Top Ten Reasons to Take a Tablet

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There aren’t many photocopiers at some of our jobsites. This is just one of the reasons to carry a tablet into the field.

Paper? Don’t talk about paper. Are you kidding me? Paper?

Many engineering firms document field work using paper. However, using computer tablets improves communication and quality, and cuts cost. As with everything on the Internet, this requires a top 10 list.  Here are our top 10 reasons to take a tablet into the field.

 1. Fewer Hours Charged to the Client

When an employee saves time by using a tablet, that time can be allocated to other tasks or eliminated altogether.

2. Better Integration of GIS Capabilities

Taking a GPS point, geotagging a photo, and describing field conditions with a single device is more efficient than using several devices.

3. Consistent Data Entry

When staff handwrite field notes on standard forms, headings and other information must be rewritten on each page. Not so with electronic forms, which can be easily copied forward.

4. Richer, More Informative Field Reports

With a tablet, we can add geodata, attach photos, and include other information with ease.

5. Ability to Stream Site Video

Using video capabilities, a field representative with a question can show the site to project engineers no matter where the engineer is. This is more informative than a phone call. Plus, work can progress with minimal delay.

6. Quality Assurance

We can require fields in electronic forms to be filled in and time stamps automatically applied. Drop-down lists can limit potential input errors.

7. Access to Information in the Field

Tablets allow a new plan set to be sent to the field rep in real time–at a size that can be reasonably viewed.

8. Real Time Data Delivery

Our projects are often under a tight schedule. Getting data from the field as it’s collected allows us to better direct the field representatives, and begin making our designs and recommendations sooner.

9. Fewer Trips Back to the Office

Returning to the office at rush hour to get that piece of paper back to the office can add cost to the project. Plus, after a long day of work in the field, it’s nice that an employee can go directly home.

10. Automatic Backups

Automatic backups make sure that information isn’t lost if a tablet is damaged. However, we don’t expect much damage, because our tablets are dressed in invisible rain gear and they wear nearly as much armor as this guy.

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Bathtubs and Floating Buildings

You wouldn’t think that a building built on solid ground would be in danger of floating upwards. In fact, building where the water table is close to the surface can make this a concern. Dewatering the soil can keep floating buildings from being a problem, but some areas can’t be dewatered.

Here’s one example. Back when Seattle was just a pioneer town, the 505 First Avenue Building property was part of the waterfront. It had a wharf on pilings for timber mill-related businesses.  In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the area was filled in with, among other things, sawdust and wood debris from sawmills, wood planks and pilings, ship ballast, and burn debris from the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. This all meant that the soil where Starbucks now wanted to put up an office building was very soft and contained wood debris, abandoned timber piling foundations, and many other obstructions.

For this and other reasons, engineers couldn’t pump out the groundwater during or after construction. The four-level deep excavation had to be water-tight (think bathtub, but with the water on the outside). And this could lead to “an unbalanced hydrostatic uplift force in excess of the building weight acting on the foundation.” In other words, the seven-story building would float upwards.

How do you restrain such a building? In this case, engineers tied it down with 360 micropiles below the five-foot thick structural mat foundation.

Seattle Children’s Hospital Rain Gardens

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In an earlier post (Infiltration and Laboratory Testing Support Green Design), we described how rain gardens and bio-filtration swales are important to sustainability. The Seattle Children’s Hospital main campus expanded through the Building Hope program to meet the growing need in our region. Please enjoy these photos of the rain gardens when they were newly planted outside the new construction.

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Husky Stadium

Husky Stadium Metamorphosis

Husky Stadium under construction at the University of Washington

Why is time lapse construction photography so intriguing? Is it the magical aspect of a building seeming to grow by itself, like a plant? Is it the wonder of seeing the sheer scale of the work required to complete a project? Or is it that we live in a fast world, so we prefer fast results?

Whatever your reason, you’ll enjoy these OxBlue time lapse shots of the Husky Stadium construction underway in Seattle, Washington. Construction will be complete before the first home game this fall. Of the six viewpoints, Husky Stadium Camera #3 is the most satisfying, with fewer camera shifts and a seemingly smoother transformation.

Infiltration and Laboratory Testing Support Green Design

Federal Center South Swale

Swale at the new Federal Center South Building in Seattle

Rain gardens and bio-filtration swales are an increasingly important part of the sustainability approach for new construction. They keep rainwater from flowing over impervious surfaces where it can pick up pollutants and carry them to water bodies. This benefit is more and more imperative when it comes to controlling non point source pollution. The Washington State Department of Ecology, for example, has reconfirmed surface runoff as the leading pathway for toxics to get into Puget Sound. (Phase 1 study, Phase 2 study).

Infiltration testing allows you to determine whether a swale will be successful at a given property. An infiltration test involves excavating a test pit (typically 5 feet by 5 feet). A hydrogeologist adds water to the pit, then records how much water is necessary to maintain the water level at the same level over a period of 10 to 12 hours. The hydrogeologist then stops the water flow and measures the drop in water level. The infiltration rate determined from a field test is called a field infiltration rate. To determine the design infiltration rate, the hydrogeologist then adjusts for a number of factors such as site variation, number of tests conducted, degree of long-term maintenance and influent pre-treatment/control, and the potential for long-term clogging from silt and bio-buildup.

Geotechnical laboratory testing is useful for rain gardens, which require a specific mix of soil types that helps scrub some of the contaminants from the rainwater before it reaches a major body of water, yet still allows the water to drain. Rain gardens are also an effective way to store water from large storm events and prevent it from overloading the storm drain and sewer systems in the public streets.