Our Environmental Engineering case study focuses around Brown and Caldwell, an employee-owned, 100-percent environmental firm serving clients locally and globally. With a history rooted in water and wastewater engineering, the firm provides full-service delivery of engineering, scientific, consulting and construction services and all the essential ingredients® for a successful project and a standout experience.
Making the Transition to Mobile Technology
Brown and Caldwell works with water and wastewater agencies across the United States, and continues to seek out and use advanced technologies and cutting-edge tools to improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase accuracy to meet clients’ most pressing needs. As utilities look to create more comprehensive inventories of their water and wastewater systems, mobile apps and tablet devices are being used to collect data and help build the foundation for robust asset management systems.
In just the past decade, mobile technology has tremendously decreased in cost and increased in effectiveness, and now is being embraced as a tool of choice for water and wastewater utilities. Touchscreens, embedded GPS, and cameras are becoming fundamental to smart utility management. In particular, the use of mobile apps and smart devices has proven to improve productivity for the geographical location, inspection and assessment of wastewater collection systems.
Brown and Caldwell has employed mobile technology tools on a variety of projects, and has specifically used the Fulcrum platform on more than a dozen projects for large U.S. wastewater collection systems. One standout project includes work with DeKalb County, GA to locate and track the condition of their immense collection system assets.
Brown and Caldwell has worked closely with DeKalb County, GA, with asset management for almost a decade. In order to reduce sewer overflows in this metro Atlanta community, DeKalb County needed to create hydraulic models for its sanitary collections system with updated location and condition data. Brown and Caldwell located and inspected half of the county's 60,000 manholes in the first phase of the project, and recently was tasked to help inspect the remaining manholes.
Before the switch to mobile technology, the Brown and Caldwell team gathered historical data from record drawings into GIS and exported them to paper map books. Inspection crews would attempt to locate these structures. Paper forms were used to get collection condition information. More than 60,000 photos were taken using digital cameras. Another team of surveyors, both conventional and GPS-equipped, would follow to get to precise location and rim elevation of these structures. Areas that had been redeveloped or which contained new structures proved problematic for the two crews. Overall, project workflows were prone to disruption, and were large, complicated, and had intersecting tasks.
Increasing Efficiency with Fulcrum
Although effective, the original manhole inspection process had room for improvement. In the second phase of the project, the Brown and Caldwell team saw the chance to capture information more efficiently, and leverage advanced improvements in mobile technology. Working with Fulcrum, paper forms were transferred into a simplified, smooth mobile interface. Dots on a map book were now shown using the integrated GIS mapping, and photos were captured and automatically associated with their corresponding assets. Inspection crews could adjust manhole locations on the map as needed. These updated locations and the pictures stored within the app allowed the following survey crew to do their job more efficiently. Crews could work without needing mobile connectivity, taking advantage of Fulcrum’s offline data collection and syncing capabilities. No paper forms meant no data transcription was required, and there were fewer possibilities for errors. Most importantly, all of the data was stored in one location, accessible to the entire project team.
"...it took 30 percent fewer hours to manage and QA our data using Fulcrum."
Brown and Caldwell compared its effort collecting data from two similar sized catchments between the first and second phases. The team estimated it needed almost 30 percent fewer hours to manage and QA the data using Fulcrum as part of its current workflow compared to the previous all-paper method. The use of Fulcrum has translated to lower costs for the County as well as accelerated delivery schedules.