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How Propeller’s Drone Surveying Technology Makes R&K Excavation More Competitive and More Efficient

| 09.08.2022

Propeller Aero & Trimble

R&K Excavation is using Trimble Stratus, Powered by Propeller. Trimble, the global leader in positioning technologies, was an early partner of Propeller. Our teams work closely together to deliver Trimble Stratus survey-grade drone data solutions for the heavy civil industries.

Located in Bloomsdale, Missouri, R&K Excavation is a heavy civil contractor offering a full range of services including excavation and grading, utilities and site work, drilling and blasting, and civil services. The family-owned business manages commercial, industrial, mining, and recreational developments throughout the midwest of the United States.

A goal oriented, critical thinker focused on delivering results, Patrick Schultz is the Assistant Project Manager for Grade and Quality Control at R&K. Believing that technology use is vital in the earthmoving industry, Patrick was instrumental in bringing Trimble Stratus Powered by Propeller to R&K. He had used Propeller at a previous company, and now R&K has recently adopted it. While the company currently is working 25 sites, they are focusing their Trimble Stratus license on two of them right now, one being a large, four-mile road project they are managing in northern Missouri. 

Photo courtesy of R&K Excavation

Surveying a massive site

The road project site is very large. At 550 acres it takes roughly six and half hours of total drone flight time, requiring 8400 photos and 20 batteries to survey the site! However, R&K has it divided into seven survey sections, and they only fly the portion they are currently excavating. Each section is set up to optimize the drone battery life and to require no more than 2000 photos to adequately survey.

“I fly the site weekly on Thursday and Friday and upload the photos after each flight,” Patrick explained. “By Monday morning I have my processed data back from Propeller and can complete a few terrain edits. Then, I provide the data to the project managers so they can make their calculations.” 

Patrick also shared how using Trimble Stratus Powered by Propeller has been a great timesaver on this job. “Propeller is going to save us a lot of time and money on this project. Now, our in-house GIS/grade control coordinator doesn’t have to sit for three hours processing surveys. He can concentrate on grade control for a lot of other things. So, it has freed up his time quite a bit.” 

Working with the general contractor

The earthwork for this road build project is split, with R&K managing half of the site and the general contractor, Better by Design (BBD), overseeing the other. R&K is helping BBD with their surveys, as well. “We’re surveying the site weekly and using Propeller to generate a weekly progress report,” Patrick shared. “For example, if we worked in sections 2, 3, and 7, we can show Better by Design what material we moved and our cut/fills for each area. We have our grade control files loaded in the platform so we can see how much farther we have to go. It really keeps us on track, because not everyone can be on site with a rover in their hands.”

Photo courtesy of R&K Excavation

Patrick has trained BBD to use Trimble Stratus Powered by Propeller, as well. He pointed out that this will help R&K build transparency for all stakeholders involved in the project. “If we’re in a team meeting, we can pull up the platform and say, ‘in this particular area, this is what we’re seeing…we’ve cut this much out.’ Propeller allows us to have a lot more transparency during the project and help keep everyone on the same page.”

Prior to Trimble Stratus Powered by Propeller, R&K used other software solutions to create reports to give to their general contractors. Patrick commented that these reports were not as neat as Propeller’s. “If we had to communicate about a particular feature, we used photos and marked them up,” Patrick explained. “Before Propeller, we didn’t have the ability to provide clean visuals for the updates/project close-outs for our general contractors. Now, we can easily generate a professional looking report that is intuitive and easy to read and that we’re proud to send to our general contractors.”

Expanding platform use and future R&K projects

Patrick shared how he’s also rolling Trimble Stratus Powered by Propeller out across R&K so that they’ll be able to expand its use for more projects. 

“All our project managers are in training for the platform, and every single one of them is loving it because they don’t have to wait to get a volume metric on some small calculation,” Patrick explained. “They can log into the platform and get whatever calculations they need. Our people can collaborate better, and there are no bottlenecks hindering our access to data.”

As R&K pursues more work in the federal market, Trimble Stratus Powered by Propeller has been a huge asset to Patrick and his team because of the platform’s third party validation and R&K’s ability to now do their own billing without having to bring a surveyor on site. “We’re working our way deeper into the federal market,” Patrick stated. “That’s where our use of Propeller truly shines because on some of these projects, there are no grade control files. You have to prove how much cut/fill you have, and the reports that Propeller generates are phenomenal and will be very helpful for this type of work.”

Photo courtesy of R&K Excavation

Propeller support and ease of use

Patrick has been pleased with the technical support Propeller provides, stating that the team has been very responsive and helped him when he’s had questions, even partnering to troubleshoot a problem he had with a coordinate system. He commented on the platform’s ease of use and how the technology helps R&K stay competitive in the field and enhance their stakeholder relationships.

“Propeller is extremely user friendly and intuitive. You don’t need to have a degree in grade control or 15 years of surveying experience to be able to turn out a product that looks like you are a professional surveyor. It allows us, in house, to gather data and do our calculations and get our run time. Whatever the project manager needs to do or look at, they can with Propeller, without having to tie up our grade control guys.”

“We’re a small family-owned, family-operated excavation company. Without using technology, like the Propeller Platform, we would not be able to do what we do. But we’re regarded as experts in the technology field with these projects, and we’re able to offer that edge over our competitors. Propeller is that additional technology we now have in our toolbelt to deploy onto these sites. This really helps us stand out on the front end, when we’re going after new projects. We can say ‘hey, we’ve got a drone surveying platform.’ As a company, we pride ourselves in being a value-added contractor. We love when we can sit down with a project owner and discuss where R&K can add value to their project. When we encounter a problem, we know that we have the in-house technical capability to fix any issue we come across without extra hassle for the project owner.”

Are you considering a drone surveying program to better track your site progress and would like to learn how Propeller can enhance your business? Request a demo with us today. We’ll show you how.

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