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Cover Story
Silverdale Engineers Jump To High-Tech

Cover Story: MAP Ltd Principals Mark Eisses, John Kieffer and Pat FuhrerSite preparation for a new construction project can be a major expense, especially when there is a lot of grading involved. Traditionally, engineers have to use a little intuition to figure out how to move dirt around a site in order to minimize dirt “import.” Property owners would get a site designed, then send it out for bids — while likely already making loan payments — and if the cost estimates turn out too high, they may send the project back to the drawing board.

Silverdale engineering and planning company MAP Ltd. has found a way around that process that can optimize the site design long before a project goes out for permitting and bidding. The company uses a high-tech tool, a design software called SITEOPS that can change site design on the computer in real time and calculate cost differences on the spot. Not only does the program save money on moving dirt, it also cuts design time significantly.

“It creates an efficient site design and maximizes the dollars,” said Pat Fuhrer, a civil engineer who is one of three principals at MAP Ltd. “They call it CAD with a brain.”

John Kieffer, Mark Eisses, and Pat FuhrerHe said one of the biggest challenges in the construction industry is designing the most efficient site in the most economic way. The more dirt has to be brought to the site after grading, the higher the cost, especially for smaller projects. The cost is further impacted by details such as retaining walls and parking lot arrangement.

One of the things SITEOPS does is balance the dirt work on the site, essentially moving it around (virtually) from graded areas to areas that need infilling. It can also run through scenarios of roads and parking lot locations, serve as a grading tool etc. With one click, a building can be rotated and the road turning radius can be changed. The program does about 30 percent of the work, so the engineers still have to use their knowledge and experience to complete the design.

“This gives us the ability to sit here and engineer the site in real time and gives our clients the ability to visualize what they’re spending money on,” Fuhrer said.

He estimates that for bigger sites, design time can be cut by two-thirds using the tool. Some aspects can be finished within minutes instead of several days. The information can then be seamlessly imported into AutoCAD, and CAD drawings can also be brought into SITEOPS as a starting point. Other information that can be imported into the software includes topographical maps and predefined parameters from a library of floor plans and templates, all the way down to design requirements in a jurisdiction (such as the unique rule for parking lot landscaping in Poulsbo). The data can also be incorporated into architectural drawings and even sent via GPS to graders on-site.

“It’s total automation — it’s the way things are going,” Fuhrer said.

The program uses cloud computing so the information does not reside on the firm’s servers. At MAP Ltd., three employees including Fuhrer are trained and certified in using the program, and they can manipulate the variables and run scenarios with customers watching by their side.

“What you’re seeing in real time is the cost estimate based on your design changes,” Fuhrer said. Those changes can include everything from changing the number of building floors and parking lot angles to limiting the height of retention walls. The operator can also specify restrictions such as leaving specific areas untouched, which would be important if the site has features such as wetlands, or grading within a certain depth, as would be necessary in the case of rain gardens.

Clients can receive PDF, Excel and HTML files with the completed designs, as well as use the information for marketing presentations. So far, the idea has especially been popular for feasibility studies, Fuhrer said, but they’re starting to use it for projects as well — such as some preliminary site work on the proposed Bremerton motor sports park.

MAP Ltd. is one of only two companies in Washington state currently certified in using SITEOPS, and the three company employees trained to using the program are among only about 150 worldwide who’ve gone through the three-day training program. The technology is mostly popular on the East Coast and in California.

“I think in five to six years everyone will run this software. They’ll have to in order to be competitive,” Fuhrer said.

SITEOPS has been a substantial investment for MAP but the company doesn’t charge clients extra for utilizing the program. Fuhrer said that originally they have contemplated adding an extra charge but decided against it — after all, they don’t charge extra for using AutoCAD software.

“It’s another tool in our toolbox so we don’t price it any differently,” he said. “We see it as a tool to bring people in the door.”

As for any company in the construction industry, MAP Ltd. has had to look for new ways to market itself. In addition to site planning and civil engineering, the business offers surveying and it serves both the commercial and residential market, though work in the residential sector has significantly tapered off. Most of the work has come through word of mouth and repeat customers in the past, and they’re taking the same word of mouth approach with SITEOPS — inviting perspective customers as well as colleagues such as architects and Realtors to watch demonstrations.

But the principals are also ramping up their marketing strategy. A website, for example, is in the works to showcase the firm’s new high-tech capability and how it’s different from the competition.

“We’re creating a superior product,” Fuhrer said. “It gives (a project) more predictability, and gives customers the confidence it will be the best project possible.”

Being an established company, of course, helps. MAP Ltd. was founded in 1971 and in 1989, seven senior employees bought it. Over time, the number of principals went down to three: Fuhrer and Mark Eisses are civil engineers and John Kieffer is a land surveyor, and together they have more than 60 years of total experience.

All three grew up in Kitsap County and have worked with each other for more than 20 years, but Fuhrer and Eisses knew each other back in college. Currently, the firm has 10 employees including a full-time surveying crew.

The company’s civil engineering work ranges from designing roads and sites to fish passages and estuary restoration. Locally, they have worked on most of the major roads in Silverdale as well as such retail landmarks as Costco in Silverdale and Fred Meyer in Bremerton. They have also worked pro bono on projects such as pedestrian bridges at Clear Creek Trail.

Fuhrer recalls that when he first started in the industry more than 20 years ago, AutoCAD was in its infancy and nobody used it in the county. He and Eisses discovered the program in the basement and started playing with it during lunch, soon giving the information to “the guys” to use in the field and becoming the first firm in Kitsap County to adopt the technology. Incorporating SITEOPS is a bit like those old times.

“This is like AutoCAD 101 to us, it’s a revolutionary tool,” Fuhrer said. “We’re following in the same footsteps. SITEOPS makes civil engineering fun to do again, and it gives us much better ability to analyze different scenarios.”

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