The Hyper Dynamic Virtual World of Civil Construction

Photo courtesy of Sunesis Construction Co.

The Cincinnati Gardens in Cincinnati, Ohio, was best known as the home of the Cincinnati Rollergirls, Xavier University basketball and a wide variety of hockey games, concerts, monster truck shows, pro wrestling events, indoor football and soccer matches, and much more.

Even in its final days, the iconic site continued to make headlines, this time as a proving ground for West Chester, Ohio-based Sunesis Construction’s latest technology evolution.

The heavy civil contractor was tasked with the site improvement work on the 19-acre site following demolition, which included more than 30,000 cubic yards of fill dirt and stormwater improvement. The site will be repurposed by the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority for light manufacturing.

Jack N. Brown, machine control/3D data manager at Sunesis Construction Co., says, “The challenge on any large project like this is estimating soil quantities. Following demolition, the parking lot had an unmeasured stockpile of soil on it and the building site was cut up from foundation. The design plans didn’t provide any measurable values either.”

Ordinarily, Sunesis crews would have used a GPS rover to measure around the stockpile and then estimate the building footprint. Brown explains, “It’s a tricky exercise to approximate soil quantities on a job this size – too low and we lose money, too high and we lose the bid.”

Instead, the company opted to test drone-enabled measurements with help from partner SITECH Ohio. SITECH provided a DJI Phantom 4 equipped with the Propeller visualization and analytics platform. Once the site was flown, the data was uploaded to the Trimble Stratus drone mapping and analytics platform, and then exported to Trimble Business Center.

Brown says, “Within a couple hours, I had the site survey data modeled within Business Center and was able to run calculations and determine quantities in order to create a bid for the client. We built the model and completed the job—the numbers were right on the money.”

Brown, who is also a Certified Remote Pilot and manager of Sunesis’ drone fleet, used the drone-enabled data capture solution when the project was complete to confirm estimated sitework quantities were accurate.

He sees the drone fleet getting extensive flight time in the coming years on highway, underground, water/wastewater and environmental remediation projects. “We do a lot of public works projects that pay by quantity and require accuracy—drone-enabled measurement and mapping is the way to go,” he said.

Drones for site management will come in particularly handy this summer when the company begins work on a complex dam project in Kentucky that includes the rework of a spillway and step excavation.

“The real difference for contractors today is in the software,” said Joel Brown, construction technology specialist with SITECH Ohio. “Improvements in visualization and analytics have helped turn drone-enabled site survey and mapping tasks into video game-like models. They have the tools to create immersive, measurable maps very quickly and easily—and that makes all the difference for contractors who need fast, accurate data.”