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Technology Helps Surveyor Broaden Capabilities

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Using the latest equipment, Indiana survey firm taps into non-traditional work areas.

As GNSS technology continues to make inroads into traditional survey territory, a steadily-growing number of surveyors — companies like Indiana-based Deckard Engineering/Surveying — have embraced it, resulting in strengths and capabilities they never envisioned. For Deckard, using a core selection of equipment has helped them develop into one of the area’s go-to sources for everything from traditional boundary surveys, to massive tract work, to industrial survey for one of the world’s largest steel manufacturers.

Home field advantage

Established in 1986, Deckard Engineering/Surveying, like many other Midwest survey firms, has its roots in boundary work for large rural tracts. Their reputation for reliable, high-quality work paid dividends in 2000, when a call from steelmaking giant Nucor Corporation dramatically changed the complexion of the firm.

“Nucor has a sheet mill steel plant right here in Crawfordsville and they wanted a survey team that could offer a better response time to issues when they arose,” said Reese Harpel, Deckard’s owner and chief surveyor. “So we got into our first industrial work in a big way.”

Their debut project involved doing all the topos for the dirt work using a Topcon APL-1A total station. Today, more than a dozen years later, they do almost everything for the company, right up to survey for machine sets. “And our equipment has made the move forward as well,” he said, “We are currently using a Topcon PS-103A total station. It’s been an amazing experience for us.”

Supporting steel

Just how valuable Deckard’s efforts are to Nucor’s Crawfordsville operation have become is evident in the list of services they now provides. Harpel says the plant’s seemingly non-stop growth mode has fueled the need for survey support.

“Nucor is expanding a bag house stack and we are doing the original site detail,” he said. “That includes layout for foundations, assistance with survey for the pile-driving phase of the project, etc. Our switch to the Topcon PS-103A total station has really changed the way we do things. We now set steel with it, we set bolts, we determine column lines — literally everything we do revolves around that instrument.  The accuracies are amazing; the tolerances on the PS are so tight, we index our prisms with it.”

On a recent project involving installation of new equipment at the plant, the benefits of their prismless capability became immediately evident. Harpel said Nucor was installing a state of the art conveyance system that would allow direct alloy injection into the furnace.

“These are all elevated conveyors, on slopes,” he said. “We had to go in and shoot the existing structural steel, then also help them position mounting saddles for the conveyor supports. In the past, that would have meant setting up a total station, getting a man lift, getting all our tie-offs made, taking a mini-prism up, and shooting what we could while leaning out of a basket. That approach is both time-consuming and dangerous. By contrast, using the PS-103, we were able to simply set up on an adjacent deck and shoot all those entities with amazing accuracy.”

“It’s not what you usually think of a surveyor doing, but it really does help us in our layout and, at the same time, makes us a better, more valued subcontractor to Nucor.”

Deckard Engineering/Surveying owner and chief surveyor, Reese Harpel

Drawn in by MAGNET

Harpel also loves the versatility of the PS-103, saying they’ve used it to set equipment at Nucor, moved to another construction site for dirt work, then laid out a corner on a 1,000 acre boundary survey — all in the same day.

“On some of our larger tracts, we often have a 500-foot walk before we can even shoot evidence of a corner. With the PS, we can set up 500 feet away, aim the instrument at it and save the walk — a simple benefit that pays dividends over the course of such a large project. Paired with the Topcon GR-5 network rovers there’s not much we can’t accomplish in a short amount of time.”

Deckard’s move to the PS-103 was helped by an earlier decision to incorporate Topcon MAGNET® software into the operation.

“Until recently, we were using a Topcon DS series total station in conjunction with MAGNET Field software and both were outstanding. We got to the point where we were using MAGNET for everything; it became our GPS software, our robotic software, our conventional gun setup. It worked so well that we really saw the potential of teaming up MAGNET Field with the new PS. We’ve done well over 20,000 shots out at Nucor alone, so improving our ability to gather and control all that data is great for a smaller firm like ours.”

When Deckard first started, Harpel says it might have taken them a week to do a boundary survey — now they do more than 300 projects a year. “That’s the degree to which the technology has changed us. We’re a fairly small company, but we’ve made some very big strides forward — and we’ve only scratched the surface of what that equipment can do.”