We wait in anxious anticipation for the latest iPhone to arrive. We tell Alexa to turn off the lights, so we don't have to get up. Self-driving cars are becoming more of a reality than a sci-fi fantasy. In a day where we "expect" constant advancements, it's essential to understand that the newest shiny "toy" doesn't always get the job done.
Newer is not always better
As the grandson of a surveyor, I have essentially "grown-up" in the surveying industry to see the magnitude of technological advancements throughout my lifetime. There are many more tools available to today's surveyor than were available to our predecessors, like drafting pencils and Leroy pens that have been replaced by AutoCAD and Microstation. Another example is mylars and blueprints; they have been replaced by wide format copiers and printers. The likelihood of me needing to dig out my electric eraser and letter stencils to draft a survey drawing is low. However, when it comes to our equipment used in the field, sometimes "newer is not always better."
Field instruments used to collect data have significantly evolved. The Gunter's chain and compass were replaced by steel tape and transit. Then came the total station. The total station has become nearly obsolete with the advancements in GPS technology. Today, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) seem to be all the rage.
These advancements have allowed surveyors to gather more information in less time than ever before. However, all of the measuring devices or "tools" mentioned above still remain useful in today's world. Sometimes a job requires the tried and true instead of the shiny and new. Your survey partner needs to be able to think outside the box to provide the best results.
Does your survey partner know the right tools to use?
Experienced and knowledgeable surveyors know which tool is right for the job. While a drone may be the most cost-effective and efficient tool for performing a topographical survey, a small boundary survey of a wooded lot would be best served by breaking out the total station and performing conventional surveying.
Accuracy is Key
An essential aspect of surveying and choosing the right tool is knowing the required accuracy of the work being performed. When staking out the centerline of a proposed pipeline, a stake placed within a foot of the intended spot is generally accepted. After all, the stake will be torn out during excavation of the trench anyway. A GPS rover or even total station is more than adequate for accomplishing this task.
On the other hand, staking out anchor bolt placements for an overhead sign structure will often time only have tolerance of ¼". This means if the bolts are out of line or square, the pre-drilled steel plates will not fit. In turn, this will amount to enormous costs and time delays in the project. For the anchor bolt layout, the preferred method is with a total station and peanut prism with redundant shots as checks.
Ingenuity doesn't mean relying on only the latest innovation
Here at Percheron, our survey crews have all of the tools to complete the project in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible while not sacrificing quality.
For example, we were contracted to perform a boundary survey of a 5-acre property. The purpose of the survey was to mark the boundary lines so the property owner could harvest the timber from the property. Due to the schedule requirements of the project, it needed to be completed in the middle of summer, where leaves and brush can drastically reduce visibility. Being this property was mostly wooded, surveying solely with GPS would have been very time consuming, if not impossible. We used the GPS to establish control and gather evidence in the open portion of the property.
We used a total station to traverse thru the wooded portion of the property, gathering the needed evidence. Once the boundary was determined, we then pulled a tape measure from known points to the approximate boundary line and placed ribbons for the logging contractor to clear the tree and ensure he remained on the property. Once the logging was complete, we could go back with GPS and more accurately mark the boundary corners and lines.
A good old-fashioned tape measure helped solve the issues created when trying to utilize GPS in a heavily wooded area. The use of multiple tools available to us, and our surveyors thinking outside the box allowed us to complete the project on time and under budget.
What does the future hold?
The use of each tool contains advantages and disadvantages that revolve around time, quality, and cost. It is our job to select the appropriate one to meet or exceed the requirements of each project. Looking back to when my grandfather was mentoring a young surveyor, I can only wonder if he could imagine the tools that are now available to me. I can only wonder how many more advancements will be available to my grandson if he decides to pursue a career in the second oldest profession in the world, surveying.
Written by: Neil Shultz
Neil C. Shultz, PE, PLS is Regional Manager, Northeast - Survey. Neil joined Percheron in August 2018 with 21 years of experience in the engineering and surveying consulting industry. Neil holds a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. He is a Registered Professional Engineer in PA., WV, TX, OK, LA, NM, CO, MI, and MT. He is a Registered Professional Land Surveyor in PA., WV, OH, WY, KY, MD, NM, ND, ID, IL, FL, WA, AL, and SD.