Home Articles Surveying market: Measuring up to the promise

Surveying market: Measuring up to the promise

Throughout much of recorded history, surveying techniques have been used to determine the exact physical dimensions of a piece of land, create high accuracy maps, establish land ownership and political boundaries and to erect buildings. Surveying techniques continue to perform most of these tasks today and much more. This article examines the prospects for the surveying market in detail.

Surveying is required whenever an object”s position and condition are part of an information set used to plan, create or maintain a socioeconomic asset, observes Chris Gibson, Vice President, Trimble. The need for surveying begins with simple property lines and land ownership. Supported by viable cadastres, land titling is a primary foundation of financial value. With titling in place, the fundamental economic components of agriculture, business development and public infrastructure can support growth in population and economic stability. Because these fundamentals are based (and built) on real property, the surveyor”s expertise in measurement and documentation places him or her at the core of a society”s economy. Surveying therefore continues to be a key pillar of modern economy and society.

While land surveying has traditionally been the mainstay of surveying, the application domains for the surveying component are increasing. The evolving business dynamics of survey solution providers indicate that while a decade or more ago, their key customers had been surveyors and construction contractors, the customer base has widened significantly to include cities and government agencies, cadastral agencies, utilities, oil & gas companies, railways and mining companies. The growth registered by the surveying businesses of leading geospatial companies over the last few years is an indicator of the growing demand for surveying from not just the traditional land surveying but also the emerging applications, especially considered in the light of the growth in these application verticals. The projected growth in these verticals is further poised to propel surveying demand.

Infrastructure and cadastre: The relevance and need for surveying is on-going: wherever something is built, one needs a base to work on (i.e. a plan) and to position, align, and level correctly what has been designed on site, says Agnes Zeiner, Director Corporate Messaging, Leica Geosystems AG, adding that surveying will continue to grow as the world”s population and demands for infrastructure continue to grow.

To help sustain economic growth, many Asian countries need to upgrade their basic infrastructure, road networks, port facilities, housing and city planning. According to the Asian Development Bank, Asia will require USD 8.2 trillion on infrastructure investment in 2010-2020, meaning an annual average demand of USD 820 billion. At the other end of the spectrum, Ernst & Young recently concluded that the U.S. needs to invest USD 2 trillion to re-build bridges, water lines, sewage systems, and dams – in addition to roads – that are reaching the end of their life cycles. These are the indicators of the kind of investments in infrastructure in both the developing and developed parts of the world.

The key activity in infrastructure development is construction. Reports observe that the global construction industry is expected to grow over the next decade-especially in the rapidly emerging economies of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe. Construction in emerging markets is expected to double within a decade and will become a USD 6.7 trillion business by 2020, accounting for some 55 percent of global construction output, observed the “Global Construction 2020” report published by Global Construction Perspectives and Oxford Economics.

Secure rights to own and use property are the cornerstone of wealth in developed nations. Research has shown that developing nations can obtain positive results by implementing land information and titling systems. A large number of emerging economies across the globe are embarking on the process of developing/enhancing their cadastral system, opening doors for extensive surveying requirements.

Key drivers for surveying business >>>


Utilities: In utilities, rapidly changing regulations are driving the need to accurately survey existing rights-of-way and structures, many of which are below the ground and difficult to locate, Chris observes. Increased building in existing utility corridors is creating demand for more accurate as-built data on all projects. Geospatial data is essential in all phases of the utility lifecycle, including feasibility mapping and design, construction, operations and maintenance. As efficient utilities are at the core of social development and modern economy, emerging economies are pushing toward a developed-world standard of living, even as the developed world looks at upgrading its aging utility infrastructure. There is a need to provide access to improved sources of drinking water for over 780 million people and improved sanitation to 2.5 billion people across the world, according to UNICEF. With water supply and sanitation being key components of Millenium Development Goals, much activities can be anticipated in this segment.

Oil & gas: In the oil & gas sector where much surveying is involved especially in the exploration stage, there are planned investments of USD 600 billion in 2012. Global investments in oil and gas supply infrastructure of USD 20 trillion are required over the next 20-25 years, observes leading offshore surveying player Fugro in its 2011 Annual Report.

Mining: Worldwide needs for mined resources combined with many nations” desire for resource independence are driving an increase in mining activity. The global metals and mining industry was valued at USD 2,319.3 billion in 2010 and is forecast to reach USD 5,579.3 billion by 2015, according to Datamonitor. The mining market is readily adopting solutions that increase efficiency and safety while reducing operating costs, says Chris. PricewaterhouseCoopers observes that over the past 20 years, growth in places as diverse as China, India, South East Asia, Africa and Latin America has far outpaced growth in the West. According to PwC, these economies are growing and they need cities and infrastructure to be built to cater for their growing needs.

Railways: Increasing fuel prices are driving the need for cost-effective ways to move goods. Thanks to railways” inherent fuel efficiency, it enjoys financial advantage over other ways of surface transportation. Geospatial and surveying technology can address every aspect of the railway life cycle, including route selection, design and construction, maintenance and safety, observes Chris. The significance of this mode of transportation can be gauged by the investments in the sector. The report Global Competitiveness in the Rail & Transit Industry, by Michael Renner and Gary Gardner notes that global demand for passenger and freight rail equipment, infrastructure, and related services in 2007 was USD 169 billion and is projected to grow to USD 214 billion by 2016. Urban light rail systems and subways are expanding in many regions, and there is growing investment in intercity high-speed rail lines.

Urban mapping: According to United Nations statistics, more population of the world lives in urban areas today than in rural areas (urban population having overtaken rural population in 2010 for the first time in history). Much urban mapping is therefore required for effective urban development.

Seabed mapping: With 70 percent of the earth”s surface being water and much of it unmapped, seabed mapping offers significant opportunities in hydrographic surveying. In an instance of investments in this area, the European Commission has recently proposed to create a digital seabed map of European waters by 2020, observing that the European economy can benefit from a more structured approach to marine knowledge. Given the vast water surface of the earth, prospects in this area are tremendous considering that mankind is looking at the oceans as its next resource destination.

Surveying technologies have undergone a sea change in the last half a century. (Refer to Bryn Fosburgh”s detailed article on Page 36 on technological innovations.) These innovations complement traditional surveying perfectly to enable faster and more accurate results, cost and labour efficiency and very importantly, widen the scope of surveying.

Take the example of laser scanning. While a traditional survey would probably net about 20,000 points, laser scanning gives close to a billion in any particular survey. Revisiting a site is common in traditional surveying. Revisiting can be costly, not only in monetary value but also in lost project time. Laser scanning can help get it right the first time, as found in an industrial surveying project in Seattle, US (refer to the detailed case study on Page 46). The benefits can also include significant cost savings in areas like mining. In a quarry test conducted by Spatial Resources, there was a six percent difference between the volumes calculated by standard methods versus laser scanning, with laser scanning reporting the lesser amount. Conventional practices overestimated the total stockpile volume by almost 500,000 cubic feet, equating to 26,000 tons of product. The overestimate of material by conventional practices corresponded to a value of USD 1.5 million.

High definition surveying using laser scanning allows surveyors to target markets that were not accessible with conventional methods before. With the growing importance of 3D data, high definition surveying is also a quick route to 3D deliverables.

LiDAR technology in surveying can help reduce construction change orders in earthwork quantities by providing a more accurate existing ground model. Conventional aerial mapping is still the most cost-effective way to collect mapping features, but LiDAR can provide potential cost savings by providing additional information content that may reduce field visits, observes the Missouri Department of Transportation, US.

Fast making inroad into the surveying arena is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). UAVs offer dramatic improvements in cost and flexibility to gather aerial images. In addition to productivity gains, advanced airborne systems are opening new geographic areas to accurate mapping and modeling, says Chris. The small, lightweight systems enable operators to use smaller aircraft and fly farther than previously possible.

Another innovation is SmartStation, a surveying system that combines total station and GPS in one instrument, reducing the time required for setup and orientation by up to 80% and thereby increasing the users” productivity. Swiss survey company Swissphoto used the SmartStation in surveying for cadastre project in Kyrgyzstan and found that owning a SmartStation is like having two instruments but without having to pay anywhere near the cost of two instruments. For the company, it meant that the payback period was much shorter than they anticipated.

GNSS, an increasingly integral technology in surveying, offers a number of cost benefits. In its analysis of benefits of precision GNSS in land surveying, Allen Consulting Group highlights cost savings both in terms of time and labour. It estimated that time savings of up to 75 percent for large projects and 60 percent for small projects are possible. On the labour side, it estimated that the use of precision GNSS can reduce the number of surveyors required for a project – from 50 to about 10 for large projects. In site survey tasks in construction projects, consultations undertaken by the Group found that fees charged by field surveying companies were approximately 50 per cent lower for large projects and 20 per cent lower for smaller (2-3 day) projects when precision GNSS technology is used.

As the acceptance of value proposition of the technological advancements grows, more and more avenues would open up for surveying.

Whenever work starts on a location and accuracy is top priority, there will always be a practicing land surveyor who carries the legal credentials, maintains the expertise and experience and will assure the public that the boundaries and infrastructure assets are measured and placed where they are supposed to be. Anyone can buy a high precision GPS device but it has not been proven to the public they fully understand the local boundary laws nor have the experience to measure with such devices competently. A surveyor”s license guarantees this, remarks Donny Sosa, Surveying Industry Specialist, Esri, underlining the importance of surveying in a world where crowdsourced geographic information is a fast becoming a phenomenon.

With surveying addressing some of the most immediate concerns of the modern economy and society – infrastructure, urbanisation, real estate, transportation, to name a few, it is one of the most forward looking segments of the geospatial industry. While opportunities abound, the segment is also partially impacted by the clouds of the economic recession, with a sentiment of caution in investments that can impact projects with significant surveying component. Despite the caution, there are significant growth prospects as enumerated above. “While worldwide economic challenges continue, the surveying (along with engineering) segment is showing steady, albeit not spectacular, growth. Localised economic growth and investments in infrastructure are playing key roles,” signs off Chris.