Business Case Study: Fast-track design

February 2008 » Feature Articles
Custom training helps a small firm quickly adopt dynamic modeling software to handle growing workload.
Joe Hedrick
Custom training helps a small firm quickly adopt dynamic modeling software to handle growing workload.

Firm
Site Technologies

Objective
Complete site design projects more efficiently to take on more work without adding staff

Product application
Custom, on-site training allowed rapid implementation of 3-D modeling software to improve design efficiency.

Three-dimensional (3-D) modeling is no longer the purview of large civil engineering firms seeking productivity advances or competitive advantage. Today, small shops and independents can benefit from dynamic information modeling at least as well as larger organizations. The benefits to both are similar, but the ramp up to full production capacity for a small company, as the following case study illustrates, can be relatively short and painless.

Licensed in North Carolina, Site Technologies provides professional landscape architecture and land planning services to municipalities, institutions, and businesses. Services include site planning to meet a range of requirements, from preliminary land use analyses through to construction plans; specifications; and contract administration for site improvement projects. Site’s entrepreneurial president, Tim Stall, was turning away clients because of workload—picking and choosing work from a list longer than his company could possibly service. "I had reached the point where I was as busy as I could be," said Stall. "I like working on my own and didn’t want to hire associates."

Stall knew that if he could work more efficiently, he might be able to take on more work and therefore make more money. A significant portion of his time was spent number crunching, especially when evaluating more than one option for a design. Stall had read that technology solutions using 3-D might be more efficient after an initial learning curve, so he started to look for a replacement for the software he had been using for years.

He attended a workshop about AutoCAD Civil 3D at Avatech Solutions, a provider of design technology and consulting services. Working with Avatech he then decided to purchase Civil 3D and six days of custom, over-the-shoulder training that occurred over a period of two to three months. Since then, he has not looked back.

"The trainer from Avatech knew civil engineering as well as he knew the software. He sat down with me and all my files and looked at what I needed to do to run my business better," said Stall. "Because I worked one-on-one with him, he was able to help me set up styles and drawing standards in Civil 3D, making it a lot easier to hit the ground running when a new project comes in the door."

When working on a new roadway alignment, using his old method meant Stall had to manually crunch numbers then apply what was learned to tweak and modify drawings. Most firms know this problem first hand, because everyone has the same issue. The difference with Civil 3D is that all the elements of a drawing are related to one another so that when an element changes, others respond.

For example, if a curb set back is changed, then one can immediately see how that impacts other components such as stormwater drainage pipes that may require relocation. Drawing elements are not simply lines on a page; they are described using parameters that can easily change, and the program detects interferences if they occur.

Stall found that he was previously spending too much time on calculations and rework. Now he feels confident that he can provide cost-effective, elegant solutions—on time and on budget—by exploring options.

The surfaces and roadway design modules in Civil 3D were the tools Stall needed to be able to become a triple threat: fast, good, and reasonably priced. Increasing efficiencies as a result of templates and standards enables him to produce more work—the only way to increase his bottom line while remaining competitive in terms of rates.

"I like to be really transparent with customers, and charge by the linear foot, rather than on an hourly or project basis," explained Stall. "Using Civil 3D, I’m turning out the same amount of work or more in less time, increasing my bottom line by taking on more work without raising my fees."

The benefit of working in 3-D for Stall is that now he can see how the project will look as built and can fine tune a design early on so it will work better on the ground. This provides a much better end project for his customers, including municipalities and land developers, and he can do it in far less time than before, performing calculations by hand. When the client sees elevations in 3-D, they can also see the end result more clearly too. This means they can respond to ideas in a more informed way and can take better drawings to non-engineer council members or other city officials who are less adept at reading 2-D plans.

The other big benefit is that Stall can help clients save money. At a meeting with the district engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Stall presented some options for a roadway system based on his ability to calculate profiles based on variable, terrain classification k values. "I was able to present her with vertical profiles of subdivision roads designed to level terrain classification (k=45) and to rolling terrain classification (k=30)," said Stall. "By being able to show her the effect of the k values as they apply to this project, I was able to persuade her to agree that the rolling classification was suitable for this project, saving my client thousands of dollars in grading costs. Using Civil 3D I was able to engineer the comparison profile for 3,500 linear feet of roadway in under 30 minutes."

By being able to accept work that he previously would have had to decline, Stall said that the cost of software and training paid for itself within the first three jobs.

"The best decision I made was to get the custom training. Basically it meant I had a personal trainer helping me on projects as I learned the program," said Stall. It meant I could fast track while I learned Civil 3D using real projects."

Joe Hedrick is manager of professional services, Infrastructure Group, for Avatech Solutions. He can be contacted at joe.hedrick@avatech.com.


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