Utility Mapping Cut Their Manhole Card Processing Time in Half For 1000 Manholes Per Month

Utility Mapping specialises in the detection and mapping of underground utility assets. They survey around 1000 manholes per month and produce manhole cards as part of their client deliverables.

Traditionally they would use pen and paper to record data on-site. This lead to a time consuming process back in the office typing everything up, and was open to human error.

After attempting some in-house solutions, they decided to use SurvAid’s Manhole Inspection app to collect site data. This gets uploaded to the cloud and is instantly available to processing staff via the SurvAid web portal.

Jimmy Pewtress talked to MD Damian Taylor to find out about the improvements SurvAid made to their operations.

The result? Over 50% reduction in processing time to produce their manhole cards.

JP: So today I’m talking to Damian Taylor from Utility Mapping. So thanks Damian for taking a bit of time out today to have a chat.

DT: Pleasure. Thank you.

JP: To start off with, could you just give us a bit of background on Utility Mapping as a whole and then the kind of areas where you use the SurvAid software?

DT: Yeah, of course. So Utility Mapping, we specialize in the digital survey of subsurface utility assets. Our surveys are used to identify and reduce the risk buried services and structures present within sites. Using multiple technologies we conduct surveys of sites to map and detect and map the location, type, depth material and size of assets within agreed survey areas.

All the collected data is presented in detailed drawings or reports or in other forms of metadata such as manhole cards and IC report templates, which is where SurvAid falls in. We currently have 15 members in the company at the moment, so five survey teams out there operating as well as back end office processing, administration and so on.

JP: Ok. Before we came on, I had a look back through our emails and we’ve been working together since 2020, back end. If you’re able to cast your mind back before then, what would be the process for you to collect your information about the manholes you lifted out on site and then processed?

DT: Traditionally, going back, manhole cards were either done on pen and paper, so hand drawing, taking details down, location of pipes, drawing sketches, taking the assets and stuff. Sometimes it was all on a prefabricated template. Then you’d just fill the data in, do the sketches and do it that way.

And the other way which is what we were doing, especially around 2020 initially, we had a PDF template that was on a tablet that was again pre-populated with items and it was a case of insert text here, text there, just adding in the data as and when we collected it, which again was quite a timely process.

JP: Ok. You said in your case, the surveyors don’t come back and do that data processing. You have designated staff members back in the office to do that. Do you have a rough idea of how many manholes you do a month? A lot of customers, it tends to be peaks and troughs and fluctuates.

DT: Obviously peaks and troughs. But currently at the moment, with most sites just taken on average, we’re we’re around a thousand manholes a month we’d be investigating in terms of data being collected, at those points of location.

JP: Yeah, it’s quite a quite heavy usage for you guys. And so compared to the the old way of doing it with either the pen and paper or the iPad, how does that process look now you use SurvAid?

DT: Oh yeah. The new process with the app is quite a streamlined process. On average, per manhole, depending on obviously the amount of assets and data within those particular chambers, we can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 10 minutes per location in capturing all the data we need at that location. Traditionally with the pen and paper side of things, again, you were 5 five to 10 minutes, I would say, but the problem you had was it was all about duplication back end.

It’s all well and good it being on a pen and paper, but it was time then spent back end, you were doubling the time created. You would spend another ten, 15 minutes digitizing that paper form that had been created. So we would input it into a Word document or whether it be an Excel sheet or something along those lines, it’s just dropping into them.

With a PDF form, the data was created and it didn’t need to be duplicated. However, the disadvantage we found with that was, once text had been inserted into a PDF and it was flat data. There was no intelligence behind it. There’s no searchable fields. It didn’t know it was an electric IC, it didn’t know it was an IC, it didn’t know it was a manhole, it didn’t know all the other intelligent search fields we could build into that, whereas with SurvAid every piece of data within there has a piece of intelligence behind it because it knows it’s either an invert level, it knows it’s an invert level associated with pipe X, pipe A, pipe B.

It knows the materials, it knows chamber diameters. Once you’ve put in your accurate survey coordinates for cover level for example, you’re able to, you should be able to in theory, be able to automate and have potential for modelling and other things in the back end if that makes sense?

JP: So yeah, sounds like some good time savings. Were there any particular jobs, or large pieces of work or anything where you did any comparisons to quantify those time savings of how long it would have taken before or after? I was just kind of continual…

DT: Yeah, traditionally, I think ultimately you’ve saved half the time, at least, even off the PDF forms in terms of cutting that down.

The PDF forms were still quite data aligned and data entry that you’re still having to create a drawing, do certain things and put in and obviously attaching the photos and other things as well, whereas now with the app it’s prompting. There’s prompts all the way through that you start at the top and work your way through.

If that information’s not there or not needed, you’ve not got to worry about it. Whereas with the PDF forms it was a case of saying “no information needed here” or other things which we put in, so it’s reduced the time down significantly with that.

On average, we’re operating on close to a thousand manholes a month, even if you say it’s 10 minutes per cover, we’re reducing that down to 5 minutes. This is 50% your time saved that can be better spent on site in conducting the rest of the survey works that go and form part of what the manhole cards are there for to do.

So there’s more time spent conducting the actual surveys and working that way and then obviously with the data export as well being live that’s another thing – the back end office can be there straight away taking in the data and dropping that into a model if needed.

If there was something really urgent, the guys, can be collecting the data on site, uploading it from site, and then back end processing can be carried out straightaway rather than having to wait for something to be drawn on a piece of paper, transported back to an office, given to someone else to then duplicate and replicate. It’s a pretty timely process.

If you’ve got close to a thousand models a month and it’s all in paper, and you’ve done all that on paper, then there’s also risk there in transportation for damage, loss of any of those chambers. The only way to get that data back is to go back and physically lift that manhole again. If you’ve lost that data, it’s lost information.

JP: That sounds really good. And so back at the beginning, back in 2020 when we started working, you had your own custom version of the app developed and there was me and a couple of other people in the team that were kind of back and forth. You’d take it, field test it, feed back, we’d iterate up to the point where you were happy that it was going to be rolled out.

Once you got to that point and it went out to the wider, I know you say you’ve got five teams out and about there now, what was the response and the uptake like from the people who hadn’t seen it before and then suddenly it got introduced to them as a new way of working?

DT: So yeah, initially the response of a few of the guys that had been working with it, we didn’t just run it with one team out on site, we tried the best ones because it’s multiple points of view. So we had quite a few people that were trialing running the app at the time anyway in terms of the trial building. But with regards to the new guys taking it up and taking it on straight it is a very, very straightforward process. A lot of people these days are very tech minded anyway.

We’ve been able to operate on phones and work with what they want to work with, using apps and doing things on a daily basis, that it was quite a straightforward thing. Once they were able to orientate their way through the app once or twice on the first couple of manholes, they picked it up and they’re running with it pretty much straight away.

So it’s not something that takes a long time to learn or understand. Once you know what you’re doing in terms of the data that’s needed from a chamber, whether it be a manhole or an IC, you know what’s needed to be collected. It’s easy. It’s a straightforward process that they’ll be able to run through. Yeah.

JP: Good to hear it. And you touched on it a bit earlier actually, when you were talking about the improvements and stuff, but what’s the effect been on having this new digitized workflow that reduces the the processing time in the back office on the general survey team? So has that freed them up to, can you do more surveys with the same amount of surveyors now?

Or can people do other things that who were traditionally spending more time writing out forms and things like that?

DT: Well, back end time. Obviously, the massive saving is the back end. There’s no need for duplication. The data’s there available on the on the desktop app that we use obviously in correlation with the drawings as well. So as the survey teams are digitizing the utility data and working and compiling on our drawings and reports, they’ve also got the desktop there with the manhole location and all the information within that. There’s cross-referencing. So the cross-referencing and QA and then doing what you need to do on both data sets at the same time.

But like I said, that information being instantly available is a massive saving that. It’s a difficult one in terms of comparison for that. So I suppose it’s what we’d like to do with this data moving forward hopefully where we’d like to see if this could be a saving on time if that makes sense?

JP: Yeah. That’s all been really good. So thanks for the info. I know one of the things we’ve talked about as well is doing other things with this data other than producing manhole cards with it and sending, potentially, it onwards into other systems as well as it just staying in SurvAid so I’m sure there’s plenty more stuff for us to be working through as time goes on.

So I look forward to catching up with you again as we go through that. But in the meantime, thanks very much for taking a bit of time out today to go through all that, and it’s really nice to hear that you’re getting a lot of value out of the software.

DT: Perfect. Thank you Jimmy. Much appreciated.

JP: Cheers. Thanks a lot.