Veteran Power Infrastructure (VPI) case study: how to create digital as-builts with high-accuracy GPS using electric utility construction crews.

The expansion of digital transformation in electric utilities caused by Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) implementations and Distributed Energy Resources (DER), requires utilities to assess all workflows involved in driving high-fidelity data to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), including as-built documentation. 

But, a pervasive problem remains in almost all electric utilities – the use of paper in the construction process. 

This paper-burdened legacy workflow is inefficient, wrought with data quality issues and results in massive mapping backlogs. 

The drive to change this workflow is mounting, and some utilities are starting to respond to these pressures by requiring digital as-builts from their contractors. 

This case study outlines how VPI, a Charge company, used Locusview’s solution to meet one IOU’s digital as-built requirements.

The challenge

VPI specialises in the construction of utility-scale electric distribution infrastructure. 

During the execution phase of a multi-jurisdictional infrastructure project for a large electric IOU in California, the utility’s as-built data requirements changed: all utility facilities, including underground and overhead assets, had to be located by GPS within +/-0.2’ accuracy during construction. 

This would be difficult due to the scale of the construction project:

  • 35 construction sites
  • Over 35,000 feet of open trenching
  • 15 auger bores under highways and railroads
  • More than 100 primary enclosures

VPI’s Senior Project Manager, Zack Chancellor, said he faced a difficult challenge. 

“A major concern of ours was that the traditional method of collecting this type of data needed a professional surveyor. 

“Given the unpredictable timing of production, we didn’t believe it was cost-effective to have a surveyor on site all day to collect this type of data.  

“Having worked with Locusview before, we reached out to see what was available.”  

The solution

Mr Chancellor described VPI’s decision process. 

“We decided to work with Locusview on this project because it appeared viable for cost savings given that it could be issued to a member of the crew already on-site. 

“We wanted to have the ability to perform the task in any part of a service territory where we work. 

“Having this capability in-house guaranteed we would be able to consistently deliver the same quality of data without managing an outside vendor.”  

VPI’s goals were to lower costs, gain more flexibility by not having to coordinate with outside survey crews and to expand VPI’s capabilities.  

VPI also had concerns about the unknowns: could they meet the GPS accuracy requirements of +/-0.2’; what was the risk of adding a new responsibility to their crews; how much education and training was required? 

Project facts and figures

The project implementation had to be short, because construction was ongoing.  

“We had to move quickly…every day without as-built data collection created additional work to go back and collect data to meet the requirements,” Mr Chancellor said.  

After an initial session to understand VPI’s requirements, Locusview built the configuration and reviewed it with Mr Chancellor’s team.  

This was to ensure that the digital forms and pick lists Locusview configured matched the materials used in the project, and that the warnings and violations were understood and met the expectations and approval of the crew.  

Once the configuration was approved, Locusview provided a four-hour in-field training session after which VPI was in production and collecting data.  

In total, the project took ten days from first contact to field data collection.

Here are some key facts and figures after six months in the field collecting data with Locusview:

  • 23 active projects
  • 16,362 total feet of linear assets mapped
  • 4,780 photos taken
  • Median GPS accuracy of 0.14 feet

Today, VPI’s construction crews collect as-built data for the electric infrastructure they are installing using Locusview Mobile and Locusview’s high-accuracy GPS technology. 

Feedback from the field was that “the hardware and software were user friendly and easy to get acquainted with”.

Throughout the project, Locusview worked closely with VPI to tailor the system to their changing needs. 

As the project sites moved locations, Locusview monitored and supplemented RTK base station coverage to ensure GPS accuracy was maintained. 

Locusview expanded VPI’s use of the solution from the field and into the office via the Locusview web application, and configured warnings to flag any data that did not meet accuracy requirements. 

Crew foremen were able to monitor construction progress in real time to ensure data collection was complete and met their requirements before backfilling the site.

Benefit time savings of 20 per cent

VPI realised many benefits while using Locusview.  

First, VPI confirmed that construction crews were able to collect as-built data as part of their daily tasks without impact to schedule or process. 

“One of the biggest benefits we realised was that we no longer had to coordinate with outside survey crews or deal with the delays caused by conflicting schedules,” Mr Chancellor said.

This resulted in a time savings of approximately 20 per cent in project management for closeouts and reduced time in the field.  

“There is huge value to the time savings and flexibility it provides a construction crew. Having the ability to self-perform does not tie us to outside resource availability,” Mr Chancellor said.

Benefit cost savings of 50 per cent

VPI also saw cost savings of around 50 per cent as a result of fewer man-hours overall. 

“Some survey companies are reluctant to split a traditional two-man survey crew, Locusview enables us to collect data with one individual that is on-site already,” Mr Chancellor said.  

Benefit the intangibles

Beyond the standard GPS data collection, VPI captured almost 5,000 photos of job sites and installed assets. 

“The ability to take thousands of pictures along the way added immense value – having the asset data and pictures all in one place helped us manage and monitor construction progress and simplified our closeout process,” Mr Chancellor said.

Photos that are tied to assets in Locusview’s web tool give the supervisor a much clearer idea of work performed and an idea of site conditions during construction. 

Lessons learned

VPI’s experience provided valuable lessons learned that are important for other organisations eyeing digital as-builts to consider.  

First, VPI adopted a new technology to solve its challenge.  

Along the way it confirmed that its construction crews were able to take on a new responsibility in the course of regular construction activities without impact.  

The Locusview solution made it easy for VPI construction crews to meet the as-built and GPS accuracy requirements.  

However, VPI does recommend oversight beyond training, highlighting that implementing a quality check will prevent reworks.

Second, the crews need to understand the goals of their data collection and the importance of accuracy. 

“Upon the completion of our first couple of sites, we determined we could reduce the amount of data collected as long as it was accurate and at the appropriate intervals,” Mr Chancellor said.

“We found that collecting too many data points can be unnecessary and create additional work to sort on the back end.”

The rapid project schedule also required VPI to learn and adapt along the way. 

“The flexibility of the Locusview solution and their ability to work with us in refining the configuration was critical,” Mr Chancellor said.

Typically Locusview deploys a project in a test environment before putting it into production – a step that was skipped due to the time constraints.

“In situations when timeline allows, I recommend launching the platform in a test environment. This will give you an opportunity to evaluate the data quality, effort and volume of points,” Mr Chancellor said.

Next steps

VPI looks to evolve the use of Locusview within the current project as well as expand to other areas of their business. 

The data export process was initially focused on data exports on an as-needed basis. 

VPI looks to automate this process in the future via Locusview’s Review and Approve web feature. 

VPI also looks to utilise other spatial data export formats from Locusview to streamline its as-built map creation as well as to digitise more forms to develop a complete closeout package. 

Finally, VPI is looking to apply Locusview to as-builts for compliance and O&M work.

This partner content is brought to you by Locusview. For more information, click here.

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