Expanding Possibilities: Technologies that Span the Design-through-Construction Lifecycle

There’s been considerable excitement and energy around machine control and autonomous operations in the construction space in recent years. And rightfully so – big machines that can grade a site to centimeter tolerances on the first go without operator assistance are worthy of celebration.

But what about the tools and techniques that go into winning and preparing for those machines to move? Sometimes forgotten in the thrill of the dig is the value of some of those familiar technology-enabled solutions to win jobs and set the stage for productivity, efficiency, and quality delivery.

In the following, we look at a few familiar technologies that are helping facilitate projects well before machines and materials arrive on a site.

A View from Above

By now, almost every contractor has likely heard of or applied data captured by drones. In the last few years, these flying robots have become almost commonplace on earthwork projects around the world as a foundation for volume calculations and progress tracking.

For many, the speedy, accurate survey data also provides a tremendous preconstruction advantage.

Australian infrastructure contractor McConnell Dowell has built some of the most challenging roads, rails, dams, pipelines, marine assets and other infrastructure in Australia, New Zealand and Southern Asia. The company’s latest endeavor is the Level Crossing Removal Program (LXRP), a multi-year program to oversee one of the largest rail infrastructure projects in the Australia’s history. As part of the Western Program Alliance (WPA), which also includes Arup, Mott MacDonald and Metro Trains Melbourne, McConnell Dowell is charged with removing and renovating a set number of the crossings. To-date, the alliance has completed six of the crossing projects, and is currently working on another four.

“Just surveying the individual project sites was a challenge,” said John Dyer, Engineering Manager with WPA. “Even the best surveyor in the world might only survey on five- or 10-meter grids, so we would only get a snapshot of that particular point or area, which then had to be interpolated on a 2D drawing. We needed a way to survey the whole site quickly to provide a timely resource for optimal collaboration and project management.”

McConnell Dowell put Trimble Stratus, powered by Propeller, to work for them. For Alex Wong, Senior Digital Engineer at McConnell Dowell, the Trimble Stratus platform has become an essential tool in the pre-planning phases of the project. “Quite often during the tender period, we have people with different ideas of how things work,” he said. “With the 3D aerial data, that discussion becomes much more focused and everyone is better prepared for the next phase.”

Wong says another advantage of Stratus is coordinating people, equipment and materials for a job. “Material delivery planning can be a challenge on these sites. Recently, a subcontractor from Tasmania needed to deliver some very large steel piles for a bridge structure. Due to the pandemic, we were not able to get to the site,” he said. “Trimble Stratus enabled our subcontractors to plan the safe delivery of these very large elements in a laydown area. Further, we provided the piling contractor access to the topo data of the site in question, and that team is able to pre-plan activities from material laydown to equipment locations, with full awareness of site restrictions.”

Satellite Connections

Integral to everything from watches to automated wheel loaders, GNSS is certainly a familiar technology. But even the application of this now-common navigation solution continues to expand, especially for pre-construction applications.

The capability came in particularly handy for the multi-year $3.7 million Wanaka Lakefront Development Plan, initiated by the Queenstown Lakes District Council and Wanaka Community Board. Key objectives of the plan are to restore and develop native vegetation to maintain the lakefront’s rugged, wild landscape, improve and expand a shared pathway for pedestrians and cyclists, and the construction of a lakeside boardwalk.

The modernisation includes the restoration of 300m long native revegetation of lake edge as well as vegetation along a steep bank, the construction of a 3m wide shared path alongside Lakeside Road and a 2m wide boardwalk along the  lake edge with connections to the existing pathway network as well as an 80m of timber and concrete retaining wall.

For Blakely Construction, a Rolleston, New Zealand-based civil contractor, the project was an exciting opportunity to demonstrate technology enabled benefits both before and after construction start.

The project is about a five hour drive from Blakely’s headquarters, which could create some logistical and communication challenges.

Mathew Havill, General Manager for Blakely Construction, and his team took advantage of Trimble SiteVision, a new, outdoor augmented reality (AR) system purchased from SITECH New Zealand, originally purchased to support project progress. SiteVision is purpose-built to help project teams communicate design adjustments to field crews, conduct inspections, track progress and make quick survey measurements.

“Initially, I wanted SiteVision mostly because I thought it would help bring our clients on the journey with us as we built projects,” Havill explained. “We found it could do so much more.”

Key to Havill’s decision to use the augmented reality system was access to a 3D model of the boardwalk.

“As contractors, we’re very good at envisioning how projects come together, but that’s sometimes difficult to portray to clients and the community in a visual way,” said Havill. “With SiteVision’s AR capabilities, we were able to draw them more into the process by providing clear visuals about how each piece of the project would come together, including, in this case, the interaction between hardscape and vegetation.”

It also allowed the Blakely project team to highlight areas of potential concern so that decisions could be made in advance. In one instance, the technology was used to assess potential concerns during early site assessments. The Lake Wanaka boardwalk runs along the shoreline with a vertical bank in some areas with a lot of existing vegetation.

He continued, “We knew there were concerns about the local ecology, but we were able to show the client and community how that vegetation interacted with the boardwalk—and more importantly, get clarification about removal. SiteVision allows us to communicate those areas that need more detail with clarity.”

Robotic Rewards

One of the challenges in the estimating, bidding and pre-construction phases of a project is often the limited ground-based infrastructure like base stations, radio or internet connectivity necessary to survey and develop estimates for materials, labor and machines. The most common survey approach would be to use RTK, but that requires a fixed base station to acquire correction data.

But what if ground access is not readily available? That’s where a GNSS solution such as Trimble RTX comes into play. RTX is a family of real-time GNSS positioning services available via IP/cellular or satellite delivery worldwide. The services utilize real-time satellite measurements from a global network of tracking stations, along with highly accurate atmospheric models and algorithms to generate Trimble RTX corrections. These corrections are then broadcast to the receiver via a set of geostationary satellites or over the Internet, which the receiver uses to improve the accuracy of its GNSS positions.

While stand-alone GNSS positioning without corrections provides horizontal accuracies that are typically more than one meter, Trimble RTX correction services can provide horizontal accuracies better than two centimeters—ideal for pre-construction activities.

Imagine the possibilities of an RTX-enabled ground-based survey solution such as Boston Dynamics’ Spot the robot dog as a pre-construction tool for gathering as-built conditions inside or out?

As contractors continue to expand their high-tech toolboxes, keep in mind that many of the systems and solutions used to drive project productivity can also better prepare your crews for success before ever putting blade to dirt.

New offerings and what they can do for you

Trimble has recently announced a range of new products and updates. There’s a suite of products that allow skid steers, compact track loads and mini-excavators to do many of the same things as big equipment. There is also upgrades to software that will allow you to take a model and use it on the jobsite without any control points. Plus a digital antennae and software service that will turn any Android mobile device into a centimetre-level locating device.

Equipment World have looked into the new products and identified how they could be helping you do your job. See how in their blog article.

Are you ready for undertime?

80% of construction jobs run into overtime. That’s why Trimble has designed the Earthworks Grade Control Platform to help operators do more in less time.

Trimble Earthworks introduces the industry’s first integrated 3D aftermarket excavator automatics capability. In addition, a new dozer configuration moves the receivers from the blade to the roof of the cab.

Reengineered from the ground up, this innovative, next generation grade control platform features intuitive, easy-to-learn software that runs on the Android operating system. State-of-the-art software and hardware gives operators of all skill levels the ability to work faster and more productively than ever before.

Colourful graphics, natural interactions and gestures, and self-discovery features make the software intuitive and easy to learn. Each operator can personalise the interface to match their workflow and a variety of configurable views make it easier to see the right perspective for maximum productivity.

Plus, Earthworks allows data files to be transferred to or from the office wirelessly and automatically so that the operator is always using the latest design. The Earthworks application can be run on either the new Trimble TD520 display or a third-party Android device.

Trimble Earthworks is available for excavators and with a mastless dozer configuration.

Check back for further updates, including availability, or see the Trimble minisite, or contact your local SITECH office to find out more.

GDA94 has updated to GDA2020

The Geocentric Datum of Australia was adjusted on 1 January 2017.

This is to combat the movement of the tectonic plate on which Australia sits, more than 1.5m north-east since 1994. This movement creates discrepancies between local and global coordinates that are derived from GNSS.

Make sure that you are aware of the sources of your data, including the datum, to ensure you maintain your degree of precision.

The video below from Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping’s (ICSM) explains the datum upgrade in more detail.

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Be prepared for the leap second

leapsecond

A leap second has been added to 2016. It will occur at midnight on the 31st December (UTC). The last occurred on the 30th June. Chances are, if you didn’t notice the first one, and you’ve kept your firmware and software up to date, you won’t notice this one. Trimble has made every effort to ensure their receivers will work seamlessly through the leap second.

What is a leap second?
A leap second is an adjustment to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to account for the slowing rotation of the earth. Leap seconds were introduced in 1972 to simplify adjustments to UTC (one of the successors to Greenwich Mean Time) and the primary regulator of world time. Leap seconds are only applied as needed and since their inception we have had 26 leap seconds.

Not only does that mean that 2016 will be another second longer, but also that the GLONASS time scale will be adjusted, as it uses UTC in its time systems.

Be prepared for the leap second
To make certain that you have no problems with the leap second in 2017 ensure that your Trimble hardware has the latest firmware and that your software is upgraded to the latest updates and patches.

GNSS receivers operate at their best performance if they are on the latest firmware. It’s easy to stay up to date when you are Trimble Protected. If you are under maintenance or have a receiver less than 12 months old please check the software version and update it if necessary.

If you do experience difficulties after the leap second, best practice would be to reset your receiver. On most models this is done by turning the receiver off, then holding down the ‘on button’ for just over 30 seconds on start-up. The receiver may then take a few minutes to reacquire satellites.

Trimble recommend being vigilant with any continuously operating receivers for monitoring, real time networks, etc. Trimble suggest monitoring all receivers during this period.

If you have any questions, or need assistance in updating your software get in contact.