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Hamm Companies Ups Drone Flight Time/Value by Outsourcing Data Processing

Customer Profile
Founded in 1954, Hamm Companies is a leader in the Midwest in highway construction, aggregates, and waste services. With headquarters in Perry, Kansas, the company manages multiple quarries of native limestone rock, two asphalt plants, ready-mix concrete services, highly engineered and environmentally safe landfills for non-recyclable waste materials and waste transfer stations for the processing and reuse of materials. Its construction jobs range from small culvert replacements to complex highway interchanges for public and private entities.
Business Challenge
Track material quantities across quarries, landfills, waste transfer stations.  
Streamlined, cloud-based data management 
  • Easy access to survey data for project teams and partners
  • Faster data processing 
  • More time to analyze data 
  • Improved as-built data to ensure productive jobs 
  • More flights and readily accessible information before, during and after jobs
Hamm Companies (Hamm) has long been a leader in technology adoption to drive the productivity and efficiency of its quarries and its mass excavation fleet. Over the years, the company has outfitted its equipment with the latest 3D, GPS and total station technology.
The company is also one of the early adopters of drones for aerial surveying, purchasing its first drone in 2013, to track material quantities at its 15 quarries. “Walking piles to measure volumes with a GPS rover was just too time-consuming for the sheer size of our piles,” said Paul Johnson, a survey and construction technology manager at Hamm in charge of the drone program. 
He says that in those early days, he processed his own data, but was soon overwhelmed, noting that the quality and quantity of data coming from the drone became too much for one person to handle. “Processing projects was like boiling water—you had to stay there to watch it and hardware was expensive,” Johnson confirmed. “We needed data more frequently and it got to be overwhelming to process ourselves.” 
Applications of the drone-enabled survey data were also growing. Besides inventory management, the company saw potential uses in the development of contour and topo maps.  Johnson looked into outsourcing the data processing and found Trimble Stratus, powered by Propeller. He said, “It was a no-brainer to switch once we figured out how smooth Trimble Stratus was for processing and sharing the drone data through Stratus with team members.”
Outsourcing has relieved the burden of in-house processing and opened the door for Hamm to scale up use. Processing data with Trimble Stratus means Hamm can fly more and the mapping and analytics features of Trimble Stratus let them spend more time analyzing the data to drive productivity and quality. Today, they fly most quarries quarterly or monthly, and expect that frequency to ramp up. 
Manage and Monitor
With more time to analyze data, Hamm is finding more ways to improve operations in the field. 
One of the most interesting ways Hamm is using drone surveying data is to create as-built topos of its landfill cell development. 
On one site, the company flew before, during and after the construction of the landfill cap, the barrier used to control leachate and odor, reduce emissions and facilitate gas capture. Johnson said, “We had to prove our cap was the right thickness. We flew the cell before construction as a baseline and to estimate how much dirt was needed to cover appropriately, during construction and after to show that the site was built to engineered specifications, specifically the required thickness of the landfill cap.”
Having all that recorded site data meant they could use it for more than progress reporting. “We ended up using it as as-built information,” said Johnson.
On a long corridor road construction project, crews were able to use the drone data to calculate how much excess material needed to be moved. 
Johnson said, “I especially like the ability to compare as-built topo maps with design surfaces. I used to have to export DTM files. Now, it’s a simple click in the software and I can see them side-by-side or as overlay.”
Hamm’s initial decision to use drones for surveying has led to expanding the practice on more than a dozen quarries and multiple construction sites. “We just got another two projects we’re trying to fly. One is a $300M job in Kansas City for a wastewater plant. It’s new construction—demoing the old site and putting in a new one in,” said Johnson.
Inventory Management
Beyond freeing up resources from data crunching, Trimble Stratus has opened up new avenues for sharing survey information and collaboration throughout the company. “Before it was just landlocked on my computer. There was no sharing measurements or bouncing ideas off each other,” noted Johnson. 
Another benefit of the drone-enabled data is improved worker safety. “The safety factor is big for us,” explained Johnson. Sending the drone up means he and his team can stay on solid ground, drastically reducing the inherent safety risks in surveying stockpiles or walking jobsites on foot. “It’s a much safer alternative to walking up and down steep, tall, or jagged piles. Not having to physically scale them is a huge win.”
Currently, Johnson and Colton Aholt, a mining engineer by training and drone pilot, do most of the measurements in Trimble Stratus—but that’s begun to change as plant managers and others get more comfortable with the system.  “Many aren’t familiar with the technology, which is fine because of how easy and straightforward Trimble Stratus is to use,” said Aholt. They also grant access to subcontractors to monitor project quality.
When asked what it was like to get up-to-speed on all things drone surveying and Trimble Stratus, Aholt recalled, “I’ve used AutoCAD before. Trimble Stratus was way easier to use than any other computer program I’ve ever used. In a couple of days, I was pretty confident in the program.”
 “Working in the system is very easy and once they realize they can measure an area or a distance themselves instead of waiting until one of us is available, they catch on very quickly,” Aholt explained further.  
The ease of use of Trimble Stratus is also helping Johnson standardize data visualization and processing across the enterprise. 
“We’re going to try to get to a point where everyone is aware of this and it’s a part of our business,” said Johnson. “Everyone was a little afraid of the technology at first. But the information it can provide is too valuable for us to just fly and only have a couple people look at.”