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Future belongs to total solution

Craig R. Dylan
[email protected]

The survey engineering and construction industries are poised for dramatic, positive change. To keep up with overwhelming demand for new infrastructure in the face of a limited workforce, construction firms are tasked with making major changes. To do so, the industry is turning to new technologies and benefitting from exponential productivity gain, minimised rework and the elimination of waste. In the midst of this change, many surveyors are mastering the new technologies and becoming more central to infrastructure development.

This revolution is occurring through rapid innovation in three broad technological categories:

  • Positioning technology-readily available real-time correction networks, also known as RTN (Real Time Networks) or Virtual Reference Station networks (VRS is a technology and term that originated with and is trademarked by Trimble), and Spatial Imaging, can swiftly acquire large amounts of high quality, geolocated spatial data.
  • Wireless communication-for example, cellular telephony-can move that data to all project stakeholders.
  • Information management-such as visualisation technologies and networkbased project management-keeps the spatial data accurate, accessible and useful over long project life cycles.

These overlapping categories hold strong potential for tight integration among their components. In many cases, these technologies are seeing mainstream adoption or focussed development by other industries. The real challenge for the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is to integrate these advances into a total solution, capturing synergies that can transform project work.


Positioning technology breakthroughs are occurring in all areas and wherever metre or millimetre precision is required. Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) developments are enhancing terrestrial positioning. And VRS systems are increasing globally, making centimeter-level Real Time Kinematic (RTK) positioning available to all.

Non-satellite-based positioning is also advancing quickly. Traditional total station distance and angle measurement is becoming faster, more convenient and more accurate. In addition, with the increase in functionality and focus on ease-of-use, 3D scanning is becoming essential technology for acquiring spatial data. 3D scanners Connectted Siitte modell now enable surveyors and designers to utilise full 3D images/2009/march in new ways and improve the collection of discrete points with x,y,z coordinates. Scanners are also making digitisation in the field an everyday tool, closing the gap between office and field.


Wireless communication capabilities are exploding. In the last decade, several alternatives for data transfer have emerged-cellular standards like GPRS, robust point-to-point radio solutions, bluetooth and satellite communications. These solutions range from simple and convenient-such as bluetoothenabled survey instruments that eliminate problematic cables-to highly significant- like the cellular standards that make VRS correction delivery easy.


Powerful processors, low-cost memory and fast, widespread Internet availability are enabling the development of information management solutions unthinkable a few years ago. One example is Spatial Imaging, which is becoming the new standard for design work. Scanning and digital imaging expedite model creation, which can replace 2D and 3D CAD drawings, making models accessible to all project stakeholders early in the project lifecycle. Together with the accurate geolocation that VRS enables, models are becoming the basis of 3D Geographic Information Systems (GIS); they will require expert management by surveyors and others who understand the complexities of spatial data maintenance.


The construction industry has traditionally made productivity gains by relying on bigger and faster equipment- not by re-engineering basic processes. However, focussing on the integration of innovative technologies into daily project workflows is the best way to serve the five key participants in infrastructure development: owners, government agencies, surveyors, AEC firms and contractors. Each group participates in a continuum of interrelated processes and works with a large number of providers. And each can benefit from integrated technological advances that connect participants more tightly.

V3 set up a Trimble GX adjacent to the boat while scanning beams, piers and caps A collapsed portion of the parking deck near mid-deck at the center aisle. An aerriiall photto ((ffrrom Liive Maps)) off tthe parrkiing deck Trimble has been working on the integration of these technologies-the Connected Site™-for more than a decade. By employing technology advances to tie hardware to hardware, hardware to software, hardware and software to networks, and to tie all of these to project stakeholders, the Connected Site concept is poised to positively revolutionise work processes.

As part of Trimble's commitment to building the Connected Site model for its customers, the company has established partnerships and alliances with industry firms to work on the concepts it believes are critical to the Connected Site approach.

For example, in 2006 Trimble added the capabilities of visualisation technology pioneer XYZ Solutions, Inc., and others to its portfolio. XYZ enables users to take fuller advantage of 3D models and the rich datasets they are built on, eventually enabling field digitisation. Effective, rapid visualisation is essential to a model-based workflow. Trimble has also added the capabilities of Meridian Systems to bring the business and lifecycle management software component to the Connected Site initiative, helping building owners, AEC firms and government agencies to facilitate the delivery of information throughout the entire plan, build and operate lifecycle.


Traditional industry boundaries are blurring. Field and office are overlapping as data processing and engineering expertise are moving closer to projects. Surveyors are adding data management abilities to their skills portfolio. Engineering and spatial data are being tracked with project timeline and accounting data.

Survey instruments are combining GPS/GNSS, optical and imaging capabilities. And grading machinery is being integrated with GPS to enable 3D machine control that puts design surfaces, grades and alignments in the cab, allowing automatic, accurate realtime blade positioning. Put simply, everything is coming together, integrating… connecting. Trimble's Connected Site fosters a beneficial revolution in an industry that has a lot to gain.


Built in the mid-1960s, the Riverside Drive Parking Deck in Elgin, Illinois, is quite large. Approximately 1,000-feet long by 60-feet wide-and nearly all of it over the Fox River-the deck is built on hundreds of 'piles', large concrete cylinders pushed down into the muddy river bottom. Pre-cast elements in the piles used high-tensile steel wire for reinforcement, and that steel is now rusting. In 2003, a trailer-sized piece of deck fell into the river.

Elgin officials wanted the deck to be analysed to see what could be reused in ongoing waterfront renewal. That meant V3 Companies, Ltd., needed to do some innovative survey work…under the deck, and in the Fox River. In the summer, the Fox River is shallow enough for a man wearing chest waders to get around. V3 Survey Technology Manager Grant Van Bortel and V3 Crew Chief Steve Arnold would travel to the site each morning towing a rowboat, a Trimble GX™ 3D Scanner, laptops and heavy-duty marine batteries.

Arnold knew that setups in the river (on an extra-long-legged tripod mashed into river mud) could not be revisited, so he used the Trimble GX Scanner's survey workflow features to get on basis by means of resections. This meant he didn't have to register scan setups. "Basically, the scanner worked like a total station for us," he says.

A slightly wider window was needed to scan the targets through all the piers: "the GX can't thread a needle like a total station since it's a scan, not a single straight line shot," Arnold says, but it gathers more data, quicker and easier. The crew used the rowboat as a desk by tying it to beams and piles. Normally, they use Trimble's PocketScape software on the Trimble TSC2® Controller, but by bringing a ruggedized field laptop with an outdoor-viewable monitor into the boat, they could use Trimble's PointScape software. With more information displayed and more tools available, PointScape helped further verify good results before leaving a point forever. Setting a scanner up in a river bed is certainly unusual, but V3 Companies may apply the lessons learned to other projects. "After all," Van Bortel points out, "there's a lot of surveying opportunities involving aging infrastructure." Using all Trimble equipment also allowed V3 to take advantage of Trimble's Connected Site solution, especially since a Trimble VRS™ network was available: V3 used the local Precision Midwest VRS Network. State plane ground coordinates were used, so control could be extended from an adjacent roadway project. A Trimble VX™ Spatial Station was used to scan features on top of the deck and for conventional measurements.

Measurement technology has advanced rapidly in the last decade, and a project like the Riverside Parking Deck shows just how far it has come. With mostly one-person crews, V3 Companies was able to use multiple scanners, a variety of total stations, GPS/GNSS receivers and a Trimble VRS network, implementing each tool where it was most efficient, and maintaining one consistent data stream in a single coordinate system. Craig R. Dylan, [email protected] Point cloud mirror iimage V3 Companies' Survey Technology Manager Grant Van Bortel lashes the boat to the pier while Crew Chief Steven Arnold begins to set up the tripod for scanning.