survey creates the layout for an engineering or construction project by establishing reference points, dimensions, elevation and positioning for a structure or proposed improvement.
- Deformation survey: Conducting a deformation survey helps surveyors determine whether a geographical or human-made feature changes shape over time. This information is useful for evaluating the chance that structures or improvements will be safe from the deformation of their surroundings.
- Right-of-way survey: This survey establishes access points and access rights to a particular property.
- Topographic survey: A topographic survey is one of the most important surveys a survey team conducts. It provides engineers with the locations of elevation variations, geographical features and artificial structures like underground utilities, telephone lines or nearby buildings. This data also allows engineers to calculate the earthwork a site will need to reach the final grade.
Land surveyors also play a role in minimizing the impact a project will have on the environment. When they take their measurements of the land, the survey team makes sure that the land will not be adversely affected, the structure will be safe and the project will be as efficient as possible overall.
Accurate survey data is also beneficial to the planning phase of construction projects. Here are some of the ways surveyors can aid engineers in the earliest planning stages:
- Mitigate the risk of future regulatory enforcement actions
- Maximize project startup through comprehensive planning
- Minimize delays in project schedules
- Help determine project scope and aid in pre-construction planning
- Establish standards for later survey teams to follow
Throughout the construction process, surveyors supervise activity to ensure the crew is following the engineer’s plans. Usually, these surveys require whole teams of surveyors to complete — more measurements must be taken on active construction sites than on empty land. If the project appears to be even a millimeter off, the surveyors steer the construction crew in the right direction before a problem can arise.
Once construction wraps, land surveyors conduct as-built surveys, which record the final location of a construction project and any deviations from the original designs that may have occurred.
How Surveyors Collect Data
Surveyors use a combination of digital and conventional tools to create the most accurate image of a site they can. Some examples of surveying equipment include:
- Levels: Surveyors use levels to measure the difference in elevation between two points. Usually, they use these with level rods or tripods to get a precise reading.
- Prisms: Prisms allow surveyors to lock in control points at a height suitable for pinpoint accuracy. Surveyors can mount prisms on surveying poles and use them with electronic distance measuring (EDM) equipment for maximum accuracy.
- Theodolites: This essential surveying tool measures the vertical and horizontal angles between points. More advanced theodolites, also known as total stations, can also measure distances, complete calculations and record and store data for later use.
- Electronic distance measurement: EDM uses electromagnetic waves to measure the distance between two points. Surveyors typically use theodolites to gather this information.
- Drones: Surveyors can easily conduct aerial and high-risk surveys using drone cameras without putting themselves and others in danger. They can fly a drone into areas that are difficult for humans to access, like high bridges, canals and other civil infrastructure. The images produced through this process allow engineers to extract topographical data for their plans.
- LiDAR: Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) systems use pulses of light to create a point cloud, which serves as the basis for a detailed 3D model of a space. Surveyors can stitch together multiple LiDAR scans to create an accurate image of especially complex or large sites.
The Role of the Engineer
Once the land surveyors have completed data collection, civil and construction engineers use this information to create the blueprints for the project. If the structure requires a foundation, a geotechnical engineer is typically the one responsible for ensuring the foundation will interact well with the geographical features around it.
The surveyors often provide their input during the design phase as well. This feedback increases the chances that the plans will succeed.
Beyond the design phase, construction engineers are typically responsible for overseeing the design and safety of temporary structures used during the construction phase. They may also be responsible for the following:
- Preparing project budgets and communications
- Planning distribution of water supply and electricity
- Ensuring construction sites are safe and clean
- Providing technical advice and feedback to construction crews
- Selecting and procuring the appropriate materials for a project
Why Good Data Is Important for Civil Engineers
After surveyors have collected the necessary data for a project to begin, the raw data needs to undergo a series of processes in order for engineers to make use of it. Raw data can be messy and inaccurate, so it’s important to perform data preparation before attempting to use the information.
Data preparation is the process of cleaning and transforming raw data into a usable format. This process involves several important tasks:
- Eliminating extraneous or duplicate data and any existing outliers
- Filling in any missing values
- Making corrections to data
- Ensuring data fits standardized patterns
- Reformatting data to facilitate analysis
- Joining together data from multiple sources
- Consolidating or separating fields
The benefits of data preparation for construction projects include:
- Reliable results: With accurate, readable data, engineers are better able to draw plans that accurately reflect reality.
- Potential savings: When engineers have accurate information about a site, they can more easily identify areas where they can safely cut costs.
- Informed decisions: Accurate data equips engineers and project managers with the knowledge they need to make important planning and procurement decisions.
- Increased safety: More accurate site data means engineers will have a better idea of the potential risks involved with a project, which can help improve worksite safety and speed the construction process.
Because data preparation can be a time-consuming process, it can be beneficial to go through a third party. You’ll be able to focus all your time and energy on collecting geographical data and translating it into building plans while your data prep partner takes care of the rest. Plus, having more eyes on the data can help find discrepancies and errors you may have missed the first time around.
Types of Engineers
Engineers who work on a construction or civil engineering project may specialize in a range of disciplines, including:
- Architectural engineering: Architectural engineers design buildings. While they have a similar job to architects, architectural engineers focus on the functional aspect of a structure rather than its aesthetic appeal.
- Construction engineering: Construction engineers are a subtype of civil engineers responsible for overseeing the design and implementation of large-scale building projects. Often, they are also responsible for developing project budgets and overseeing how the project works.
- Civil engineering: Civil engineers are responsible for overseeing the complete construction and safety of a construction project. Their primary focus is on ensuring the functionality and structural soundness of buildings and infrastructure.
- Geotechnical engineering: Geotechnical engineering involves gathering data on the behaviors of soil and rock. It also involves assessing factors like slope stability and the potential risk of landslides, avalanches or falling rocks. This information helps determine the makeup and design of a building’s foundation and how it contributes to structural stability.
- Structural engineering: Structural engineers are responsible for designing and assessing large-scale projects like bridges, buildings and dams to ensure strength and stability.
- Transportation engineering: As the name implies, transportation engineers focus on planning and maintaining transportation systems, like city streets and expressways. Surveying is crucial to transportation engineering because the condition of a road is often dependent on how well it interacts with the geological features surrounding it.
Unless the engineer has the skills and tools to conduct land surveys themselves, working with a surveyor is a must for any engineering or construction project.
What Tools Do Engineers Use?
In addition to the traditional paper and drafting pencil, engineers use a variety of computer programs to draw project plans, manage workflows and communicate with other parties working on the project. Typical examples include:
- Computer-aided design (CAD) software: Programs like AutoCAD, DraftSight and Solidworks allow engineers to create detailed, readable 3D plans for construction projects.
- Project management software: Tracking programs like Excel and Primavera are useful tools for tracking project workflows and progress. This kind of software also comes in handy when tracking and calculating material quantities or other data.
- PDF editors: Programs like Adobe Acrobat and Bluebeam Revu are excellent for marking up and editing designs before sending them in for review. Some have collaborative features that allow whole teams to view and edit a document simultaneously, enabling users to catch errors they may have missed in earlier stages.
The specific tools an engineer may need depends on several factors, including the types of projects they work on, their specialization and where they are in their career. For example, a new engineer is more likely to use technical software most of the time, while someone who has been in the industry for a while might use something oriented toward project management.
Contact Take-Off Professionals for Data Preparation Today
The construction industry relies on good data to create safe, lasting structures — that’s what makes land surveyors and engineers so critical to the success of any building project. Both professionals gather and use data to plan projects and ensure they stay on track.
If you need to package data for your crew, TOPS can help. With more than 20 years of experience and a laser focus on data preparation, you can rely on us to create excellent deliverables for projects of all shapes and sizes. Our team consists entirely of engineers who work full-time to ensure you get the data you need when you need it, even when deadlines get tight.
All we need from you are your CAD files, paper plans and a completed work order. With this information, our team of engineers can create accurate, high-quality reports for your projects, including:
- Grading surfaces
- 3D utility layout
- Dirt and material quantities
- Cut and fill maps
- Mass haul analysis
Let us take some of the work off your shoulders. Reach out to request a free quote today — we’ll get back to you shortly with a detailed report and accurate turnaround times, giving you the confidence you need to win your bid and complete your project in time. We also offer free trials if you want a more detailed look at what we can do for you.
As a civil engineer, you rely on various engineering computer programs to get the job done. The kinds of programs you’ll need depend on the kinds of projects you work on, as well as your specialization and where you are in your career. For example, new civil engineers might use mostly technical software, but more experienced engineers might use programs oriented towards project management.
We created this list to highlight some of the most useful civil engineering software in the construction industry and beyond. So if you’re a seasoned engineer or studying to become one, these programs should be on your radar.
AutoCAD Features and Benefits
AutoCAD is one of the most widely used civil design software programs in the industry — and for a good reason. It’s a computer-aided design (CAD) software program that allows you to easily create and edit precise drawings.
Some advantageous features of AutoCAD include:
- Photorealistic rendering
- PDF and DGN import, export and underlay
- Cloud integration
- Smart dimensioning
- 3D modeling and visualization
These features make AutoCAD civil drafting an excellent choice for any engineer. You can easily attain the following benefits:
- Versatility: Professionals across various industries use AutoCAD for project design, resulting in smooth collaboration between fields.
- User-friendliness: The user interface is intuitive and straightforward, so anyone who has a foundational understanding of drafting can use the program.
- Accessibility: AutoCAD is generally affordable. You can choose from a monthly, annual or three-year subscription, and they even offer a free yearly license to students and educators. Plus, training courses are widely available online.
Autodesk, the company that makes AutoCAD, also offers a more advanced civil engineering 3D software simply named Civil 3D. While AutoCAD is excellent for drafting, Civil 3D allows you to dive deeper into your project with various surfaces, alignments and profiles.
Microsoft Excel in Construction
Microsoft Excel is probably the most widely used program in civil engineering. Engineers perform many functions in Excel, from project tracking to simple calculations. Some other key features of Excel include:
- Visualization: Using Excel, you can easily create charts, tables and graphs to visually display your data. This feature can be especially helpful for sharing data with stakeholders, architects and others involved in your project.
- Calculation: Excel is good for repetitive calculations requiring only a few operations.
- Flexibility: You can use Excel for various civil engineering applications, making it an incredibly versatile and cost-effective program.
- Storage: You can store many different sets of data in separate spreadsheets. To better organize information, store different categories of data on new pages.
- Templates: Excel templates make it easy to plug in relevant information without extensive formatting. This capability makes Excel an affordable application for project management as well as data entry.
Because it’s so ubiquitous, working knowledge of Excel is essential for success as a civil engineer. Fortunately, you can easily find affordable courses and training workshops online if you need to brush up on your skills.
If you tend to create extensive spreadsheets, Microsoft Access can be a helpful alternative for Excel. Access is a database-building program included in the Microsoft 365 Suite for Windows. In addition to data storage, Access allows you to add forms to databases and export data to other Office applications, allowing seamless sharing and collaboration.
Primavera for Construction Management
While Oracle’s Primavera P6 Enterprise Project Portfolio Management software is most useful for project managers, any engineering professional can use it. It’s a single-platform project management tool for keeping projects on track and ensuring compliance.
Primavera P6 is a little more complicated than the other programs on this list, so it can help to take a training course or two before jumping in. However, its complexity allows it to handle projects of any size across many industries.
Effective program use can increase your planning efficiency and prevent you from overrunning deadlines. Some helpful features include:
- Standardization: This feature allows you to standardize business processes and best practices across all your active projects.
- Multiuser system: Different teams across the organization can work simultaneously on the same project, and all their work is visible to the project manager.
- Risk management capabilities: Proactively identify and resolve risks through the platform.
- Real-time reporting: Get an accurate view of your project progress and assets as your team works.
- Multi-device capabilities: You can bring Primavera onto your site using your tablet or smartphone.
While Primavera is one of the more costly options on this list, it’s a worthwhile investment for improving productivity on construction sites.
Bluebeam for Civil Job Sites
Bluebeam Revu, more commonly known as Bluebeam, is a PDF editor similar to Adobe Acrobat. You can use it for many different workflows, including quality control, document planning and submittal.
Bluebeam is handy when a CAD program might be too much of a hassle for one task. If you only need to view a design, or you need to make a few minor edits before submitting it for review, Bluebeam is going to be the program for you.
Here are some key features:
- Collaboration: Bluebeam’s Studio Sessions feature allows teams to view and edit a document at the same time, which can help you catch anything you may have missed in earlier stages.
- Standardization: Bluebeam allows you to set up custom user profiles for different workflows, which is an excellent tool for setting markup standards. That way, you can streamline communication and accountability within your project teams.
- CAD plugin: This feature allows you to easily export both 2D and 3D PDFs to send to stakeholders, which helps provide an accurate view of your project to the people you need to impress.
- Multi-device capabilities: All you need to access your Bluebeam files in the field is your laptop or tablet, making your plans portable and easily accessible.
Contact Take-Off Professionals Today
Our extensive experience allows us to take on projects of all sizes, from parking lots to highways. In fact, we prepare more data in one week than some of the largest contractors will build in a year. Our engineers work across three different time zones to meet our clients’ needs. All we need from you is three essential pieces of information:
- Your CAD files
- Your paper plans
- A completed work order
We’ll take those documents and use them to build your data exactly how you envision it. When you receive your data, it’ll be ready for use right away.
Let us take some of the work off your hands. Contact us today for more information about how our data prep services can make your workplace more efficient. We can provide you with a detailed quote, including accurate turnaround times, so you’ll know exactly what to expect from us. We also offer free trials if you want to see what we can do for you.
The construction industry has suffered from a prolonged period of decline in productivity over the last few decades despite the consistent growth of the industry. Low productivity is the leading reason for going over budget or spending too much time on construction projects. Thankfully, construction businesses can improve their productivity through improved communication, planning, goal setting and technology. Learn how to increase your construction productivity with the following tips.
1. Improve Communication
Clear and consistent communication is the most crucial component of getting your construction projects finished on time. Your team should always have open lines of communication and the ability to reach each other quickly. Improve communication with the following strategies:
- Create a communication chain of command: Establishing a concrete chain of command for communication allows queries to get answered as quickly as possible and ensures nobody on your team gets left behind. Create a communication chain of command that sets clear expectations for who should be contacted for each unique project you work on.
- Adopt new technology: By integrating smartphones, tablets and laptops into your team, you can ensure everyone receives the information they need right as it gets sent out. New software such as cloud-based programs and scheduling software can help you use your time more efficiently and effectively.
- Enforce clear and concise communications: Messages heavy on jargon and technicality can be hard to understand and rarely pass up the chain of command, making enforcing clear and concise language in your communication essential. Teach your team members to keep language short, sweet and accessible.
- Keep communications professional: When writing to your team, stick to the facts and keep your communications free of emotions and office politics. If you want to simplify processes and boost construction productivity, don’t over elaborate on your points and make your objectives clear.
2. Planning Based on Data
Inaccurate planning forecasts are a source of a significant source of risk for construction companies. Intensive data gathering using the power of deep learning and artificial intelligence can identify dangers and patterns for your construction plans before they even begin. The following data and analytics tools can help you increase productivity on the job site:
- Predictive analytics: With predictive analytics, you can gain insight into project workflow and solutions to give your stakeholders more accurate expectations on when a project will be finished. Predictive data analytics allow you to reduce costs on projects and tackle potential problems before they get the chance to arise.
- Risk analysis: Identifying, monitoring and responding to risks as they arise is critical to keeping your team safe and your time projections more accurate. You can use field-first technology to gain deeper insight into your risk management and analysis and keep your complex jobs going strong.
- Equipment and asset tracking: By tracking your equipment and assets, you’ll eliminate the chance of wasting time on your construction site by ensuring the technology you need is where it should be 24/7. Certain asset tracking software even allows you to assign equipment to specific managers and teams.
- GPS machine control modeling: GPS machine control modeling allows your surveyors to employ a variety of positioning sensors – including sonic tracers, rotating laser, total stations and advanced GPS systems – to improve work site operations. Many GPS machine control models integrate with machine control technology to ensure that equipment such as graders, bulldozers and excavators all move within the predetermined positions of the 3D model.
- Point cloud modeling: With point cloud modeling, contractors can use 3D models for the layout planning and machine control phase of construction. Point cloud models are renowned for their speed and accuracy.
3. Set Realistic Goals
Having a realistic goal and planning for potential delays before they begin lets you stay ahead of schedule and ensure that your plans are achievable. It’s always best to set realistic expectations with your stakeholders rather than overpromise and underdeliver. Create more realistic goals with the following:
- Build goals from the bottom up: Your employees on the ground of your construction site have a much better understanding of how long a project will take than your architect. Work with your managers at every level to build your goals from the bottom up and set accurate and realistic expectations.
- Use both data and intuition: While data can start your project planning on the right foot, your intuition is crucial to creating realistic goals. Instinct is more than a hunch – it’s a culmination of your experience in the field.
- Revise your goals as you go: Part of every successful plan is the acknowledgment that circumstances will change as you go. While you shouldn’t be too quick to revise your goals, you must review your construction goals continually and acknowledge precisely when and where you’re falling short. Make sure you review and revise your goals on at least a monthly and quarterly basis.
4. Have the Proper Technology
With the proper technology, you can ensure nothing falls through the cracks in your construction planning and execution. You can use the following tools to improve your productivity:
- Preconstruction software: Preconstruction software enables your business to get your project started on the right foot by helping you with everything from finding contractors and sending bid invites to double-checking your architectural plans.
- Field productivity software: With field productivity software, you can directly measure workflow on your job site and streamline information processes with cloud-based real-time software. Field productivity software helps you unify your team.
- Project management software: Project management software ensures your teams are all working off of the same plans and getting updated about project developments along the way. When your team can get a holistic view of your project development, you’ll have the data and confidence to make better decisions.
- Collaborative software: Collaborative software allows you to unify your team and keep up with construction plans and designs as they change in real-time.
Increase Your Productivity With the Take-off Professionals
At Take-off Professionals, we create data prep and 3D modeling software ideal for use with site work machine layouts and controls. Since our founding in 1988, we’ve been dedicated to supporting contractors with takeoff technology. Our innovative process helps you put quality data at your fingertips and gives you the accuracy and insight you need to be confident in your project. We offer the following services to help you boost productivity on the construction site:
Contact us online today to learn about the full line of takeoff offerings and which is right for you.
With the New Year well underway, I wanted to take a look and review the advances and advantages of current imaging technology as it relates to creating surfaces from LIDAR and Photogrammetry.
It appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Several parts of this world have made great strides while many remain slow to progress.
UAV platforms are cool, that is unless you have $38,000.00 in the air and it’s not responding to your request to come home. We need this device to do one thing; move a sensor in a predetermined pattern and image when requested and return safely for another use.
Prospective buyers have become focused on flight times, but the real number I always want to know is coverage and quality. A great camera with a proper lens can go high, fly for a short time and get the accuracy we are after. Once you know all the variables, the questions you ask will change.
Multirotors have idled in regard to advancement. Good motors, precision GPS and bigger more efficient batteries have allowed good flight times and safe operation. We use parachutes with our copters and feel comfortable sending them up.
Fixed wing platforms are split into two distinct camps, hand and wheel launch. The small, quick wings cannot carry good cameras and data quality suffers. The larger platforms need wheels and smooth ground but offer the benefit of carrying a larger sensor for better images. There is crossover in these types including hand launch/belly or parachute landing; the blurred line is offering some possibilities.
I am hoping this next platform gets proven soon, I like where it is going. The VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) plane holds promise. Lift like a copter then fly high and fast with a big camera for a long time. Like any other platform, power is always the issue, to remedy this, some makers are putting gas engines to be used as thrust motors and even generators. I think we will have something worthy by year end.
At this moment, the best solution for aerial topography is a full-frame sensor camera and a good lens. We can obtain good accuracy on a consistent basis. There are some improvements on the horizon that will help things.
When a drone flight is not possible due to regulatory restrictions, our trade partner Doug Andruik at Syn-Geo had created a two-camera pod he puts on the strut of a Cessna and effectively does close range photogrammetry with a full-scale aircraft. A great solution for large acreage or no drone zones.
We are all waiting until LIDAR becomes effective for use on a UAV. Several versions are out with fair accuracies and high price tags. Development is happening daily because of the great potential of the application. I’ll look at these and report as they become available.
One of the best things to come along for improved close-range photogrammetry is precision GPS. The Applanix chips (Trimble) have made geo-referencing images more accurate and easier. When an image is correctly geo-tagged, post-processing is quicker and the resulting 3D information is more accurate. Combine this exacting geo-tagging and good images and accuracy gets much better. This makes our fieldwork more efficient and the results in the office better. In my opinion, this is the go-to solution; for now.
Pix 4D is still the easiest post-processing software, my issue is the same data-set run multiple times yields different results and residuals. As with any processing of imaging data, check to many ground control points to verify accuracy. UAS Master from Trimble is a robust application with the ability to fully incorporate precision GPS orientation from the Applanix chip. I use the software on a regular basis but am hesitant about training users. When you know how all the aspects of the program interface you can do some great things. When first learning post-processing, there are too many variables in the software to “just click a few icons” and get a result like in other applications. That Power can be a pain to use sometimes. Rumors are that there will be some easier workflows coming in future versions, I’ll keep you updated.
Right now the best way to get reliable, consistent data is to fly a full-frame mirrorless camera with a high-quality lens using copter with an Applanix chip and post process in the software of your choice.
Always collect a TON of control/checkpoints so you know how good the results actually are. We earn our money back in the office slowly going over data, cleaning up the point cloud and shipping the client a good surface.