Customer Profile: Headquartered in Paso Robles, California, Whitaker Construction Group, Inc. specializes in heavy civil, mass earthwork, excavation and site work for highways, commercial, industrial and residential developments, basins and ponds, concrete structures, dams and landfills.
Business Challenge: Finding and implementing cost-effective drone surveying and mapping technology to track job progress, monitor quality and better communicate with project partners and owners.
- Ability to quickly capture 3D surveys to plan and schedule work and tracking job progress
- Check progress against design specifications and generate cut and fill maps in a fraction of the time compared to traditional survey methods
- Optimized job resource planning
- Improved coordination with owners and project partners
Originally founded in 2007, heavy civil and sitework contractor, Whitaker Construction Group, has long been a progressive company with a forward-thinking vision about the way projects are completed.
Matt Bousman, Partner and President of the company, said, “We’ve found a niche in the construction space, handling large and complex projects such as tunnels, pipelines, landfills and dams. We believe that’s largely because we’re always improving our equipment and processes. I liked to have this company come out on the cutting edge of technology.”
Along with an extensive inventory of equipment, Whitaker was one of the early adopters of GPS technology for layout in 2007. The company added 3D modeling and machine control soon after.
“Modeling was a particularly powerful addition to our skills. I found that developing site models gave our crews a very detailed perspective of the project,” said Bousman. “It takes time, but it’s worth it to improve efficiency and quality.”
For Bousman, the natural next step from modeling was real-time mapping with drones. “Aerial mapping would deliver site data faster, more accurately and more frequently when compared to traditional survey methods, but it can be expensive.”
Over the years, Bousman had kept an eye on the evolving technology of drone surveying. “When PPK drone capabilities came out, it really made drones an affordable possibility.”
After evaluating other drone mapping software, Bousman selected Trimble Stratus, powered by Propeller in 2019.
“I found that the Trimble Stratus solution was ideally suited to the heavy civil work that we do at the right price point,” he explained. “A year ago we were barely considering investing in a drone because of the cost. Now we’ve implemented a full drone program and have two guys licensed on staff to fly them.”
Since implementation, drone-enabled surveying and mapping has become an integral part of the Whitaker Construction workflows, capturing 3D surveys to plan and schedule work and tracking job progress with ease.
Specifically, the company uses the fully integrated Propeller PPK solution, DJI’s Phantom 4 RTK drone and Propeller’s AeroPoints for collecting highly accurate drone data.
“The workflow is fantastic,” said Bousman, “and it’s not hard to get up to speed. The software is very visual so data presentation is clear to our entire team in the office and on the ground.”
Bousman and his crews use AeroPoints to establish accurate, reliable ground control. “Once that’s set, we fly the site to get a baseline and then regularly after that to check progress against design specifications, generate cut and fill maps, create topos and measure distances, grades, and heights. We can do all of this in a fraction of the time that it used to take with traditional survey methods.”
Optimized for Operations
Whitaker Construction specializes in heavy civil and mass earthwork jobs—the more complex the better. These projects range from expanding reservoirs to realigning flood control channels to installing underground pipelines.
Lately, Whitaker has been working on landfill construction projects. These massive earthwork projects mean moving, tracking, and measuring lots of dirt. “With Trimble Stratus, we’ve been able to figure out where the dirt is, where it needs to go, where it’s coming from, how much cut we have, how much fill we have,” said Bousman.
The use of the technology has also helped better plan large construction projects, which are notoriously complicated by tight project schedules and budgets. Everything needs to run like a well-oiled machine to stay on track. Too often this isn’t the case with work divided among different contractors and surveyors constantly overbooked.
Bousman said, “With the near real-time mapping, we’re able to better manage our part of a larger work packages.”
For instance, Whitaker was contracted to perform some grading and paving work on roadways, following foundation work that was performed by another contractor. “With the drone data, we’re able to check their progress, which has allowed us to protect our scope of work and optimize our crews and equipment,” he explained.
Using Trimble Stratus can help resolve disputes, as well. On one of Whitaker’s jobs, crews had an abundance of extra material on site, but no one believed the new numbers. “We sat down and looked through it on Trimble Stratus,” recalled Bousman. “It took a little bit because the quantities were off from estimated projections. With the Stratus numbers, we were able to show that we’d calculated correctly.”
The drone data has also helped build relationships with owners. “I can quickly and easily show owners how much work we’ve completed. The maps are accurate enough to facilitate mid-project adjustments,” he explained. “It’s a quicker process too. It’s far more cost-effective for me to do it than having an auditor or surveyor out there.”
When Whitaker does start on a project, Bousman said he feels more prepared thanks to drone surveying because he can get the answers he needs fast. He concludes, “With a 3D model, GPS and a drone, I can survey a job very quickly—and that means we’re better prepared to meet any heavy civil or earthwork challenge that comes our way.”