We got together with SUMO’s resident topographic survey expert Paul Williams, to discuss his 30 years of survey experience, involvement with SUMO and his thoughts on the future of topographic surveys.
So Paul, what’s your involvement with the surveys at SUMO?
My involvement with the surveys at SUMO varies. On an average day, you’ll find me at SUMO’s St Austell office, in the warm and dry, drinking tea. I will be overseeing the drawing of our topographic survey deliverables. My role at SUMO has changed significantly over the last few years. I’ve moved away from my previous involvement on site and towards a client focused role. I can enjoy strong relationships with our customers and regularly attend meetings with them.
As the Director of SUMO’s topography department, I give a lot of attention to quality control. On a day to day basis I am maintaining the high standard of topographic survey work being completed. As well as this, I have various managerial responsibilities such as motivating my office team and especially the on-site staff. It’s a specialist job that takes a lot of dedication and motivation. Especially in cold winter months with the rain running down your back and into your pants!
What is topography and what does a topographical surveyor do?
Topography is the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area. It’s just a surface, normally with a measurement of elevation above a datum. If you join these data points together to make triangles, you get a representation of the surface. Nowadays this is all automated and a computer does it for you!
A Surveyor that only specialises in topographical surveys is uncommon at SUMO. With an increase in SUMO’s Surveyors being multi-skilled, they are often trained in many survey methodologies.
A Topographical Surveyor will typically be able to set out construction sites, grids and steel arrays, measure building elevations, floor plans and use laser scanners. They will also be able to use survey grade GPS plus level and staff. As well as simply measuring parcels of land and collecting the position of underground utilities.
Surveyors will complete a range of surveys including: As Built Surveys, Deformation monitoring, Characterisation of landforms and standard Topographic survey work.
What equipment do you use, I imagine this has changed throughout your career?
The instruments used have, in fact, changed very little in outside appearance during the 30 years that I’ve been doing topographic survey work. I was lucky to start my career with the introduction of the Leica DI1000. This was an addition to the telescope and meant the instrument could show slope distances as well as the horizontal and vertical angles. This meant you didn’t need loads of ranging rods, chains and tapes.
It’s hard to imagine that only 30 years ago, 2 people operated topographic survey equipment and the survey drawings were completed by hand using protractors, scale rulers, set squares and ink pens! The modern-day theodolite is now a ‘Robotic total station’. The advancement of technology means that only one person is needed to operate the equipment. There is no need for hand drawn survey deliverables!
Nowadays, we are turning everything into 3D and the use of mobile mapping, UAV (drones) and laser scanners. But, in some cases when you are faced with challenging sites, full of ditches and overgrown vegetation the best equipment option that will still give an accurate representation of the ground profile all over, is by sticking to the use of a total station.
Have there been any notable projects you’ve worked on? if so, were there any challenges that you had to overcome?
Most recently, I was involved in the remote monitoring of targets at the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter. Attempting to fix a metal bracket to a chimney that was 15 meters above the ground to which the total station could sit on, whilst I was in a crane basket that was merrily swinging in the wind was a challenge, to say the least (don’t worry, all H&S procedures were adhered to!). The total station was reading 20 fixed prisms bolted into the structure and reading each one in both faces every 3 minutes. This project has been continuously running since the end of 2018, without any issues.
Where do you think the future of topographic surveys is headed?
I can definitely see a rise in mobile mapping and drones for the use of topography happening. Clients are always very impressed with the nature of 3D topographic drawings, even if they only need a 2D deliverable to ‘get the job done’!
The use of 3D topographic survey deliverables becoming increasingly utilised. I can see that SUMO will stay at the forefront of this change.