Innovation strategies can mean progress in any industry but especially in the construction industry. Innovation can mean you deliver greater value to customers and work more efficiently. However, because of tight profit margins and risk, innovation or change isn’t always welcome. The right innovation strategies can help you reduce risk and increase your and your customers’ return on investment (ROI).
For any innovation strategy, you must make some changes. These changes could include everything from new methods of handling project planning, labor productivity, safety issues, document management and information sharing to budgeting and addressing overruns in scheduling or costs. At TOPS, we want to help you reduce risk and increase your ROI.
Innovation in Construction
Innovation is change and an openness to improving services, processes and products. Innovation is key to solving challenges you face at your work sites. In the construction industry, heavy equipment, complex materials and big machinery provide more ways to get the job done than ever. However, innovation has been a bit slow in construction compared to other sectors because innovation is expensive, lacks standardization and requires significant research. Shortages in labor and material availability can also hinder innovation. In this industry, you can foster innovation by:
- Improving efficiency: Improve the efficiency, productivity and quality of your work in the construction industry with a monitored and connected job site.
- Building with the future in mind: To build with the future in mind, use smart technology, new energy sources, better resource and asset management and innovative construction materials and methods.
- Promoting sustainable solutions: Many in the construction industry are innovating to promote sustainable solutions that can reduce their environmental impact.
- Optimizing supply chain management: Optimizing your supply chain management can make it easier to track fleets, improve inventory management and obtain services and materials.
Measuring Return on Investment
You can measure your ROI both internally and externally. Internal ROI includes process, profit and people.
- Process: This factor focuses on efficiency.
- Profit: This factor concentrates on the impact on your bottom line.
- People: This factor refers to employee engagement and skill level.
External ROI, on the other hand, includes competitiveness, community and customers.
- Competitiveness: This factor refers to how you show your competitive edge to win better projects.
- Community: This factor looks at how you manage and organize the subcontractors and supply chain within your professional community.
- Customers: This factor assesses how you acquire, keep and encourage repeat customers.
In measuring ROI, many hard metrics depend on cost and time savings. Some softer metrics are helpful to evaluate in times of high demand, fewer materials, sustainability and fewer people. For example, if you want to replace a manual task with software, you must first analyze whether doing so would save money and time and ensure accuracy. Workers should also feel positive about working with the software, and the software should improve performance and make the job easier to perform.
Increasing Return for Earthworks
To increase your ROI for earthworks, you should understand how to ensure a successful earthwork takeoff. Earthwork is the engineering process in which soil, rock and similar materials are removed, moved or added to change a location’s topography. To increase your return for earthworks, you may want to invest in earthwork estimating software. Some of the features of this software include trench profiling, grid views and strata layer breakdowns.
Introducing New Technology
Technology is the cornerstone of the construction sector’s innovation. From the latest technologies that facilitate sustainability to digitalized solutions that promote productivity, technology is essential to the industry. The goal is to identify new technology and tackle the challenges you have been facing.
To introduce new technology into your work, you need to take a strategic approach. To determine the right technology for a project, identify who will be impacted, lay out the process and choose the technology that improves the process.
- Identify employees: Determine who will be using this new technology or who will be impacted by it. Consider the current level of understanding and the level of understanding and awareness you need employees to have. With your team, communicate both the how and the why of this new technology.
- Lay out the process: Next, lay out the process for which you want to use this new technology. The technology should improve this process or help you determine whether you should implement a new approach.
- Choose the technology: Finally, select the right technology to improve your work. If you are unsure how to make this selection yourself, turn to the Take-off Professionals for help.
New technologies can make job site workers safer and overcome mobility restrictions with technology that aids in the delivery of materials. Today, artificial intelligence (AI) and robots allow construction professionals to work remotely without pausing their projects or exposing themselves to illness during a pandemic, for example. New technology can open the door to other innovative solutions in the construction industry.
Civil contractors use many machines, such as dozers, soil compactors, pavers, asphalt compactors, skid steers and machine control motograders. If you’re a civil contractor, you may also utilize full-scale aircraft or drones to capture data with photogrammetry. If you don’t already use this technology, these may be new tools you want to implement.
If you’re a surveyor, point cloud modeling is one example of new technology you may want to use to conduct land surveys more efficiently and easily. Point cloud modeling uses fewer resources while still accomplishing the same work. Point clouds are collections of several small data points that each represent part of a surface in a specific area like an engineering work site. Together, these points form a 3D structure. At TOPS, we use point cloud data as part of our 3D earthwork modeling.
Learn From Our Trainers at Take-off Professionals
As the experts in all things data, TOPS creates 3D data for machine layout and control, including 3D utility layout, grading surfaces and utility trenches for machines, rovers, pavers and curb machines. We provide earthwork takeoffs with mass haul analysis for roads and sites, material and dirt quantities. Additionally, for the project’s life cycle, we create haul roads. To help boost your productivity on a construction site, we offer the following services:
- Quantity takeoffs
- Point cloud modeling
- Aerial lidar services
- 3D and GPS control modeling
To build the best 3D models, our team is composed of only full-time employees. Our focus is entirely on data, so you can rely on our expertise. If you are a busy contractor in need of support with takeoffs and the right technology, we can help. Contact us at TOPS to learn more about reducing risk with construction innovation strategies.
Finding volume with contour lines is essential to your business operations. Increase precision by calculating volume from topographical 3D models.
What Are Contour Lines?
You can find contour lines on topographical maps. These lines define the elevation levels of a particular terrain. Contour lines with a wider distance between them indicate a more gradual slope. If they’re close together, that means that the elevation is steeper.
Contour lines represent an area where all locations on that line are at the same height. We use these lines to determine the elevation and topography of a landscape. In the case of construction work, surveying the land can help you decide where to locate new structures and where you may need leveling work.
What Are the Formulas?
You can determine volume using contour lines in two ways:
- Prismodial method: This method offers a precise way to get an estimate of the volume. The formula is generally known as Volume = L(A + the square root of (A*B) + B) divided by 3.
- Trapezoidal method: This method is also used in calculating volume with contour lines. The formula is Volume = L x 1/2 (A1 + A2) cubic meter.
Why Is Volume Calculation Important for Earthwork?
Measuring the volume of the land at your next project is vital for several reasons. First, if you want to create an accurate bid for the work, you need to know what type of landscape you’re working with. Using contour lines and topographical maps to determine volume will give you an idea of the work you’ll need to do. Then you can more accurately account for labor and material costs.
On that same note, calculating volume also allows you to use your materials effectively. When you know the volume of the area, you can take the guesswork out of how much material you need for a particular project.
Contact Take-off Professionals for More Information Today
At Take-off Professionals, we use your data to create 3D topographical models. We optimize what you gather from a quantity survey to make models with contour lines to determine volume. Ensure material and budget use and accuracy with our help.
Our team is composed of full-time professionals who work on these projects as their specialty. We focus on creating dependable 3D models to use for determining the volume of the terrain for your earthwork.
You can access our online platform to view your data and models. You can even add other files or notes to keep all related materials in one place. Take-off Professionals has over 20 years of experience and works on around 1000 3D models yearly.
We offer detailed quotes that describe the exact services you’ll be getting. Our turnaround times are quick too, ensuring that you can get your work done on time. We have trained professionals on a national scale, meaning that we can help you no matter where you live. For more information about our 3D modeling services, please get in touch with us online or call 623-323-8441.
A 3D model lets a civil contractor or construction professional perform machine control and layout planning before and during construction. Depth map sequencing and point cloud modeling are two examples of 3D modeling often used in construction. Although the two methods have some things in common, they ultimately have different goals and purposes. A point cloud is usually a collection of data points that form a shape, while a depth map conveys information about the distance between two objects in space.
Learn more about the differences and similarities between point cloud modeling and depth map sequencing below.
What Is Point Cloud Modeling?
Point cloud modeling produces a set of small data points, which exist in three dimensions and on X, Y and Z coordinates. The data points represent a part of a surface in a defined area, such as the area of a construction site. When arranged together, the points produce a clearly identifiable structure.
The more data points in the point cloud, the more detailed the structure and image will be. You can compare the data points that make a point cloud to the pixels that make up a digital image. The more pixels there are in an image, the clearer the picture is.
Point Cloud Modeling Methods
Two methods can produce point cloud models — photogrammetry and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), also known as remote sensing.
Photogrammetry is a relatively old process of collecting information about objects and surfaces. When photogrammetry is part of point cloud modeling, a drone takes multiple images of a work or construction site at various angles. After the drone takes the photos, the images are collected together and processed. Processing the images stitches them together, creating an overlapping picture and allowing you to build a 3D model from them.
While photogrammetry uses images to help you produce a 3D model, LiDAR uses laser beams. Typically, a device that transmits a laser is attached to an aerial vehicle. The vehicle goes up into the air, directing laser beams back to the Earth. The laser beams bounce off the Earth’s surface, returning to the vehicle.
LiDAR measures how long it takes for the laser beams to travel from the surface back to the aerial vehicle. In some ways, it is similar to echolocation, except instead of using sound waves to measure distances, LiDAR uses light beams. The information collected by LiDAR can then be transformed into a 3D model. Once the images or information is collected, the process of transforming them into a 3D model is similar for both photogrammetry and LiDAR.
Often, LiDAR collects more useful information than photogrammetry, particularly if there is dense tree cover over the area being measured and modeled. A photo can’t push through branches and leaves to give an accurate measurement to the ground below. A light beam can travel through the spaces or openings in the tree cover, allowing you to see how far below the ground is.
One drawback of LiDAR is that it can be more sensitive to weather conditions than photogrammetry. It can also have difficulty collecting accurate information when the surface is reflective.
The two methods also vary drastically regarding price. If you are on a budget, one method of capturing information for point cloud modeling might be more appropriate for you than the other.
What Is Point Cloud Modeling Used For?
Point cloud modeling has several uses in construction and engineering projects. You might need to create a point cloud for the following:
- Surveying: Point cloud modeling can quickly and cost-effectively produce representations of roads, bridges and other complex structures.
- Earthworks projects: Earthworks projects, such as excavating to produce a new road or lay pipe, can also benefit from the use of drones or aerial vehicles and point cloud modeling. Point cloud modeling allows your company to keep tabs on a project without visiting the site in person. It can also help improve worker safety on-site.
- 3D models: Point cloud modeling also allows for the construction of more accurate 3D models for a project. The data captured during point cloud modeling allows you to accurately identify and distinguish objects in the area so you can create a precise representation.
Benefits of Point Clouds
If you need to create a 3D model for an engineering or construction project, using point cloud modeling offers multiple benefits:
- Accuracy: A point cloud model is an accurate representation of an object or area. Both photogrammetry and LiDAR allow you to capture enough information to produce a detailed, correct model of a particular area.
- Ease of budgeting: Since the process of capturing information for point cloud modeling is so accurate, you can develop a budget for your project without too much concern about going over or spending more than you can afford. Point cloud modeling also minimizes the risk of mistakes, meaning you will spend less time and money on correcting errors. You will also save time on your project, which translates to cost savings.
- Efficiency: Point cloud modeling is a much more efficient process of building a 3D model, especially when compared to the time and effort it would take to create 3D models by hand. Increased efficiency means your project gets off the ground and can be completed sooner rather than later.
What Are Depth Map Sequences?
A point cloud lets you see every data point used to create an image. A depth map gives you a view of the data points from a particular angle. Another way to look at a depth map is as a 2D image that has been manipulated to look like a 3D image. A depth map has information on the distance between objects in a picture. It’s often shown in grayscale.
After the creation of a depth map sequence, the grayscale image is usually merged with the initial photo. Combining the two creates a third picture that looks 3D.
How to Create a Depth Map Sequence
To create a depth map, you start with a 2D image. Since the goal is to turn a 2D image into a 3D one, the source image must have several layers. Ideally, the starting photo will have a background, middle ground and foreground. To produce the depth map, you’ll need a photo and an image-editing program, such as Photoshop.
Start by selecting areas of the foreground, using the magic wand or another selection tool to trace them. After tracing each section, create a layer. Once you’ve selected and created the layers for the foreground, select the part of the image that makes up the middle ground. After that, select the section of the photo that will be the background.
After selecting and creating the layers for your 3D image, grayscale each layer. The layers in the background should be a darker gray than the foreground layers, which should be the lightest gray. You might find it easier to work if you grayscale the image before you begin cutting out the layers.
Once you’ve produced the grayscale image, you’ll merge it with the original picture in the photo editing tool. The overlap of the two images produces a photo that looks 3D.
What Are Depth Maps Used For?
One use of a depth map sequence is to create 3D advertising images. Another use is for producing 3D models for engineering and construction projects. Compared to a flat image, a depth map lets you see what is around or behind objects in a picture, providing you with a more accurate presentation of the area.
Point Cloud Modeling vs. Depth Map Sequences: Similarities and Differences
The primary feature that point cloud modeling and depth map sequences share is both use images to transform data into 3D models. The two methods give you a way to view information.
One of the differences between depth maps and point cloud modeling is the image’s viewpoint. A point cloud lets you see every point. A depth map only gives you a view of the points visible from a particular angle.
Another way to look at the differences between a depth map and a point cloud is to consider the image’s dimensions. Cartesian coordinates include an X-axis and Y-axis, which intersect each other perpendicularly. X and Y axes are all that is needed for 2D images.
When an image is 3D, there’s also a Z-axis, which intersects the X and Y axes and runs vertically. X and Y are horizontal. With a point cloud, you can see the image from all three axes. In contrast, a depth map only gives you the information found on the Z-axis.
Work With a Data Modeling Expert
Your project’s success depends on what you do with your data. The team of experienced engineers at Take-off Professionals (TOPS) can transform your data into a working 3D model. All you need to do is send us your plans and the CAD files and we’ll take care of the rest. To learn more about our services and the benefits of working with data modeling experts, get in touch with us today.
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Several of my recent blog articles have been on data collection and use. Many readers have responded with the same questions. With data coming at me like a fire hose, how do I safely store and retrieve it? Being married to a professional landscape photographer, I learned years ago about putting large amounts of data in a safe place for future use. One advantage we have is that all our data may not need to be saved forever and a post job purge can reduce overall usage.
I will talk about different data storage methods and their advantages. I will not name companies. A search of product and service types will give you a wide range of options. When working on a project, some of the files will be kept on your local machine. To be proficient after some operation(s) are performed, you can move files to a remote location to stop your computer from slowing down.
Do what you need when a project is ongoing. In some cases, we dedicate a hard drive to a project and then store it after the project is completed. Hard drives can range from 100 megabytes to over 10 terabytes. Disk size for hard disk drives (HDD) can be over 20 terabytes at a reasonable price. Here are the best practices for desk side storage.
- Have a large (2TB+) solid state drive (SSD) for Windows and other programs.
- Have a second solid state drive for file storage. We have added multiple SSD’s for expanded storage. Prices are low and performance is required for data modeling and photogrammetry.
- Keep things on the drive as the project goes along. Remote storage is good, but a lot of files may need to be brought back to the SSD’s to do some more work.
I have not mentioned backup of your local machine yet. We will cover local (somewhere you can get to easily) and cloud backups. Remote backup is also another option.
The easiest way to make sure things are safe is to back up your hard drive and put it in a fire safe. A process that is time consuming and prone to forgetfulness. I do not recommend this as there are other solutions.
Network Attached Storage (NAS)
NAS is the easiest way to grab something, work on it, then put it away safely. As the name implies, you have a large amount of storage that is connected to your network. It is a drive that is labeled as a letter, I use “N” for simplicity. The drive itself acts as a small computer with a disk array for redundancy in case of partial failure. Transfer speeds are generally good making it easy to retrieve and save data. There are other benefits as well.
Another NAS drive can be placed offsite, giving you added protection in the event of complete destruction of one of the locations or its drive. I did this for our firm years ago and had a host of issues getting things set up. There are a number of independent consultants who will do this in a matter of minutes and it is well worth the money. Here is a road map.
- Find a technician to set up a NAS. The brand you buy will depend on what the technician recommends.
- Decide on the amount of storage you want. The technician can help with that.
- You will get two NAS drives. One will go in the office, the other in a remote location that has a fast internet connection.
- Both drives will start out in the office, the initial large data transfer will be easier that way.
- The drives are synced and tested while in one location, this makes troubleshooting easier.
- The second drive goes to the remote location.
- Drives can be set to back up continuously or at a specified time, usually early morning hours when no bandwidth is being consumed
This peace of mind is critical in securing your data information. Also make sure that important accounting data and correspondence gets saved from other staffers and departments in the office. The cost for this is less than you may think, and you can avoid sad stories of lost data and ransomware.
Whenever I mention the possibility of using cloud backup, I often get a response related to security. First, platforms like Dropbox are secure and second, the plans and files you are saving are usually public domain if somebody wants to look them up. How tragic is it if somebody sees the CAD for a subdivision anyway? The exception I will agree is sensitive correspondence, financial information, and most internal communication. Use the NAS for that and trust the rest online. Here is the process.
- Decide on the platform and storage limits. Prices can vary widely so shop around. Security is similar with most so do not let that be an issue.
- Decide on what to sync. I use the sync folder as local access as well because the data resides locally and is mirrored to the cloud.
- Depending on your connection to the internet, you can choose to continually update or pick a specified time. This is usually in the early morning hours when you are hopefully not working, and speeds are good.
- A dashboard for the program will keep you posted with the status of a sync.
This easy solution may be the best option due to the protracted setup of a NAS. If you have followed along to this point, there is still the possibility of accounting and correspondence not being saved. Do not delay the install of a NAS too long.
Purging Stored Data
We never really get rid of information completely. After a time, we save a distillation of information and lock it away. You may also want to check with your attorney as to how long they feel you should have full saves as opposed to the reduced density mentioned. Here are some examples.
- Regarding machine control data, we save the latest file we made in the native software and the last files sent to the field. The pdf’s can be saved as well. Sometimes if they are huge, we will strip out pages outside our scope. Remember they are generally available at the agency responsible for approvals. Let them warehouse it. We do not need the original CAD files.
- Photogrammetry jobs get saved as the point cloud and GEO-tiff. Raw images and initial surface production can go away. With the point cloud we can generate what is necessary in case we need to go back. That will save a ton of space.
- Takeoffs can usually be the program file we used for the numbers. No reports need to be saved as you can run them again. We save the pdf sheets associated with the takeoff as well.
- Job notes and correspondence can get saved in total. They are almost always copies of emails and letters that take up little room. I have spent more time than it is worth trying to decide what should stay and the space saved is minimal.
Well, there you have it. A comprehensive plan for saving and securing data. The pandemic has changed everything and many of you are working at home and need access like as if you were in your office. When I started this company, we all worked remote and were on the cutting (painful) edge of a lot of the previously mentioned technologies. Things have gotten much simpler and integrating some or all these ideas will give you a piece of mind. There are a lot of horror stories out there regarding lost or stolen data. Hopefully, you will not be one of them.
Our previous article on chasing perfection on civil sites covered the balance between a perfect model on screen and a well-priced practical job that performs well. In this article, we further explain the details that we touched on as well as additional tips to use to make a job run smoother.
If you take the approach of creating a ton of data for a jobsite, it takes too much time and will confuse a field user that may not be aware of the enhancements made to their job. Some of our clients have used the following ideas at one time or another but not all of them at once. Another consideration is phasing and machine type.
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. Regarding enhanced data, I can work with two different crews from the same company and get buy in from only one. Culture sometimes is not companywide. You need a champion to grab a new idea and leverage it for real success.
START AT THE BEGINNING
We need to establish a point of departure for my ideas. At the bare minimum, you should present to the field 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 as their comfort level increases. The real trick is providing what makes the most impact for boosting productivity.
ENHANCED DATA OPTIONS
I like to produce the most bang for our client’s buck, and the following concepts can get you there. I will go through these concepts in a video as well. A few minutes of screen time can say a lot.
Lines can be either 2D or 3D. Adding the third dimension may work okay for some data collectors but not machines. A 2D line with a surface reference beneath it seems to work in most cases. This will save on data prep time. The exception to this would be for a curb alignment in a parking lot. The top of a curb is only six (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 three (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 the 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 blog post. There’s 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 team plan their trenching. Sloped pipe utilities are best laid out in 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 two 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 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.
With hardscape there are a lot more things you are either responsible for or can just help to move along. When it comes to hardscape items, GPS can help with grading and the initial ground setup. We will usually include layout items that are 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. Setting bases and foundations with technology is a time saver.
Turn lanes are often 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.
ENHANCED DATA ADVANCEMENTS
As we become more reliant on electronic data and placing dirt with technology, the idea of enhanced data might be considered standard by many. I will now go over some new and exciting offerings for data. Many of these suggestions are responses to questions that I’ve received. I appreciate the feedback and enjoy the interaction.
One of the biggest advancements we have enjoyed is the use and accessibility of drones and LIDAR. With an easier way to acquire current ground information, we now need to know the best way to work with it. Here are some tips and processes that will help.
The biggest issue we see with using alternate collection methods is platform compatibility. The LIDAR or drone shots do not match when compared in the office. Here is a process to try.
- Use the same control for scanner setup as you did for localization. You will need to bring in control quality points to the site and set up the machine over them. Might be best for your surveyor to add the points.
- When scanning, take some long occupation topo shots of the area being worked to compare at the office later
- TBC has a command called Points to Surface. Use it to see how things look.
- Usually there are greater vertical errors at the edges of scans, perform closer occupations to stop this.
- Never do an adjustment of a scan or tweak the data vertically. Go out and do it again the right way.
- Realize that sometimes LIDAR is not the tool and either use a drone or manually topo.
- Control is critical here. Make sure ground targets are survey grade and reuse the same locations on each flight. You need to pick target areas that will not be greatly disturbed during construction.
- Regarding light, flight time is important. Fly in the same sun angle every time, and as high as possible.
- Process the data the same every time. If you send it out, this may be harder but set the same options for each flight.
- Run the Points to Surface command in TBC. Carlson has the same type of command as well.
- Look for areas that are not in tolerance. Do not adjust anything; just go fly again tomorrow.
These tools are now affordable and easier to use than ever. Your use of the surfaces created and enhanced data will improve efficiency and profitability.
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!
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 as well as pros and cons 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.
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