Innovative Surveying Technology Helps Speed Pipe Installation and Road Renewal

The Leica AP20 AutoPole improves survey and stakeout workflows with automation

Pipe surveying with Leica AP20 AutoPole and TS16 robotic total station from Leica Geosystems on construction site with excavator.

Flums, a municipality in eastern Switzerland, has several historic sites - among them a medieval mountaintop castle and a ninth century chapel built on remains of a Roman settlement. While holding history dear, Flums’ officials decided century-old water pipelines running underneath one of the village’s busiest streets were a relic of the past that needed to be modernised.

To undertake this task, the municipality of Flums contracted the Käppeli group to replace the water and sewage pipes, install electricity lines and make aesthetic improvements to pedestrian pathways along 525 metres of roadway. Käppeli Digital AG, part of the larger Käppeli group, is responsible for the surveying work. The company offers a range of geomatics and construction services, including monitoring, creating terrain models, generating data for 3D machine control and construction staking and more. By incorporating digital technologies into their surveying and construction workflows, they can progress through tasks more efficiently to deliver projects on time, crucial in cases where work disrupts road and pedestrian traffic in busy areas like the construction in Flums.

A recent addition to their measurement equipment, the newly released Leica AP20 AutoPole, provided a way for Käppeli Digital staff to remove the manual steps of holding the pole vertical and changing pole heights in the software, connecting automation across the entire workflow with benefits for productivity, accuracy and safety.

Automation and digitisation across the project

24-year-old Alessia Figaroli, Construction Surveyor at Käppeli Digital, has a unique overview of the Flums pipeline project as the lead data manager and primary contact for the foreman and site manager. Using a range of instruments and software, she creates, prepares and transfers data for stakeout, survey and machine control tasks.

At the beginning of the project, Alessia imported CAD drawings provided by the engineering office into a BIM software for civil infrastructure design. Using this software, she created 3D stakeout data, including a surface model, 3D polylines to represent underground assets, points and more. For quality assurance, she controlled the data by checking for height outliers.

After creating the 3D data, she used Leica Infinity Surveying Office Software – which connects with many third-party CAD and BIM packages – to prepare and import the data to Leica Captivate and machine control software for use in the field. This data also enabled the creation of a site coordinate system that served as a reference for the total station setups.

Additionally, Alessia loaded the plans into the excavator equipped with GNSS and into a Leica iCON iCR70 Robotic Total Station with tablet controller. The excavator driver could then dig at the exact depth needed for new power lines and water pipes. The construction team also used the 3D data to stake out the new road and lay curbs for the sidewalk.

Automating point measurements with the AP20

Processes like creating and sharing 3D plans for stakeout and machine control digging demonstrate how critical digitisation and automation has become to the survey and construction workflow. However, until recently, operating the prism pole for point measurements contained many manual elements, making survey and stakeout tasks more time intensive. To address this detriment to efficiency, the new AP20 AutoPole was designed to enable automated tilt compensation and pole height adjustments.

In the next stage of the project, Alessia had the chance to integrate this innovative surveying technology into the Flums project. To create a 3D model for the dozer, which would level the street guided by machine control automatic blade movement, Alessia needed to survey both sides of the road. She selected a Leica TS16 Robotic Total Station, Leica CS20 Field Controller running Leica Captivate Surveying Field Software and the AP20 for the job.

The AP20 AutoPole is a new smart solution designed for Leica automated Total Station and MultiStation measurement workflows. Importantly to Alessia’s survey work, the AP20’s intelligent sensor technology enables measurements with a tilted pole and automatic pole height adjustments in the field software. With the AP20, she can measure easily and quickly in range of site conditions while remaining confident in her results.

The Flums project was one of the first where Alessia was able to use the AP20, and she shared her experience and feedback with the Leica Geosystems team.

The AP20 experience: Measuring freely, accurately and safely

“From the first time I held the AP20 in my hand, I realised how light-weight and convenient it is,” reflects Alessia. “It was not difficult to configure and start working with – I was able to begin measuring right away.”

“Learning to use the AP20 with Captivate apps was also easy and intuitive,” she continues. “I accompanied a surveying engineer colleague 2-3 times, watched him and started trying it for myself. Before long, I was measuring alone at sites, with the ‘phone a friend’ option if I had any questions.”

Alessia’s measurement processes have also changed since incorporating the AP20:

“Before, I always used a bipod and the circular bubble for levelling up the pole. The pole had to be perfectly vertical, which naturally needed time. Now with the AP20, I just survey as I go, walking around freely as I pick up the points quickly and measure them,” she says.

Road construction sites are dynamic, rarely presenting ideal conditions for measuring. However, with the AP20 measuring points located close to assets or other objects blocking line of sight to the total station are no longer a problem for Alessia.

“You can measure with a tilted pole if cars are in the way, keeping line of sight to the total station,” she continues. “And it’s relaxing to know if I need to change the pole height, I don’t need to think of entering the adjustment manually into the software each time. I can measure at double the speed - especially for large surveys or when staking out roadsides, it is much quicker than with conventional equipment.”

Speedier measurements aren’t the only benefit of her new processes – the AP20 also helps increase Alessia’s safety while measuring.

She recalls, “recently on another project, I had to survey the middle line of a street. The cars were driving extremely close to where I needed to measure, but because I was able to simply tilt the pole, I stayed out of harm’s way. This makes my work a lot safer.”

Measuring with a tilted pole, Alessia could reach out to a point in a dangerous zone from a safe position and reduce the time needed at the point. Additionally, because she only needed to monitor the traffic and field controller rather than the bubble and instrument as well, she could remain focused on her work.

Investing in innovation

Projected for completion in November 2022, the Flums pipelines and street renewal project is progressing on schedule. As part of the larger effort and with the AP20, Käppeli Digital can deliver high-quality survey results in much less time, making it a great investment for the company.

Pascal Bonderer, Managing Director at Käppeli Digital, reflects on the choice to purchase in the AP20 and the proof of its payoff:

“It was clear to me after the introduction of the Leica GS18 T Smart Antenna, it was only a matter of time before the tilt-compensated pole for TPS would come onto the market. Based on the increased performance we experienced with the GS18 T, it was easy to make the decision to invest in the AP20 AutoPole. I asked my surveying team to do a test run with time measurements to prove the increase in performance when using the AP20 compared to the classic pole. Let me just say, the results are impressive!”



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Our flagship business for almost 200 years, we know the daily tasks of surveyors and engineers. Overcome challenges with our field-to-office solutions.
Our flagship business for almost 200 years, we know the daily tasks of surveyors and engineers. Overcome challenges with our field-to-office solutions.