Estimating an earthwork takeoff accurately is essential to achieve success and avoid costly consequences. When you become efficient at earthwork takeoffs, you can grow a successful business providing contractors with accurate takeoffs.
As a civil contractor, you likely use many machines, including machine control motograders, dozers, pavers, skid steers, soil compactors and asphalt compactors. You have internal surveyors or grade checkers who stake, monitor progress and validate grade on the job site, along with drones or full-scale aircraft to capture data via photogrammetry to be transformed into point clouds.
At Take-off Professionals, we know how time-consuming and complex construction takeoffs can be, and we use point cloud data for 3D earthwork modeling. This guide to having a successful earthwork takeoff will help you understand every important aspect of this process.
What Is Earthwork?
Earthwork refers to the engineering process of adding, moving or removing materials like rock and soil to change the topography of a location. Compare the current topography and the proposed design to establish a 3D earthwork calculation. Creating an accurate estimate involves calculating how much material a contractor needs to fill or cut.
- Filling: One of the key parts of the process is filling, which is when the contractor adds material to the site.
- Cutting: Another part of the process is cutting, which is when the contractor removes material.
Filling and cutting are both essential for developing the topography in the contractor’s design. Engineers calculate the fill and cut quantities to reach and use a mass balance for an accurate earthwork estimate. An earthwork takeoff can be manual or digital.
- Manual earthwork takeoffs: Manual takeoffs are often laborious and complex, and even a small error can lead to significant calculation issues.
- Digital earthwork takeoffs: A digital earthwork takeoff involves software that tends to be more accurate, easier and faster than a manual process.
A successful earthwork takeoff can lead to a more precise estimate and help the job go smoothly.
What Does Takeoff Mean in Construction?
In the construction industry, a takeoff is the process in which a contractor determines the amount of every material needed for a project. You may also hear this referred to as a material or quantity takeoff. Contractors use takeoffs in construction to:
- Calculate materials to buy: One of the most important uses of a takeoff is determining how much material is needed. Underbuying can lead to job site delays and more trips to purchase additional materials. Buying too many materials can cut into your profit. This calculation also influences how accurate your estimate and bid are.
- Create an estimate: To create an accurate estimate, you need to know how much material is required. This allows you to calculate other costs for your estimate, such as labor hours, waste percentage and tax.
- Submit a bid for a job: A takeoff is essential for knowing how much to bid for a job. If you underbid, you could lose money. If you overbid, you could lose out on a job.
A takeoff determines how much material is needed for a job, while an estimate also includes the costs of these materials and other expenses related to the project, such as tax, labor costs and travel costs. Earthwork takeoffs go by a few other names, including construction takeoffs, material takeoffs, estimating takeoffs and material estimating. Developing a precise earthwork estimate is key to a construction project. Ideally, a bid should accurately reflect material and labor costs, so you can minimize financial risks and obtain the project fee you deserve.
An estimator or group of estimators is responsible for a takeoff. A large company tends to have a team of estimators with a chief estimator who is responsible for assigning projects and handling the bid calendar. A smaller company may have a single estimator who handles takeoffs. Examples of professionals who may be in charge of earthwork takeoffs include:
- Civil engineers
- Marine architects
- Subway architects
- Energy contractors
- General contractors
- Tunneling architects
- Mechanical engineers
- Residential renovators
- Construction managers
- Residential home builders
- Road and highway engineers
Outside of construction estimators, some organizations may place the responsibility for performing takeoffs on sales employees and material suppliers.
Earthwork Estimating Methods
Engineers can use a few different estimating methods to create 3D data for earthwork. You can use one of these methods to calculate the material and dirt quantities needed to provide the construction site with mass haul analysis.
- Block method: Also known as the division of square method, the block method is used to determine volume for a medium-sized project that requires leveling. However, there is some margin of error with the block method if a project involves both cutting and filling.
- Average method: The average method tends to be used for smaller projects. This is the simplest estimating method used only for projects that require cutting or filling. If a project uses both filling and cutting, the average method will give you an inaccurate estimate.
- Section method: The most precise and complex estimating method is the section method. This method is best for large projects like roads, dams and railway systems. Though this method involves more complicated calculations and steps, it gives the most precise estimate.
Choose which estimating method you use based on the size of the project and how precise you want your estimate to be.
Estimating Earthwork Takeoff Software
One of the common earthworks costs is earthwork estimating software. As an estimator, you’re in a race against the clock during an earthwork takeoff and estimate. You frequently juggle multiple projects and deal with inaccurate or incomplete design plans. Bidding too low or too high could mean losing a job or taking a loss. This is where estimating earthwork takeoff software comes in.
Winning a job begins with a construction takeoff, which determines what material is required to perform a job. Your software can calculate your material costs by multiplying the price of the material by the number of units and adding in the cost of equipment, labor, fees, insurance, administrative personnel and subcontractors. Cloud-based software can also improve collaboration among your team.
If several people are involved in making an estimate, collaboration is an important element. Cloud-based software means your system is accessible from anywhere and you won’t have to worry about updating or maintaining the system. If you want to track historical trends and reuse information, estimating software can be beneficial. When it comes to collecting data and using it later, this software is essential.
If you have been performing manual takeoffs, deciding to invest in software can be challenging, but it’s generally the best option for your business. In particular, this software can be incredibly helpful if you take on more than a couple of commercial projects per year. Features of earthworks software may include:
- Grid views
- Pad takeoff
- Material library
- Trench profiling
- Retaining wall takeoff
- Strata layer breakdowns
- Multi-color, 3D elevation maps
- Cut and fill estimating program
At Take-off Professionals, we can apply our data services to several software programs for civil engineering in the construction industry.
- Primavera: Project managers use Primavera to ensure compliance and keep projects on track. Primavera can have a bit of a learning curve, so you may want to attend a training course before you start using the software. With this program, you can avoid overrunning deadlines and increase the efficiency of your planning. Features of Primavera include real-time reporting, multiuser system, multi-device capabilities, risk management capabilities and standardization. If you want to improve productivity on a construction site, Primavera can be a worthwhile investment.
- AutoCAD: In the construction industry, AutoCAD is among the most commonly used programs. This computer-aided design (CAD) program lets you create and edit drawings. Some features included in AutoCAD are smart dimensioning, cloud integration, photorealistic rendering, 3D modeling and visualization, and import and export of PDF and DGN. These features make the software accessible, versatile and user-friendly.
- Civil 3D: Similar to AutoCAD, Civil 3D is more advanced software that lets you dive deeper into a project via multiple profiles, alignments and surfaces.
- Bluebeam: This PDF editor can be used for various workflows, including submittal, document planning and quality control. If a CAD program is too complex for a task, Bluebeam may be a good option. Features of this program include standardization, collaboration, multi-device capabilities and CAD plugin.
- Microsoft Excel: Likely the most commonly used civil engineering program, Microsoft Excel allows engineers to perform various functions, from simple calculations to project tracking. Excel includes several helpful features, such as templates, visualization, storage, flexibility and calculation. If you need to improve your knowledge of Excel to leverage the program successfully, you can quickly find an online training workshop or affordable course.
- Microsoft Access: Alternatively, you may want to work in Microsoft Access if you create extensive spreadsheets. Access is found in the Microsoft 365 Suite and used to build databases, store data, add forms to databases, facilitate collaboration and export data.
If you want to implement estimating software, select an option that integrates with your construction management program. When you choose to work with us at Take-off Professionals, all we need is your paper plans, CAD files and a completed work order.
Become Familiar With Estimating Tools
To successfully use estimating tools for an earthwork or material takeoff, you must become familiar with them. As an estimator, you should also understand the construction process and the use of the estimate. Becoming familiar with these aspects can help you leverage your tools more effectively for an excavation takeoff.
Owners either request a preliminary bid or full life cycle analysis. You may be working with only a description of the project at the beginning rather than drawings. This means you’ll need to price the whole scope of the project, not just what is shown. Default unit pricing doesn’t always account for every factor that may impact the price of labor and materials, such as supply chain issues, availability of certain trades and construction volume. Be sure to include these factors in an estimate.
Start with a properly set scale for a successful takeoff. In some cases, a provided scale is inaccurate or not included in the blueprints. Beginning with setting or checking the scale will ensure your measurements are accurate. Being accurate, thorough and quick are all key to a successful takeoff. At Take-off Professionals, we use your designs to create precise earthwork estimates.
Common Takeoff Pitfalls
For a construction project, a takeoff is necessary. While residential contractors may be able to estimate the materials needed for a project simply by eyeballing the house, this skill doesn’t translate to most commercial projects. Generating an accurate estimate is essential for a successful project. However, some pitfalls could impact an estimate and takeoff. Inaccurate measurements and missed deadlines are two of the most common takeoff pitfalls.
- Inaccurate measurements: Whether due to a complex digital process or a manual takeoff, inaccurate measurements can occur and impact a takeoff. When you move data between tools, you risk making mistakes. You may be transferring data from paper to Excel or from your takeoff program to an estimating software. During manual data entry, a single typo or distraction can throw your entire estimate off.
- Missed deadlines: Missing bid deadlines is a common takeoff pitfall that can occur when the takeoff doesn’t leave extra room for creating a detailed estimate. This happens most often with manual takeoffs. Even if you work around the clock, attempting to complete an estimate during a time crunch may lead to missed deadlines and wasted hours.
As an estimator, you must know exactly the amount of materials on a structure and bid on several jobs simultaneously. Though you can use a ballpark estimate to get enough materials that you can reuse later, paying for them upfront may negatively impact your cash flow. Too high of an estimate could mean you miss out on a job. Some contractors will want to see a completed takeoff or will do their own takeoff to check your work. Fortunately, you can avoid the common takeoff pitfalls above by implementing earthwork takeoff software.
Contact Us at Take-off Professionals
At Take-off Professionals, we create 3D data for layout and machine control, including machines, grading surfaces, curb machines, pavers and 3D utility layout and utility trenches for rovers. We provide earthwork takeoffs with material and dirt quantities and mass haul analysis for roads and sites, so you can return to managing your business and building projects. Additionally, we can develop haul roads for the project’s life cycle, including:
- Custom home lots
- Schools commercial sites
Since 1988, we have been helping busy contractors who need support with takeoffs. We design our takeoff services to meet your specific needs. We can ensure you have the necessary information based on the best possible earthwork takeoffs, which can help you improve your productivity. With better work efficiency and bidding accuracy, you can save money and enjoy greater profits. When you’re ready for a successful earthwork takeoff, contact us at Take-off Professionals to learn more.
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.
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The recent advances in technology for use in civil construction are impressive. The broad appeal of GPS, LIDAR, lasers, total stations and computers have provided the contractor with many opportunities. Contractors have embraced these advances but not without difficulty during the learning process. Many have made technology a profitable part of their business while others question the advantages.
This presentation will answer questions and provide a strategy for establishing, or streamlining, your use of technology.
- Brief overview of current equipment types: GPS, Total Stations, LIDAR and field computers.
- Best use for each type of technology.
- What to buy and when.
- What training options are available and their differences.
- How to take full advantage of dealer, manufacturer and independent training.
- How to identify key staffers for leading the technology push.
- How to stay current with training as it relates to hardware and software upgrades.
- What to expect from the technology.
- Implementation – gradual or all in?
- Responsibility chain when using technology.
- How the high-tech jobsite differs from traditional grading.
- How the connected jobsite can help profitability.
- How technology changes job dynamics.
- How electronic data affects a site.
- How to effectively manage data from the office to the field.
- Meeting requirements for the use of technology.
I wrote the overview of CIM (Civil Integrated Management) over 10 years ago. Now is a good time to give an industry update and address the above bullet points. I created the CIM acronym to show how advanced technology that was creating BIM could be used in civil work. Happy to see it used and the idea embraced.
Close-range photogrammetry wasn’t mentioned at first. It wasn’t even on my radar. LIDAR has really seen a lot more use with prices becoming more realistic. Many contractors are using LIDAR where a drone was tried before. Limited flight areas near cities and airports are just one issue. Though still expensive, LIDAR is worth a look.
Drones fill a niche. I like to start a job with a good LIDAR scan then use the drone for interim topo’s. At the end of the job and when utilities are in, I like to scan again. A scan takes time, and processing can be tedious with all those points. A good drone flight will suffice for progress data.
We now have two big advantages: the equipment is easier to use and more operators have general experience that transfers to new equipment.
However, every company still needs a champion. We need to cultivate an office champion and a field champion. The full implementation of CIM takes coordination from the two areas. A good estimator/project manager needs to be comfortable with the following:
- Web-based file management.
- Advanced project management software, getting all the way to 5-D.
- Ability to process field data from scanners, drones, GPS and total stations.
- Send data to your field people as well as subs that can leverage information.
- Create data rich requests and change orders to better optimize progress and profits.
The field role has expanded as well. I’ve listed some new duties.
- Pre-job topo created by available technology.
- Constant data collection from your equipment for interim payment topo’s and record keeping.
- Shoot in pipes, structures and other utilities prior to covering.
- Gather data for Requests for Information (RFI’s) and change orders.
- Work with subs that have technology and help them be successful.
In a perfect world, you would acquire a new technology every month so you could learn, then add it to your workflow. Usually equipment gets purchased after the completion of a profitable job. The order of MY recommended process has been updated as well with the addition of more equipment.
- GPS Rover. Get it, learn it. Everything else is easier when you know how to use it.
- Machine Control. Nothing works better than a good model on a blade. Nothing is worse than a bad model. Get good data with your rover experience then put it on a machine
- Cheap, reliable data collection that is easy to learn. Fast turnaround with web-based processing services.
- Total Station. Precise layout and data collection as well as powerful control for a blade.
- A scanner will add versatility. They are still expensive but if you can complete three scans a week it makes fiscal sense.
The transition from just a rover to a CIM job is easier than it used to be. Tools and experienced trainers make things easier. Make the move. Every dollar you spend will quickly bring a return on your investment.
Workflow Management Best Practices
The biggest improvement in CIM has been the ability to get things up and downloaded from the Cloud. I can go to a Dropbox folder on my phone and transfer new data to a rover or machine. Notifications of folder changes and just a simple text to let me know something new is amazing. But don’t think that you need 24/7 communication. I have seen this cripple jobs and turn off new adopters. I agree with them; there can be such a thing as too much information.
The biggest issue with having everybody in the loop is that can feel like drinking from a fire hose. I come to lay out curb and I get 1,000 messages about stuff that I don’t care about. Never fear, I have a solution. I’ll address it in the accompanying video but here is the process.
- You need a gatekeeper. Assign an office person, project engineer or estimator to quickly plow through the unnecessary noise and give you just what you need.
- From there, it goes to the office people for processing. Does this need a new model or just a note that gets transmitted to the field?
- The flow from the field follows the same idea. Don’t let the office know everything. You will transmit daily topo’s and work done. They should key in on questions you need answers to.
- The type of communication is important. You need to see what must be done and find a way to show it completed. Web-based project management software is good for this. Pick one, become proficient and stick with it.
A previous article dealt with chasing perfection on civil sites. I would now like to further explain some items that we touched on and others that we use to make a job go smoother.
A “ton of information supplied” approach to creating data for a site takes too much time and confuses a field user that may not be aware of the enhancements you made to their job. Some of our clients use the following ideas at one time or another but not all of them at once. Phasing and machine type need to be considered as well.
There are two important things to consider before deciding to use information above a basic model; the benefit of the data in the field and the cost to produce it. Also confirm the desire and ability of field crews to wisely spend that additional work and money. I can work with two different crews from the same company and get buy in from only one regarding enhanced data. Culture sometimes is not companywide. You need a champion to grab a new idea and leverage it for real success with a new idea.
Begin at the Beginning
We need to establish a point of departure for my ideas. The least you should present to the field is a correct finished surface model showing areas that are going to be worked with a blade. Nothing fancy, but a faithful representation of the intent of the job. I use the word intent with an explanation. It is the intention of all involved to have a good looking well performing site. If the plans don’t reflect it, you are the last line of sanity before something incorrect gets put in the ground.
This basic model is what most companies who do in-house data provide. Office staff are just too fractured to spend too much time on any one job. I know, I’ve been there. When field crews get comfortable with a basic model, they usually want more information to boost productivity.
We will increase data information with a new user of data as their comfort level increases. The real trick is what makes the most impact for boosting productivity.
Enhanced Data Options
I like to produce the most bang for our client’s buck as possible. I will go through these concepts in a video as well. A few minutes of screen time can take the place of hundreds of words.
Lines can be either 2D or 3D. Adding the third dimension may work OK for some data collectors but not machines. A 2D line with a surface reference beneath it seems to do fine in most cases. This saves data prep time. The exception to this will be for a curb alignment in a parking lot. The top of a curb is only 6 inches wide, to the inside of the line the elevation drops quickly to the gutter. We will often provide a top back of curb elevation surface that’s 3 feet wide so the elevation is easy to find.
This broad term represents anything you might usually stake but want to reference at any time.
- Start with a building pad blowup lines and a surface to the extents. We often provide foundation footing trench information. This is usually bottom of footing with vertical steps and varying widths. Pad footing locations and grid layout lines help with larger projects.
- I’ll cover utilities in a separate offering, too much to list here. As a useful improvement to have on a machine or data collector, utilities are high on the list. 2D water, gas, and electric go a long way in helping the field plan their trenching. Sloped pipe utilities are best laid out 3D for improved production. Structures are often a mix of 2D and 3D information, more on that in the video.
I often get into lively conversations regarding subgrades. There are only 2 choices when it comes to cutting a subgrade, provide a surface file or dial down. We usually try to provide just a finished surface file for several reasons:
- Building additional surfaces cost money.
- When you dial down in a machine and offset a subgrade behind the back of curb the machine does a better job than data prep software, let me explain here and in the video. Parking lots have variable cross slopes, often times changing quickly and greatly. A horizontal offset in a machine correctly projects the slope, it is not easy to do this properly in the office.
Many data collectors and machines show the vertical offset on the screen so you know when you are off finished grade. We also like finished surface files because they match the plans, this makes it easier to check grades against the plans without the potential for bad math.
Often times there are a lot more things you are either responsible for or can just help to move things along. When it comes to hardscape items GPS can help with initial ground setup concerning grading. Often times we include layout items that are usually 2D, but beneficial.
- Streetlights: parking lot lights can be laid out early so underground electrical can go in.
- Parking Lots: we provide layout for parking lot striping and special marking. This helps the striping to move along quickly.
- Playground equipment: layout is critical and setting bases and foundations with technology is a real time saver.
Turn lanes are often times built during a civil site improvement. When plans were prepared, the topo shows existing pavement elevations. Usually these are not correct as the topo is old or the lane was not shut down and the spots were estimated. Here is how we correct this:
- The contractor will get quality spot elevations at 10 feet along the proposed saw cut line.
- We bring the information into the model.
- Proposed changes are made in the model and sent to the contractor for submittal.
- Approved updates are sent to the field for work.
These ideas will help define the best enhancements for civil sites. We do a lot more, depending on the job. This is a start on your path to feature rich data and increased profits.
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.