March 7, 2006

fieldProfessional – Total Station Measurement Inside AutoCAD

Here’s a story about fieldProfessional, a new as-building and construction validation tool we’ve been keeping an eye on ever since we heard about it two years ago at SPAR 2004. The product caught our attention because it seeks to bridge design and construction in a pragmatic way. Construction needs fast and accurate and rugged. Refreshing a 3D design model on a construction site is uncommon today but we’re convinced there is productivity value to be unlocked if only 3D design and survey tools can be made to work together in a go-fast, go-right mode.

fieldProfessional is new but professionals with first-hand experience speak enthusiastically of its potential. We look forward to reporting on field results with the product as the user base grows.

In April Leica Geosystems will release fieldProfessional (first introduced in November 2005 as fieldDesigner), a software application that allows a total station to update an AutoCAD file with field measurements and lets the user direct a robotic total station to any modeled feature selected from the AutoCAD display. Think about it. With this application, a total station can behave like a mouse or a cursor – the measurements go directly into the CAD system. The whole idea is to capture, model and validate field conditions from inside a native CAD environment. This workflow is a natural for surveyors and engineers who need to capture or validate as-built data and then produce an AutoCAD, Land Desktop or Civil 3D deliverable on the jobsite. fieldPipe, an add-on application for measuring and validating piping geometry, will also be released.

The bigger opportunity for fieldProfessional may well be in construction applications such as stakeout and construction monitoring. For example, positioning anchor bolt locations can be done by selecting the desired location on the CAD model with the tablet interface – the total station beam then swings and points to the desired location on the structure.

Rarely are construction projects executed exactly as designed – there are nearly always variances to accommodate field conditions and schedules. The geometry of these variances often goes unrecorded too beyond, say, a marked-up 2D drawing – it’s too expensive or tedious to refresh the CAD model. Matt Craig, As-Built Specialist, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., says, “fieldDesigner has value to validate as-constructed conditions against the design model. This is particularly valuable for verifying foundation and anchor bolt locations.” Coast 2 Coast‘s Mike Dobbs, who has used the product for as-building retail and hotel construction projects for the past year, gives it “two thumbs up – the product reduces field measurement errors.” (Coast 2 Coast is a survey firm headquartered headquartered in Chattanooga, TN.)

For many built assets, 3D dies at the construction phase, sacrificed for the expediency of 2D. Why? Schedule, schedule, schedule. It is not easy to refresh 3D models with the inevitable field modifications to the original design. Construction schedules can’t wait for these updates. fieldProfessional is a step in the direction of resolving the conflicted requirements for speed and accurate 3D. This also seems like a step toward tethering BIM promises to field realities.

According to fieldProfessional Project Manager Gerard Lamarre, the product was designed for the field from the get-go. CAD managers can adhere to object naming and layering conventions by selecting the items that will be measured in the field from libraries of AutoCAD blocks. On the jobsite these objects are selected on the tablet PC display and inserted directly in the model in real time. fieldProfessional also allows the user to bypass the complexity of total station keypad interface – instead the user directs the total station from icons inside AutoCAD.

fieldPipe works in a similar way. According to Product Manager Steve Holdaway, “We wanted our customers to be able to build 3D piping models in real time, and we also wanted this to be specification-driven.” The fieldPipe user loads the piping material class, then “walks” down the line with the total station and records the pipe geometry. Piping centerlines are computed from measurements of outside piping diameters which are checked against ANSI piping catalogs within fieldPipe. In-line elements such as valves, flanges, pressure and temperature gauges, and on-line elements (supports and hangers) are measured and inventoried in the as-built CAD file. The deliverable is a 3D model of piping system. fieldPipe writes out an industry standard .PCF (piping commodity file) to export to other piping applications such as AutoPLANT, CADPIPE, PDMS, PDS, Plant-4D, etc. In order to as-built and create 3D specification-driven piping models, fieldPipe uses COADE’s CADWorx application, selected for its ease of use, says Holdaway.

List price for fieldProfessional is $8000 per seat. Lamarre also recommends on-site training which typically takes ½ day in the classroom plus 2 ½ days in the field. Lamarre says the field training is often billable as it can be conducted on a live project. Training ranges from $1000 to $1500 per day depending on the number of participants and number of instruments. fieldPipe pricing is available on request. In some instances, users should expect to purchase fieldGear for approximately $1500 – equipment that allows the tablet PC to be docked to the total station in which the connection to the total station is hard-wired. Wireless options are also available.

Does fieldDesigner replace 3D laser scanning? No. Laser scanning data is valuable specifically because of the high level of detail afforded by dense data. You won’t live long enough to get that kind of detail from a total station. Most laser scanning jobs start with a total station survey of targets for registration and control; fieldDesigner is add-on capability. fieldProfessional can also record data from other survey sensors including GPS instruments and hand-held distos. Who knows, maybe laser scanner manufacturers will make a total station mode for their scanners and make using this software even more compelling. We see fieldProfessional as a complementary technology to laser scanning.

Lamarre says the company has plans to develop a MicroStation-based product in the future. fieldProfessional also operates with Sokkia total stations, and compatibility with other instruments may be in the offing. Other development plans include add-on modules for different vertical markets and enhancements for land surveying professionals.

Leica Geosystems AG acquired assets and intellectual property of FieldDesigner Inc. of Montreal, Canada on November 15, 2005. (The product was previously called fieldDesigner.) The development team, headed up by Lamarre, is headquartered in Montreal and reports to Leica headquarters in Heerbrugg, Switzerland.

See it for yourself. Leica Geosystems will be demonstrating fieldProfessional and fieldPipe at SPAR 2006 on March 27-28 in Sugar Land, Texas.

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