News and Events - "All News and Events"

Welcome to our newsroom! Here you will find the latest information about our company, projects and people. Browse articles published by our engineers and scientists in national publications and conference proceedings, view our press releases and read through news coverage of Terracon.

If you are a member of the media, you may contact our media relations representative at media@terracon.com.


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We have an App for that: Bringing Efficiency to Process

Environmental AssessmentSaving time and money on your next environmental site assessment just got a little easier. Terracon’s new Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) Field App allows assessors to be more efficient while conducting the site reconnaissance and completing report writing for Phase I ESAs.

This mobile app, developed by Terracon, is the first of its kind in the environmental industry. It can be used for most of Terracon’s Phase I ESA projects. Technology associated with the app creates opportunities for Phase I Practitioners and other Terracon professionals to streamline assessment processes, efficiently coordinate project deliverables, and communicate issues to clients faster. The mobile app is estimated to save 25,000 to 30,000 total labor hours per year and won the EDR 2017 PRISM Technology Innovation Award.

“We are fortunate to have an incredibly dynamic team who enjoy rising to the challenge of making our processes better each day.” John Sallman, National Director, Terracon Environmental Services.

Prior to the development of the app, each assessor would take a site reconnaissance form, note pad, camera, and/or mobile phone into the field to complete each reconnaissance. Then, back at the office, photos would need to be uploaded to the project file and notes taken would be transcribed into the applicable sections of the Phase I report.

Now with Terracon’s ESA Field app, all the assessor needs is a mobile phone!  Once on-site, our assessor collects necessary data to populate  several sections of the ESA report, including the interview, site observations, adjoining properties, and if applicable, additional services such as limited sampling of building materials. The content of the app is structured based on the ASTM standard requirements. Additionally, the assessor can take representative photos and begin a site diagram, all within the app.

With necessary questions and user friendly answering options, the app allows the assessor to streamline site reconnaissance and be confident the necessary information was collected in the field. Once the required questions in the app are answered, the data can be uploaded to Terracon’s server. The  ESA report draft can be generated, with information entered in the interview, site observation, adjoining properties, and additional services sections of the app transferred to the applicable sections of the report. Photos taken in the app will be uploaded to the project file and the site diagram features will be uploaded to Terracon’s GIS Toolbox.

“It was really fun to be part of the team that was given the time and creative freedom to design this app,” said Emily Blakeway, field scientist in Terracon’s Seattle office. Emily Blakeway was part of the app development team that included several assessors and IT personal from Terracon offices across the country.


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Terracon Continues to Rise in ENR Rankings

OLATHE, Kan. —Terracon, a leading provider of environmental, facilities, geotechnical, and materials services, has continued a pattern of growth and market presence expansion as evidenced in Engineering News-Record’s (ENR) annual listing of Top Design Firms and Top Regional Design Firms.

Terracon has advanced in each of the following national rankings:

  • Top 500 Design Firms – #30 (up from #32)
  • Top 100 Pure Designers – #12 (up from #16)
  • Top 150 Global Design Firms – #62 (up from #63)

“Terracon has continued to become more diversified through both organic and external growth,” said Swaminathan Srinivasan, P.E., president of Terracon. “In the past several years, our strategy of prosperous growth has resulted in an expansion of our services and number of locations, which brings increased value to our clients.”

Terracon’s focus on strategic business sectors within its core service lines has resulted in strong growth — power generation and transmission (including renewable energy) revenues up 24 percent and transportation revenues up 11 percent. By providing local service with resources from offices nationwide, Terracon continues to support clients’ business objectives.

ENR conducts annual surveys of the construction industry’s key segments and ranks companies engaged in general contracting, specialty contracting, engineering, architecture, and environmental services, among other specialties. The rankings, based on annual revenue, are further divided into market categories and geographic regions. Significant upward movement in the Top Design Firms regional listings includes rising to #6 in Texas and Louisiana, #6 in Colorado and Wyoming, #7 in the Midwest, and #8 in the Southeast. Additionally, ENR ranked Terracon #1 in Asbestos/Lead Abatement for the fifth consecutive year. More information on Terracon’s ENR rankings can be found here.

Terracon is an employee-owned engineering consulting firm with more than 4,000 employees providing environmental, facilities, geotechnical, and materials services from more than 140 offices with services available in all 50 states. Terracon currently ranks 30th on Engineering News-Record’s list of Top 500 Design Firms. For additional information about Terracon, visit www.terracon.com.


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Using Collaboration and Communication to Reduce Geotechnical Project Risk

One of today’s buzzwords is “Risk.” We all have experience with the prime example of risk and risk mitigation: insurance. Simply stated, insurance mitigates financial risk by paying some money to make sure that we never have to pay a lot of money if something goes wrong.

Risk is certainly relevant to the geotechnical profession. It comes into play when characterizing the subsurface soil, rock, and groundwater conditions (which, it turns out, can be quite variable), evaluating foundation design options, and selecting a particular design addressing the pertinent construction and performance problems to the satisfaction of the owner’s risk tolerance. But who “owns” the risk, and how is it exposed and mitigated?

 Preparing you to make informed decisions

Communication is a critical aspect of risk awareness and mitigation. At Terracon, we have developed a collaborative platform to inform our clients of the site conditions, foundation options and risks associated with the options. We want our clients to be well informed. With the right information, you can make the decisions that impact your construction costs and schedules, and adequately address your risk tolerance.

Using our web-based GeoReport platform, we inform you of subsurface condition, and associated compatibility considerations for your planned structure, and suggest various foundation designs and means of construction, noting the risks associated with each. For instance, a larger foundation, which may be more expensive, and slowly constructed, can reduce the obvious risks; however, a well-informed owner can select a foundation choice consistent with his or her risk tolerance, perhaps one that shortens construction time or reduces cost and maximizes value. To accomplish this interaction, vibrant collaboration among the consultant, owner, and other appropriate team members is essential.

The Hidden Risk

Geotechnical risk considerations can include unforeseen construction delays, unexpected subsurface conditions, poor foundation performance (such as excessive movements), and end-user safety.  There is also another risk that is always present, yet rarely discussed: the risk of excessive foundation costs and associated construction time for foundation elements that were not necessary in the first place. Overly conservative designs are the result of insufficient designer/owner collaboration and insufficient risk assessment. Just as it is important to understand risk exposures when buying insurance to avoid being over- or underinsured, collaboration is essential for a more complete understanding of your risk tolerance and can lead to more efficient designs and improved long-term performance.

Learn more about GeoReport

For a quick introduction to GeoReport, how it quickly provides the information we gather, our geotechnical recommendations for design and construction, and how it allows all stakeholders to think through the options together, watch this 80-second video.

 

We encounter risk in all we do, and that certainly applies to geotechnical aspects of construction. At Terracon, we are building a better way to work with you, our clients, as a team to understand and mitigate risks on your next project.


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2017 ENR rankings

Engineering News-Record has announced rankings in its listing of the Top Design Firms.
Terracon ranks as the following in 2017:

Top 500 Design Firms  #30

Top 500 Design Firms – General Building #12

  • Education  #14
  • Multi-Unit Residential #15
  • Retail #16
  • Commercial Offices #17
  • Distribution and Warehouses #2

Top 500 Design Firms – Transportation #41

Top 500 Design Firms – Power #30

  • Solar Power #2
  • Transmission and Distribution  #15

Top 500 Design Firms – Environment

  • Water Supply #43
  • Hazardous Waste #15
  • Asbestos and Lead Abatement Design #1
  • Site Assessment and Compliance #7

Top 500 Design Firms – Manufacturing, Telecom

  • Industrial Process #45
  • Manufacturing #33

Top 200 Environmental #63

Top 150 Global Design Firms  #62

Top 100 Pure Designers  #12

Engineering News-Record Southwest Ranking
Top Design Firms  #14
Top Nevada Design Firms #7
Top Arizona Design Firms #16
Top New Mexico Design Firms #13
General Building #12

Engineering News-Record Southeast Rankings
Top Design Firms  #8
Top Environmental and Geotechnical Design Firms #4
Top Education #9
Top Transportation #19
Top Alabama Design Firms #5
Top Florida Design Firms #14
Top Georgia Design Firms #8
Top North Carolina Design Firms #10
Top South Carolina Design Firms #4

Engineering News-Record Midwest Rankings
Top Design Firms #7
Top Power #6
Top Commercial #9
Top Iowa Design Firms #1
Top Kansas Design Firms #2
Top Kentucky Design Firms #8
Top Minnesota Design Firms #5
Top Missouri Design Firms #8
Top Nebraska Design Firms #2

Engineering News-Record California Rankings
Top Design Firms  #46
Top Environmental and Geotechnical Design Firms #11

Engineering News-Record Texas and Louisiana Rankings
Top Design Firms  #6
Top Environmental and Geotechnical Design Firms #3
Top General Building Design Firms #7
Top Multi-Unit Residential #3
Top Education #8
Top Retail #2
Top Commercial #7
Top Louisiana Design Firms #10

Engineering News-Record Colorado and Wyoming Rankings
Top Design Firms  #6
Top Environmental and Geotechnical Design Firms #4
Top Colorado Design Firms #11*
Top General Building Design Firms #8*
Top Wyoming Design Firms #8*
Top Transportation #11
Top Water Supply #14

Engineering News-Record Intermountain Ranking
Top Design Firms  #14
Top Environmental and Geotechnical Design Firms #4
Top Transportation #11

*Indicates 2016 ranking.

 

 


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Structural Steel and Welding Inspection – A Critical Service for Building Construction

FAA tower with rainbowStructural steel and welding inspection is a critical service for building construction. Poor welding or misalignment of steel components can adversely affect the structural performance or safety of a building. This is important for all buildings, but especially for critical structures such as hospitals and schools that must be able to withstand seismic events.

To protect buildings and their occupants, Terracon’s approach on structural steel projects is to form a close working partnership between our project inspectors and structural engineers.

Communication Yields the Best Results

Communication on these complex projects is key. Pre-fabrication and pre-erection meetings should be mandated to be sure that all team members (general contractor, inspector, fabricator, erector, and structural engineer) understand the requirements. These meetings are a good opportunity for the structural engineer to review the important aspects of the structural steel design, such as critical components like brace frames and moment frames.  Opening communication between inspectors and structural engineers saves time, allowing the inspector to help clarify project requirements, when questions come up during construction.

Welding procedures, applicable to the project, must be submitted and approved by the structural engineer.  Many structural engineers do not have the expertise to review welding procedures, and will utilize other consultants to advise and recommend acceptance.  Terracon has in-house welding experts to perform this welding procedure review.

Details are Critical

It is very important that structural components such as brace frames, moment frames, and other elements are installed in the proper location, within specified tolerances.  For upgrades in existing structures, there can often be existing conditions that interfere with the placement of the new structural steel members.

Inspectors must carefully detail any fit-up issues in the inspection report. The inspector needs to make sure that the contractor accurately describes nonconforming issues in Requests For Information (RFI) forms and submits them to the structural engineer for clarification and/or approved fixes.  Inspectors are required to be certified by the American Welding Society and/or the International Code Counsel and also need to be certified to perform, when required, nondestructive testing, such as ultrasonic or magnetic particle testing on welds.  These certifications require a high level of training and expertise.

A welding inspector must measure the size and length of every structural weld.  Field welds on brace frames are critical.  These welds are often welded out of position or can be undersized if there is a gap between the tube and gusset plate.  The fillet weld size must be increased by the size of the gap.  The alignment tolerances of the brace frame tubes are also critical and are usually detailed on the structural drawings.  There is often an erection bolt through the tube and gusset plate.  If the erector can’t get the erection bolt through the hole, there is likely an alignment issue that requires an RFI.

When welding new structural steel to existing structural steel, the existing steel must be cleaned to bare steel prior to welding.  Welding through coatings such as paint and galvanizing can lead to weld cracking and lack of weld fusion.

Bringing it All Together

When structural steel inspection is a required part of the project, it is important to build a collaborative team.  Structural steel and welding inspectors must have a high level of expertise and good communication skills. At Terracon, our materials professionals add value to your project at any stage. By joining your team early in the design process, we can identify, evaluate and recommend the right materials selection, welding procedures, and nondestructive testing, optimizing them for the project, which can speed construction and reduce costs.


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What’s Under the Hood (Concrete)?

Using ultrasonic echo tomography is a very useful structural diagnostic technique for diagnosing surface and internal concrete defects.

Ultra Sonic Echo Testing

Cracks, spalls, and surface defects such as voids, honeycombing, exposed rebar, etc., are typical symptoms of distress associated with reinforced concrete structures. These symptoms are typically identified as a precursor to a potentially larger issue hiding under the concrete surface. To an owner, this can mean unanticipated costs, potential impacts to building operations, and even safety concerns. The process of finding what has caused the defects will include an evaluation of distress symptoms such as cracks, voids, and surface defects. This effort requires a combination of visual assessment, and field and lab testing to develop a prognosis of the issue. One very useful and powerful tool used for assessment is ultrasonic echo tomography.

Defects in new or existing construction come from improper construction practices, improper design details, accidents, or sometimes natural disasters. These defects can impact the integrity of the structure and lead to sustainability and usability issues.

What is Ultrasonic Echo Tomography?

Ultrasonic echo tomography is a non-destructive test method used for evaluating the condition of hardened concrete by measuring the time of ultrasonic shear-wave transmitting in the hardened concrete. A shear-wave which is transmitted in an isotropic medium will be partly reflected when it reaches another medium with a different acoustic impedance. The amount of energy reflected depends on the significance of difference in the acoustic impedance of the two media. The effectiveness of ultrasonic echo testing in identifying defects inside concrete has been proven in many field applications.

3-D Ultra Sonic Testing

Diagnosis of A Reinforced Concrete Aeration Tank

This project involved a newly constructed cylindrical aeration tank that was designed to hold wastewater. The tank had an inner diameter of 63 feet, and a height of 18 feet. Our client observed concrete construction defects, including map pattern cracking, cold joints, and honeycombing on the exterior face of the reinforced 1-foot thick concrete wall of the tank after the forms were removed. These defects raised serious concerns related to the water-tightness of the concrete structure and its structural integrity.

Ultra Sonic Testing

To identify the probable causes of the observed defects, and determine if subsurface defects existed that were not visible on the surface, Terracon performed Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) test and ultrasonic echo tomography test on the wall (on both interior and exterior faces) at several locations. The results of GPR test indicated inconsistent and less than specified concrete cover thickness near the exterior face of the wall which had contributed to the map pattern cracking mimicking the pattern of the reinforcing steel cage. Based on the 3-D models obtained from ultrasonic echo tomography test, the defects appeared to be limited to the vicinity of the exterior surface of wall, with no additional subsurface concrete flaws.  This was verified by through-wall coring performed on the concrete wall.

The findings allowed the client to determine that the new tank structure did not require demolition. They could be confident that the extent of observed surface defects were limited in nature. The structural engineer of record proposed a surface sealing repair coating to verify the water tightness of the structure. Significant demolition cost and schedule impacts were avoided.

Ultrasonic echo tomography is just one of the non-destructive techniques that can be utilized in evaluating concrete structures. With each unique project, a combination of a reasonable structural/materials evaluation and use of appropriate advanced non-destructive testing technology can help save time and money for all stakeholders.


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Prevent Damage: Advance Testing of Chert Can Prevent Concrete Integrity Issues

ChertThe integrity of structural concrete is critical in projects large and small. The composition of the concrete varies, and common components of aggregates such as chert can have a great impact. Known for its beauty by rock collectors and gemologists, chert, when contained in aggregates used in concrete can be a source of integrity issues. Testing of aggregates for chert content in advance can help prevent issues in structural concrete down the road.

Ubiquitous and beautiful

The use of aggregates containing chert in concrete mixes is common in the southern United States, where chert occurs as massive beds and in river gravels. Its presence is also common in the Midwest where it tends to occur in river gravels and in glacial sediments, and where it occurs as a relatively small percentage of the total aggregate composition.

Chert is of interest to rock collectors, gemologists, geologists, and knappers (those who produce stone tools like those of Native Americans), and it is used in the production of sharpening stones and abrasive products. But one of the most common uses of chert is as part of the aggregate in concrete products.

Challenges caused by use

The issues relative to the presence of chert in concrete aggregate are two-fold. The physical properties of chert are variable – it can be non-porous and dense, or contain vugs*, macro pores, and micro pores, which render the chert highly absorbent. Absorption of water and subsequent freezing can result in what are commonly called “pop-outs” in the concrete because of the chert particles fracturing and dislodging from the concrete surface as a result of the expansion and contraction that can occur during the freeze-thaw cycle. Typically, these pop-outs are confined to the chert itself, and result in minimal damage to the surrounding concrete, although they can be cosmetically undesirable. In other cases, chert pop-outs can be a significant issue. For example, when they occur on airfield pavements they can lead to significant damage to landing or departing aircraft. Loose chert particles from pop-outs on a runway can cause airplane tire damage and can even be ingested by jet engines.

Of even more significance is the chemical composition of the chert. Because chert is essentially silicon dioxide, certain types of chert (chalcedony, opal, agate) can chemically react with the alkalis (sodium and potassium) present in Portland cement, the key bonding ingredient in structural concrete. The chert and alkali interaction cause a reaction known as alkali-silica reactivity (ASR). ASR can result in the formation of expansive amorphous (non-crystalline) silica gels, and in turn result in severe damage to structural concrete. These issues often happen over time and may not be obvious early in the life of the concrete.

Preventing issues down the road

Fortunately, testing for potential damage due to chert content can be performed before the first batch of concrete is placed on a project. Terracon can perform laboratory testing to pre-qualify the proposed aggregates to assess aggregate chert content and potential reactivity to avert potential issues. Analysis of in-place structural concrete can also be done on specimens from the existing structure that may show signs of deterioration so that issues can be assessed and solutions addressed.

Once initiated in the presence of water, ASR is progressive and irreversible. For this reason, the initial identification of the presence and quantity of chert by a qualified petrographer, such as Terracon can provide, prior to use as concrete aggregate is recommended. If chert is found to be present, more sophisticated mortar bar tests can be used to determine whether the chert is indeed reactive with the alkalis in the Portland Cement and, if so, the rate of mortar bar expansion and potential mitigation measures needed before the mix designs are finalized and concrete is mixed.

What is Chert?

Chert is a sedimentary rock consisting almost entirely of microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline silica (silicon dioxide) with minor impurities. Included in the term “chert” are the varieties of silica known as chalcedony, jasper, flint, agate, opal, onyx, porcelanite, and novaculite (metamorphosed chert).

*Vugs are irregular cavities in rock caused by dissolution of minerals, which may or may not be lined with crystals.

 


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Terracon Foundation Awards $110,300 in Grants and Scholarships

OLATHE, Kan. ­­– The Terracon Foundation is pleased to announce the award of $110,300 to grant and scholarship recipients. The Terracon Foundation was established as the community investment arm of Terracon with a goal to reach out and become a real part of the lives of company employees and the communities where they live and work.

The Terracon Foundation bi-annually awards funds in the grant categories of universities and community organizations, and annually presents funds for scholarships supporting dependents of employees. To date, the Foundation has distributed more than $1.4 million in grant funds.

Dependent Scholarships

The Terracon Foundation distributed $26,000 in scholarship grants to 13 dependents of Terracon employees who are pursuing four-year degrees through a community college, college, or university.

“Through the Terracon Foundation, we have been able to support the education of at least 68 young adults in the last four years,” said Swaminathan Srinivasan, P.E., president of Terracon. “We have confidence in the next generation of students, and the scholarships are one way we demonstrate our support for industry-focused higher education across the country.”

University Grants

As part of an ongoing effort to support higher education, the Terracon Foundation presented university grants for graduate-level scholarships, fellowships, and programs in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

This year, the Terracon Foundation has presented $38,500 to six universities:

Arkansas

  • University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Oklahoma

  • University of Oklahoma, Norman

Texas

  • Texas A&M University – San Antonio, San Antonio
  • Texas Tech University – The Institute of Environmental and Human Health, Lubbock
  • The University of Texas Foundation, Austin
  • University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio

Community Grants

The Terracon Foundation has awarded $45,800 in community grants to 15 local, nonprofit organizations whose employees are actively engaged with an emphasis on education and the built and natural environment.

Requesting Terracon Location Community Grant Recipient Organization Grant Recipient Location
Tuscon, Ariz. Southern Arizona Environmental Management Society (SAEMS) Tuscon, Ariz.
Hartford, Conn. Coast Guard Auxiliary Association, Inc. St. Louis, Mo.
Winter Park, Fla. School Board of Polk County Davenport, Fla.
Savannah, Ga. Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity Savannah, Ga.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa The Arc of East Central Iowa Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids, Iowa Feed Iowa First Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Olathe, Kan. Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri Kansas City, Mo.
Olathe, Kan. L3 Love-Literacy-Life, Inc. Leawood, Kan.
Wichita, Kan. Lake Afton Public Observatory Goddard, Kan.
Olathe, Kan. National Society of Black Engineers Alexandria, Va.
Louisville, Ky. Food Literacy Project at Oxmoor Farm, Inc. Louisville, Ky.
Raleigh, N.C. Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood Cary, N.C.
Cincinnati, Ohio CrossRoads Missions Louisville, Ky.
Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. Systematic Tutoring Resulting in the Development of Essential
Skills (STRIDES)
Greenville, S.C.
San Antonio, Texas Roof Consultants Institute Foundation Raleigh, N.C.

For more information about the Terracon Foundation, visit terracon.com/foundation/.

Terracon is an employee-owned engineering consulting firm with more than 4,000 employees providing environmental, facilities, geotechnical, and materials services from more than 140 offices with services in all 50 states. Terracon currently ranks 30th on Engineering News-Record’s list of Top 500 Design Firms. For additional information about Terracon, visit www.terracon.com.


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Critical Roadwork: Design for Crucial Florida Road Project

I-75 corridor in FloridaAt one point, the north/south corridor of Interstate 75 (I-75) in Florida’s Broward and Miami-Dade counties was a road with relatively light traffic allowing motorists to cruise along at highway speeds most of the time. This changed after Hurricane Andrew blew through in 1992. Andrew leveled thousands of homes and businesses, causing a mass migration to the newer, available homes along the I-75 corridor. With this shift, new traffic patterns developed along I-75 and other major roadways, creating significant areas of congestion in some cases.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) responded to the challenges with plans to alleviate traffic congestion and improve connectivity. The plans included additional lanes and enhancements to existing roadways and reversible, dedicated open-road toll lanes. Early in 2014, construction began on the $485 million road project, which was scheduled in four segments.

Having provided geotechnical and materials testing services for a number of South Florida projects, Terracon served as an instrumental part of the Segment E improvements. As with most area projects, the geotechnical design was complicated by existing marshy terrain and unknown subsurface conditions. Terracon’s subsurface exploration team worked quickly to collect all the necessary data from the field, enabling our geotechnical engineers to collaborate with the project’s lead designer, WSP USA, to understand the conditions.

In order to test and confirm pile depths and capacities, Terracon’s pile-driving analyzer and operating engineers were deployed together during construction to work with the team. This data gathering phase was complicated by the need to keep traffic moving. Key challenges for the maintenance of traffic included reducing traffic shifts, limiting lane closures, and reducing weaving and merging.

As the project progressed into construction, Terracon went on to perform all the contractor quality control (CQC) testing of the materials on behalf of Dragados USA, the design-build contractor. CQC services included laboratory testing of soils and concrete, and other key components including bridge inspection, to ensure contractor compliance with FDOT plans and specifications.

In addition to working closely with WSP USA and DUSA, the Terracon team needed to coordinate with the construction engineering consultant firm (CEI), Target Engineering, and FDOT. Tasks included communication about data, scheduling, testing, and reporting results. A unique challenge for data reporting on this project was moving data entry from the Laboratory Information Management System to the Materials Acceptance Certification system at the midpoint of the project.

Terracon provided reliable data using properly trained, certified, and experienced staff to confirm the integrity of the materials used met the project specifications. The Terracon team included technicians who had completed FDOT’s Construction Training Qualification Program (CTQP).

They observed and tested more than 600,000 cubic yards of excavation and embankment material; 700,000 square yards of base material; more than 35,000 tons of asphalt materials; and more than 50,000 cubic yards of concrete.

With the project nearing completion and soon to be fully open to traffic, South Florida residents and commuters will greatly benefit from these unique, reversible toll lanes. The project provided an opportunity for Terracon to further demonstrate our transportation support capabilities and capacity utilizing multiple team members from three of our nearby offices. As a go-to consultant for critical transportation projects like I-75, Segment E, Terracon is committed to the transportation industry and proud to help our design and construction clients solve challenging issues through creative solutions.


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The Age of the Drone: How Unmanned Aircraft Systems Expand Building Investigation Boundaries

Unmanned Aircraft SystemWhen a window is too high to reach, a building is difficult to access by scaffolding, or a facility is too large to survey—call in the drones! The introduction of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), or drones, has added exciting new options for providing building investigation services with greater accuracy and increased efficiency.

Traditionally, assisting owners, architects, and contractors tackle building enclosure issues, performance deficiencies, and maintenance investigations of their properties has meant setting up staging equipment or acquiring the largest boom lift available and hoping for safe access. This access can be time consuming, expensive, and inadequate for the task at hand. Drones can provide a safer and quicker option for examining the components of a curtain wall, accessing a recessed ledge on an architecturally-challenging building, performing construction monitoring, or inspecting large roofs and structures in substantially less time.

Revolutionary Service Options

Access improvements and increased safety are attractive and easily recognized benefits of sUAS for due diligence services. The lesser known, more exciting, features are what drones are doing to revolutionize services and options for building investigations. Services such as photogrammetric mapping and thermographic imaging are quickly expanding in both application and effectiveness. Photogrammetric mapping is the use of photography for surveying and measuring distances between objects. Industry applications include mapping of architectural features for historic preservation, measuring existing structures’ elevations to be converted into CAD drawings and repair documents, and measuring spoil piles in geological and environmental earth moving projects. Photogrammetry allows a sUAS pilot to preprogram flight patterns over a desired location, and record the photos sequentially. The sequence of photos can later be “stitched” together to generate real-time overhead location maps, footprints of existing facilities, up-to-date elevation drawings for as-built documentation, and design and retrofit documentation.

Unmanned Aircraft System in flightThermography, a process utilized by building enclosure consultants for decades, is simplified through the use of sUAS. The value of a thermographic image allows technicians to identify temperature changes caused by possible moisture within a system, voids, or installation deficiencies not visible to the eye. Thermography equipment is most effective during a small window of time in the early evening dusk; when the sun has yet to set, but is low in the sky. Temperature differences between the roof assembly and the conditioned interior space are greatest during this time frame and allow for optimal imaging from thermographic cameras. Naturally expedient thermographic surveying of the roof area is critical for large facilities, but walking a large roof can be time consuming. Now, a thermographic camera can be mounted to a drone allowing the operator to cover more of the roof area. The GPS coordinates for all photos and drone footage are recorded when the image is captured, which allows for quick and accurate location and documentation.

Piloting the Industry

These new commercial capabilities require new licensing, permitting, safety considerations, and government oversight. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), state, and local authorities have several operation regulations of drones, with most states differing from federal requirements, and from one another. Private organizations, hobbyists, and businesses collaborate with the FAA to provide feedback for this dynamic industry, in an attempt to make sUAS effective and safe for the public. A remote pilot in command must be well aware of airspace when communication with air traffic control towers is required, where restricted and prohibited flight areas are designated, and of national airspace rules.

This technology is rapidly accelerating the execution of building enclosure investigations. Terracon’s facilities professionals are using drones to help clients with large scale projects and routine maintenance inspections, making building inspections easier and safer than ever before.