More Than a Simulation

Story by Don Talend | September 28, 2010

Rich Lang and his surveying students at Bates Technical College in Tacoma, WA, are finding an academic setting provides the appropriate place to learn precise measurement techniques using high-tech equipment while also giving students involvement in a real project to add "muscle" to their résumés.

Lang, a professionally licensed surveyor who started in the field in the Pacific Northwest in 1970, joined the college last year to head up its newly formed Land Surveying Program. Surveying was previously tied into the civil engineering program at Bates.

Lang has focused on a pair of areas in particular to improve the quality of surveying instruction at Bates: practical experience and the use of the latest equipment. The first area was addressed by what Lang says is the first of many instances in which he will seek out actual surveys that owners will use. Soon after the surveying program was started, the students got the chance to develop an as-built survey for Tacoma Power Utilities, which had installed underground wiring at 27-acre Wright Park in Tacoma as part of an improvement project that started in 2006.

Upon his arrival at Bates, it became clear to Lang that he also needed to focus on a major upgrading of the program's equipment. One major deficiency in the equipment that Bates had was a lack of robotic equipment, says Lang.

"I needed to get upgraded equipment here because the stuff we had was ancient; being a technical college, we definitely needed robotics," he says.

During his surveying days, Lang had developed a longstanding relationship with a dealer of construction and engineering equipment, the PPI Group, with headquarters in Portland and other locations in Kent and Spokane, WA. Among the equipment that the PPI Group carries is surveying equipment from Topcon Positioning Systems. Lang put out a bid for new equipment, and the PPI Group provided the low bid with the aid of grant money through the Topcon Educational Partnership Program.

Lang says he had been aware of the PPI Group's involvement in the partnership program, as well the support and training that the dealer provides customers using Autodesk CAD software. "They're really into educating not just the survey industry but also the construction industry," Lang noted. Through the program, Bates has purchased and received training on a GPT 3005W wireless total station and a GPT 9005A robotic total station, as well as a HiPer Lite + Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) real-time kinematic (RTK) receiver system for topographical surveying.

After Lang and the class received the equipment and were trained on its use, the opportunity to use the equipment in a "real-life" application came soon enough.

Surveying for Real

TPU began installing the new utilities in fall 2007, while Lang's class was doing mock surveys at Wright Park. Sean Carroll, engineering field coordinator for TPU, noticed the students and asked Lang what they were doing. Following Lang's explanation, Carroll asked him if he would like to have the class do an as-built survey of the utility easements describing the location of the power lines in an acceptable format for recording.

"I said, 'yeah, that would be fantastic; that's what I'm all about,'" Lang recalled. "I wanted to get the students to do actual jobs — it would be fantastic for the students to get that on their résumés."

Lang saw the opportunity to let the students treat the project just like ones they will be involved in when they enter the workforce.

"I had one of the members of the power company come in, talk to the students, give them the drawings, give them what they wanted, just like a client coming into a small business," Lang said. The students approached the surveying project methodically, first researching records of the park from the 1800s. The preliminary research included the history of the park, deed of conveyances, road right-of-way vacations, available GPS control, verification of centerline control monuments, and record of surveys.

Preliminary field work involved locating features on site, such as the location of the utility lines, curb and gutter by using a random traverse brought in from GPS control outside of the park's boundaries. A Topcon HiPer Lite + receiver was used for the control points and, for conventional surveying, the students used the Topcon total stations — GPT 3005W and GPT 9005A robotic units. The station allows a surveyor to work alone because a reflector is not necessary. The class also used an FC-2000 handheld field controller as well as CarlsonSuvCE2 and Carlson Survey 2008 software for data recording.

After collecting the data, the students merged the fieldwork and paperwork, analyzed the data and made calculations, and determined the locations of the boundaries in order to generate the legal description for the utility easements. In the final stage, a CAD drawing was reviewed and edited and a final as-built drawing was printed for TPU. The students concluded the project by presenting the final drawing and descriptions to TPU along with a mock bill.

In addition to the as-built survey, the class topographically surveyed the park's twin ponds in conjunction with TPU for Metro Parks using the HiPer Lite+. They also located a supply line to the pond for the electricity needed. Following completion of the survey work, they also did some mock surveying of the park, three-dimensionally modeling a mock road for the civil engineering students. The latter represented an effort to integrate the efforts of the two programs, even though the Land Surveying Program had been launched as a separate course of study.

How GNSS Fits In

While he recognizes the technological capabilities of new surveying tools such as GNSS, Lang stresses that the new program's mission is to teach surveying methods at a mathematical level so as to provide a theoretical basis for the skills involved.

"I'm making sure that they have the opportunity to learn it like I did before calculators; what math is involved, so they're getting a good basis, a good foundation for surveying," he says. Lang adds that he does not spend time explaining the inner workings of GNSS equipment to the students, but he does see value in utilizing the technology on projects like Wright Park. There, the class set up a base station and tied the traverses into the GNSS control points.

Lang pointed out that GNSS provides productivity and accuracy benefits.

"It's a technology that's here to stay," Lang said. "[GNSS] gives the advantage of time saving and gives you the advantage of accuracy as well." A major time saving, he adds, is setting control points on a site.

"Plus, using conventional equipment," he added, "you might have atmospheric error and observational error. It eliminates a lot of that."

GNSS is a tool for 2-D land surveying, and students such as those at Bates would do well to familiarize themselves with the technology, Lang said.

"It's going to be a tremendous value for them," Lang said of his students. "Somebody who has a knowledge of [GNSS] and who maybe is not proficient at it, but who has knowledge of it — it's going to be valuable to an employer."

Author Information
Don Talend of Write Results, West Dundee, IL, is a publicity and communications consultant specializing in construction.