Several years ago, I started poking around to fix a challenge all field engineers deal with when generating materials field testing data: Accurately collecting data from the field without knowing where I was standing in relation to the plan.

Traditional methods to capture that information were time consuming and subject to data entry error. When I made a career transition to project management, I saw what the client was getting as a deliverable. That’s when I started working on what became TARGETID, a field data collection workflow using third-party software and the GPS on my mobile device to integrate accurate location data into core Terracon systems.

The goal with what became TARGETID was to solve for three challenges: Create more efficient, streamlined field data collection including GPS locations; a quicker, easier field reporting process, and a better client report

Today, we use TARGETID for larger projects, but the materials testing data challenge is still there, no matter the size of the project. If your site is 1,000 acres that has been stripped bare, how do you describe where you took your test or performed an inspection? The traditional method is you get on your phone, dial up Google Earth, drop a pin and get the GPS coordinates — a string of 25 numbers — manually key in those numbers and hope you don’t make a data entry mistake, and do that again for each of the 20, 30 or more tests you do that day. The client doesn’t know what these (latitude and longitude) numbers mean. So, you key in those numbers again, this time to Google Maps, and create a PDF of that map so the client can see where the test(s) occurred.

You could just as easily be repaving a Target parking lot, generating 40-50 tests on the asphalt, with each test requiring a new reference point — 27 ft from the third door facing south, 3 feet from the island and 100 feet west of… you get the picture. The project does not have to be big for it to be a challenge and time consuming to accurately report materials testing data locations. It was probably the worst part of my job.

I started trying different solutions, working with various third-party applications, each with its own limitations until I came across what might work best for our firm — Esri’s ArcGIS software platform. I downloaded it on my personal computer for the 90-day free trial and tested it out on a Terracon project. As the free trial was ending, I showed our office manager what I was able to do and got permission to purchase a license for the software. This discovery phase took about six months as I started trial and error in its configuration — what I thought we wanted to do with it, what would work, what wouldn’t.

As I transitioned into its development phase, I had to formulate protocols and automation which made me switch back and forth between my engineer’s brain and computer science brain. I learned Python and a couple of other programming languages as I was figuring out how to make it more efficient to set up projects, automate data collection and reporting all while still doing my job as a Terracon project manager.

About two and a half years in, I was on version three of TARGETID when it looked like we would roll this out to other Terracon offices. I made the move to IT and became a member of Terracon’s GIS department. The concentrated effort of a team of dedicated developers made the work go more quickly. Much of the fine-tuning and integration in reporting happened in 2020.

More Efficient, Streamlined Field Data Collection

It’s a vehicle for project delivery. For field data collection, TARGETID allowed us to stop using paper – writing information in a field book and translating that into a report typed up later. Now we collect data in a digital format so its dynamic – you can access it, manage it, use it later on. You can’t perform data management from a PDF.

Technicians and Inspectors enter testing and inspection data while in the field, pulling data into an interactive map using the project plans. Site data is available in real time, from the locations where the testing is performed. TARGETID leverages geospatial information to collect, communicate and report materials testing through a map-centric and intuitive, interactive interface.

Quicker, Easier Field Reporting Process

What our field engineers do best is field work, not writing and reporting. With the traditional method you can be in the field all day and have hours more paperwork to do after that. TARGETID collects data seamlessly and processes the required report. This allows the technicians and inspectors to get more field work done in the same amount of time, and it helps with work/life balance as well.

You can see how this matters in a project like the Indeck Niles Energy Center in Michigan. This $500-million clean energy center has so far generated data points for 3,454 soil density tests, 625 concrete samplings, 131 proof rolls, 200 asphalt density tests and 115 grout samplings.

A Better Client Deliverable

The TARGETID dashboard breaks down the traditional silos between design, construction and owner groups, bringing visibility to the entire scope. Team members can filter data to desired date ranges (also test status, length, volume, floor or elevation), click on a test to see photos or final reports associated with it, see test colors which indicate status (accepted, deviation, in-progress) and more.

With the Nashville Soccer Club’s stadium project, for example, site plans for the stadium were entered into TARGETID, enabling the contractor to find information by location or phase of construction.

This field data collection workflow has absolutely transformed the work, and client experience for the better. There is no end to improvements we can make — to data collection forms, internal systems, photo log creation, 3D modeling. We solved for those first three challenges but there are so many more.

Justin Reynolds has more than 10 years of experience working on materials construction projects in the lab, field and as a project engineer. He is the technical lead for TARGETID and directly supports and consults on many of Terracon's largest projects across the nation. Terracon is an employee-owned engineering consulting firm with more than 5,000 employees providing environmental, facilities, geotechnical, and materials services from more than 150 offices with services available in all 50 states. Terracon ranks 24th on ENR's 2021 list of Top 500 Design Firms.