Connections

We are constantly seeking new ways to improve the way work is performed. A recent Ulteig innovation involves the integration of 360-degree video with GIS. We call it 360 VMI: Video & Mapping Integration. We’re using 360-degree cameras to collect videos of project areas by attaching the camera to a vehicle or walking down a corridor.  This video is then integrated into our web mapping system to allow the user to click on a map and start the video at the time stamp of that exact point. This application reduces the number of return trips to the field and gives us yet another innovative tool to communicate more difficult design situations with our internal staff and clients. Because innovation has no finish line.

6 tips to get the most out of Geographic Information Systems

Ulteig has a long history of providing centralized Geographic Information Systems (GIS) solutions to support our key Lifeline Sectors® of Power, Renewables, Transportation and Water. These GIS solutions are invaluable to the success of our projects. GIS technology supports engineering projects by combining the visual benefits of mapping with the power of a database.  The technology contributes to data asset management and project status tracking, and enhance communications between stakeholders throughout the project.

More Efficiency, Less Cost

One of Ulteig’s benchmarks for the value of GIS is a project developed for a Midwest electric utility company. This project received a National Recognition Award by the American Council of Engineering Companies for its design excellence.

While the designs developed by our engineering team were very accurate and met the client’s expectations, the team felt the project could be more efficient. Using GIS-based databases, workflows and applications, the team completely revamped the process to improve efficiency and deliver additional benefits from a new workflow. The Ulteig project team created a plan to meet project requirements by using GIS in field mapping applications integrated with centimeter-accurate GPS antennas and efficient GIS workflows for client deliverables creation.

Drawing on our experience with this project and others, here are six learnings for using GIS on your next project:

  • Don’t be afraid to question a good process. We had a good process in place and met the expectations of our client, but we realized it could be even better with the use of GIS technology. Challenging traditional thinking led to the development of a revamped approach to energy distribution design. By utilizing GIS technology, we increased the efficiency of this particular energy distribution design project, and now we look forward to leveraging GIS to other projects involving other industries to enhance project efficiencies. At Ulteig, we are continuously seeking new ways to shorten project timelines and enhance real-time project updates with fewer paper markups and corrections.
  • Choosing the right hardware and software is imperative. In incorporating GIS technology into the project, our Midwest Electric Utility team at Ulteig carefully considered the hardware and software with an eye toward efficiency. Of course we wanted to obtain the right data and of course we wanted to obtain as much useful data as possible. But what about the most relevant data? And what about data that can easily be shared and combined with data from other sources and make the entire work flow smoother? So, again, with an eye toward efficiency, we combined ESRI Collector for ArcGIS with Trimble survey-grade GPS receivers connected to ruggedized tablets to collect field data. The data created became an interactive inventory-map of the client’s existing utilities (poles, transformers, junction boxes, etc.), which was accurate to the centimeter and provided the data necessary to begin and carry out the design process. Pictures also were taken and attached to the collected features for later reference. Through integration with the utility’s GIS, the team could overlay available GIS data from city, county and utility databases. Using the collected existing utilities data and background data from other entities, we created a better design within the GIS application.
  • Leverage cloud-based web services to share real-time data. Leveraging cloud-based web services made it possible to share real-time design and right-of-way (ROW) easement acquisition data and project updates among all participants. This eliminated the need for redlined paper maps and minimized time-intensive conversations about design corrections. The inventory database and project updates were immediately accessible to designers, field engineers, surveyors, ROW agents and project managers, all connected by the application and its data, keeping all participants informed and on the same page.
  • Communicate early and often with key stakeholders, such as landowners. By proactively communicating early and often with landowners about acquiring easements and informing residents of proposed new equipment, we built trust. This was essential to the project’s success. To facilitate this communication, we created landowner communication maps. Live ROW and distribution data was incorporated into these maps, which allowed adjustments to be made on the fly when there were design changes or landowners refused easements. ROW, survey and design could use GIS to collaborate as a single team instead of independent silos. Addressing landowner concerns early in the process allowed for adjustments and prevented unnecessary and costly construction delays.
  • Leverage technology to better manage your time. All construction projects are driven by the proper management of time. Good time management can increase efficiencies, improve consistency and reduce costs. The Ulteig team developed a proprietary scripting process, which created final design PDF maps, ensuring a consistent and cost-effective product. The interactive GIS applications used throughout the project not only kept a constantly updated and accurate inventory of existing utilities, but also decreased in-field survey and in-office design time.
  • Never reach the finish line. Continue to find new ways to improve the way work is performed. For example, Ulteig recently added the use of 360-degree video cameras to collect videos of project areas by attaching the camera to a vehicle or walking down a corridor.  This video is then integrated into our web mapping system to allow the user to click on a map and start the video at the time stamp of that exact point. This application reduces the number of return trips to the field and gives us yet another tool to communicate more difficult design situations with our internal staff and clients.

Benefits of a GIS App

In summary, GIS has become a critical part of the Ulteig planning process. It’s a technology that we believe should be considered for most projects. Here are the benefits that we’ve identified:

  • Creating interactive inventory-maps
  • Sharing updated data in real-time with staff in the field and in the office
  • Decreasing survey and design time
  • Flexibility to scale data to the project parameters
  • Eliminating separate copies and versions of designs and data from a centralized database
  • Referencing facilities data such as size and type, and pictures from the office
  • Increasing accessibility to data
  • Tracking the status of design, construction, and easement acquisition
  • Connecting with intuitive modern smartphone apps and web apps

The Bottom Line: Consider GIS to Enhance Your Next Project

GIS technology is one of many innovative surveying services that Ulteig tailors to meet the unique needs of our clients. Our team uses the most advanced GIS software in the industry to provide customized geospatial solutions built around your business requirements. Ulteig’s wide-ranging GIS solutions range from data collection and custom mapping to GIS server solutions and technical support for utilities, commercial organizations and various levels of government. Our GIS service offerings include:

  • GIS Implementation Planning
  • GPS utility data collection
  • As-built document scanning and map data integration
  • Web and mobile GIS applications
  • ArcGIS Online Setup and Training
  • Site Selection Analysis 
  • 3D Modeling

If you’ve wondered if GIS should be incorporated into your next project, contact our GIS team at Ulteig. We can help you better understand the advantages of GIS both in the planning and building of your project, but also for the long term, when your project will need maintenance, retrofitting or repowering.

By Dan Haglund, Distribution, Ulteig

Dan Haglund is Ulteig’s Distribution Design Supervisor as part of the Field Services Team. He has more than 20 years of experience in implementing GIS solutions. He takes pride in finding ways to utilize GIS in practical and beneficial ways to improve efficiency, communicate better, and effectively manage projects.

One of our power clients reached out to us in search of a solution for a field-based design approach for electric distribution projects they were constructing in the Midwest. Ulteig created a plan to meet their project requirements by utilizing a GIS centric solution.

The solution involved a combination of developing GIS databases, publishing web services in the cloud, and building web and mobile applications to support the project workflows.  Another key component of the solution was to identify the appropriate high accuracy GPS receiver that meet the accuracy requirements of the project. 

Ulteig engineers combined the cloud-based web services and ESRI Collector for ArcGIS mobile app with a Trimble survey-grade GPS receiver connected via Bluetooth to computer tablet to collect the data. The field data then became an interactive inventory-map of the existing utilities (poles, transformers, junction boxes, etc.). The measurements were accurate to the centimeter and provided information necessary to carry out the design process. Through integration with the power utilities’ GIS, the Ulteig team overlaid additional GIS data from city, counties, and utilities by connecting live to their web services, such as parcels, recorded easements, and aerial imagery.

Our engineers leveraged cloud-based web services that allowed us to share real-time design and right-of-way (ROW) easement acquisition data and project updates. This service helped eliminate the need for redlined paper maps and minimized the time-intensive design conversations necessary for any design corrections. Inventory database and project updates were immediately accessible to designers, field engineers, surveyors, ROW agents, and project managers, keeping all participants informed and on the same page.

Relatively early in the design process, Ulteig’s ROW staff begin communicating with landowners to acquire easement and to inform residents of proposed new equipment. Ulteig’s system enabled the automated creation of landowner communication maps. Live ROW and distribution data were incorporated into the same maps, allowing adjustments on the fly for design changes or landowners who refused easements. ROW, survey and design team members used GIS to collaborate as a single team instead of independent operators.

Addressing any landowner concerns early in the process allowed for adjustments and prevented unnecessary and costly construction delays. The Ulteig team developed a proprietary scripting process that created final design PDF maps, ensuring a consistent and cost-effective product. The interactive GIS applications used throughout the project kept an updated, accurate inventory of existing utilities and decreased in-field surveys and in-office design time.

This power utility project challenged traditional thinking and led to the development of a revamped approach to energy distribution design. By utilizing a GIS solution, engineers can increase the efficiency of energy distribution projects and be applied to other disciplines.

As electric utilities confront the ongoing challenge of delivering reliable power to customers, they also experience an increased need for partners who offer customized solutions to address evolving demands.  Ulteig’s system efficiency solutions allow for shorter project timelines and real-time project updates with fewer paper markups and corrections, resulting in resource reductions benefiting the utility (costs and time), and natural resources (reduction in paper use).

Modernizing the electric grid has become a major priority for utilities across the United States. At Ulteig, our grid modernization experts are equipped to handle thorough assessments and plan development to meet each utility’s unique needs. 

Recently, Ulteig was engaged by the nFront Consulting group to assess a municipal utility’s electric grid. This project was part of an overall organizational evaluation to ensure the utility operated effectively and efficiently while creating grid stability and advancement. Ulteig was added to the project because of our wealth of transmission and distribution engineering, design, and operating experience that helped to meet specific customer needs.  

Project steps 

  • Ulteig interviewed key staff to ensure we had a clear understanding of the client’s unique electric system and day-to-day operations practices. This step proved vital in preparing the overall assessment.  
  • Next, our team evaluated the client’s distribution, substation, and transmission construction standards. We were able to identify areas that needed to be addressed as well as highlighting extremely successful areas. 
  • Then Ulteig evaluated recently completed projects and the client’s five-year budget plan to assess how its planning compared to industry standards. 

“Our experience with Ulteig was excellent by every project management measure. They staffed the project with well-qualified engineers, provided a detailed scope of services, and met both the demanding schedule and budget constraints of the project.” 

-nFront Consulting 

Results and takeaways 

Findings from this project enabled Ulteig to provide the client with insight into the state of their current electric system and effectiveness of their engineering processes. We were also able to enhance nFront Consulting’s recommendations to the client for organizational restructuring.   

This helped set the client up operate consistently with industry norms, meet their organizational goals, and address the needs of an evolving power industry. 

Authors: Jason Hall, Josh Guck, and John Barksdale 

Throughout his 12-year career, Jason Hall has focused on improving business and engineering practices to improve utility efficiencies, reliability, and customer service.  

Josh Guck has more than 8 years of electrical engineering experience and possesses a range of useful skills that pertain to electrical distribution systems. 

John Barksdale has more than 8 years of engineering experience, and holds a Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate and a Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering. 

Through the decades, Ulteig has expanded our presence and adapted our expertise in industries that maintain infrastructure vital to everyday life. Our ability to create solutions to challenging project disruptions was one of the reasons why we were contracted as the project owner’s representative on a wind farm construction site in rural Texas.

Construction of the 160MW wind farm nearly halted when a contractor was unable to meet its obligation to install fiber optic lines at the site. This $150 million project, featuring 57 turbines, was at risk of being derailed. Ulteig started researching viable solutions to keep the project on track.

The local exchange carrier (LEC) available for the project was in bankruptcy, so their ability to perform and pay their subcontractors was difficult. After numerous failed attempts by the developer to contact the LEC vendor, the COD was at risk. Due to the relentless follow up and added pressure by an Ulteig Senior Project Manager, we were able to connect with the LEC and schedule installation of the fiber optic line with only a minor schedule disruption.

But that would not be the only problem our Ulteig team helped rectify on this enormous project. Compaction testing under one of the turbine foundations failed. Since tearing it out and doing it over was not a viable option, they once again reached out to Ulteig engineers for a solution. Using new technology with additional testing allowed the foundation to pass, keeping the wind farm project on track without any additional costs. The project was 97% completed at COD, with only one turbine needing re-machining for full functionality.

We meet the needs of our clients by offering a legacy of listening and solving as a vital strategic partner. That’s why owners and developers keep coming to Ulteig for solutions. We’re not just engineers or project managers—we’re consultants who can help solve your unique problems.  And that includes dealing with force majeure events like COVID-19. We can help you develop risk mitigation and response protocols for situations like a coronavirus outbreak at a project site by developing process maps that outline how to respond to vendors or contractors who issue force majeure claims.

Ulteig’s dedication, integrity and commitment to excellence make us the partner of choice for technical solutions in Lifeline Sectors® for public and private clients throughout the country.

Author: Craig Couch, PgMP, PMP

A few weeks before coronavirus began disrupting daily life in the United States, it was wreaking havoc on the global supply chain, especially for products manufactured and shipped from China. A generation owner in southern Texas was notified that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its new substation breakers would not be delivered as promised. These breakers were instrumental for the in-servicing (energization) of their equipment. And with construction crews already onsite and more projects waiting in the queue, an extended delay in the multi-million-dollar project was not an option.

The generation owner did not have the in-house resources necessary to circumvent this logistics problem, so they turned to Ulteig for a solution.

Since Ulteig had a long-standing partnership with the client, engineers were familiar with their extensive energy operation and were able to quickly devise a plan to get a majority of their lines energized. The team developed several documents and schematics that identified the most critical pieces of equipment needed to energize each line. Then they brought the engineering, operation and construction teams to the table to discuss how to move forward.

As a solution, Ulteig engineers created a strategy that involved relocating existing substation breakers to critical lines so the majority of the lines could be energized. Since the project spanned over 5+ substations, they were able to re-direct the delayed breaker deliveries from China to other locations on the grid as arrival dates were staggered throughout the year.

Ulteig engineers were able to get the valuable line operational by piecing together which orders could be delivered in time for construction and creating drawings showing which equipment was critical to get installed. Construction crews are being kept productive and the client will be able to energize 95% of their assets on time.

At Ulteig, we listen carefully to a client’s unique business needs to help us develop real solutions that deliver true value.

Author: Wyatt Knepper, Technical Manager

Meeting the commissioning and testing requirements of a project’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system can be demanding due to current social distancing protocols. For Ulteig, performing SCADA integration for clients traditionally involves sending engineers to project locations throughout the U.S. to verify the full functionality of the final systems necessary to connect to the grid. But due to current COVID-19 travel restrictions and “stay at home” safety requirements, that’s a less desirable solution.

On a recent project for a generation owner in Texas, Ulteig implemented a remote solution to handle the requirements of the job. Ulteig engineers worked with the asset owner to deploy a laptop–accessible by Ulteig–to the project site. They then worked one-on-one with onsite personnel to connect to individual devices to program, troubleshoot and access the site’s Local Area Network.

The key to Ulteig’s solution was working with the asset owner to document the cybersecurity and malware management Standard Operating Procedures. The remote laptop fits the definition of a Transient Cyber Asset under NERC-CIP-003-7, so the owner must implement plans to address “Transient Cyber Asset and Removable Media Malicious Code Risk Mitigation.” The integration was performed from a thousand miles away, and the utility was able to stay on track with their construction schedule. 

Sending a laptop to the remote site was just one of the options developed to meet the needs of Ulteig clients. A renewable generation owner of a wind farm in Nebraska required SCADA integration completed to meet their Commercial Operation Date but wanted to minimize bringing new people onto the job site. Ulteig’s engineers worked with the owner’s IT department to establish a VPN connection to the project site.

Superior communication and coordination between critical staff already onsite (and all offtakers of data from the substation) were required to integrate the project remotely. This was an effective and safe solution, keeping unnecessary personnel offsite and avoiding travel.

Every company is dealing with business disruptions due to Coronavirus. And when this is all over, companies will get back to business as usual. Today, and in the years to come, Ulteig will continue to develop innovative solutions to meet the business needs of its clients.

Author: Seth Maslowski, Technical Manager