Building a Surveying and Mapping Firm with 3D Technology

RIEGL/Lidar News Interview Questions for Joey C. Wilson

Lidar News had an opportunity recently to interview Joey C. Wilson the founder of Wilson and Associates. Here are his valuable insights and those of some of his team regarding the use of LiDAR and 3D laser scanning

  1. Can you please provide a brief overview of your professional background and experience, particularly with 3D laser scanning/LiDAR technology, as well as a brief history of the growth of your company and its use of 3D technology? Please include an idea of the timelines.

I am a Professional Engineer and Surveyor, I have worked in the surveying industry for over 35 years, particularly in construction.  We purchased our first LiDAR scanner in 2010 and used it primarily for dimensional analysis for Accelerated Bridge Construction projects (ABC projects).  These projects required very accurate survey for the existing and proposed structures.  The proposed structures were to be built off-site and moved into place over a 60-hour weekend.  These projects could not be practically completed without the accuracy of LiDAR scanning.  

Surveying 3D Technology

The following year, we were hired to provide QA/QC surveying and layout for a $2.5 billion chemical plant.  We provided dimensional analysis for embed as-builts, anchor bolt as-builts, steel-to-concrete interface, chemical tank dimensional analysis, chemical tank valve location, and first order control within the building.  We also scanned several pre-cast buildings so steel structures could more accurately fit to the building’s plumb tolerance.  

In 2019 we bought an aerial LiDAR consisting of a low-grade scanner (10 cm beam width).  After a year of learning curve, we decided we needed a more accurate unit and purchased a RIEGL miniVUX-SYS.  We now have two and fly both 5 days a week.  We don’t survey a project without flying it first.

  1. Can you provide an inventory of some of the primary 3D surveying and mapping hardware and software that your company currently uses, as well as any other related products? Please include an idea of the timeline of purchases. 

We purchased a Leica C10 in 2010, a Leica P20 in 2014, and a Leica P40 in 2016.  We sold the C10 in 2018 and traded the P20 in for a RIEGL VZ-400i.  We purchased a RIEGL miniVUX-SYS for an aerial UAS in 2019 and another in 2021.  We use TopoDOT, Descarte, MicroStation, and a few other point cloud classification softwares.

  1. What attracted you to the use of RIEGL hardware and software? Did you look at other products? Why did you choose RIEGL?

We bought RIEGL scanners due to their ease of use, their capability to auto register point clouds, and their accuracy.  They have a reputation in the industry for being some of the most accurate scanners on the market.  They have proven their worth to the firm many times over. 

  1. How do you integrate RIEGL products into your workflows? What were some of the challenges with that? What were some of the best practices and lessons learned?

Every boundary survey, route survey, and subdivision as-built section, employ the use of a scanner.  Before a field crew steps foot on a boundary survey, we send an aerial scanning crew to set control and fly the site. Seventy-five percent of the survey data needed for the project (horizontally and vertically) can be extracted from the point cloud.  The ground crews follow up to gather any information that cannot be seen from the scan, especially boundary corners.  

We conduct route surveys much the same way as boundary surveys.  For subdivision as-builts, we can map a phase of a subdivision with either our terrestrial or aerial scanner.  This allows us to gather critical information for use in the generation of plot plans for the housing contractor.   

Our company is divided into two main divisions:  DOT and NON-DOT/COMMERCIAL/INDUSTRIAL and RESIDENTIAL.  Our scanners service both divisions.  The biggest lesson learned is to fly a “canary” before we send up the drone fitted with the RIEGL sensor.  This insures the RIEGL integrated drone will not encounter an obstruction during flight.  Not only is it expensive to repair, but the down-time would have a catastrophic effect on production since it has become a critical path in our product delivery. 

  1. Can you provide a brief overview of two or three of the projects where you made use of RIEGL’s technology? Can you provide any thoughts on time savings vs. other methods? Any thoughts on return on investment?

NCDOT – Green River Gorge Bridge Project (110937.png)

Wilson and Associates were retained to perform LiDAR scanning surveys on the existing twin bridges crossing the Green River Gorge on Interstate 26. These surveys utilized both aerial and terrestrial based LiDAR scanning instruments. The terrestrial scans were performed in the pre-dawn hours to mitigate any steel expansion caused by direct sunlight. 

The main area of focus was on the two interior girders of the existing structures. The point cloud generated were used to perform dimensional analysis between the faces of the girders to provide fabrication dimensions for the cross members that would eventually connect the two separate structures. 

The locations of the new cross members were provided by design and our team performed the analysis and delivery to the client in less than the stipulated 90 – day timeframe. RIEGL’s VZ-400i scanner was used for our terrestrial scan missions and a miniVUX-3UAV unmanned unit was deployed on a DJI M600 Professional drone to provide backup and confirmation data to our terrestrial scans. The scanning routines of the VZ-400i allowed us to move quickly and efficiently across the project while capturing the required data.

Primester Chemical Plant Vessel Replacement (110936.jpg)

Wilson and Associates were retained by Sulzer Tower Field Services to perform a vessel replacement alignment survey for the Primester Chemical Plant in Kingsport, TN. In order to perform this survey, high accuracy ground control was needed. Due to limited field resources at the time, we decided to leverage the power of RIEGL’s VZ-400i terrestrial scanner to establish the control. 

Allowing for quick maneuvering through the plant as well as millions and millions of redundant measurements on the control along with the ability to engage multiple targets from each position, we were able to generate a control network across a 3.5-acre site to within 5mm of accuracy between any points of the network. This network allowed us to have the confidence and documentation necessary to perform the alignment survey of the replacement vessel, saving precious crew time and a reduced processing time for the control proved to be advantageous for our bottom line. 

  1. What do you see in the future for the use of 3D technology on your projects? Are you investigating other advanced technologies that will open new business opportunities?

I have been watching the birth of 3D technology since 2000 and sat on the sidelines as long as possible.  In the middle of the worst economy, I decided to purchase a laser scanner because I knew it was the future and we better learn how to use it or become obsolete.  

The use of laser scanner technology allows us to provide products much faster and with greater quality than ever before.  Laser scanning is so prolific, that we have now converted most of our robotic total stations to robotic scanning total stations.  

We have our eye on augmented reality and spot the dog (Boston Dynamics robot dog, now fitted with laser scanners).  This will allow us to conduct more scanning in confined spaces.

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