• WisBusiness

Friday, October 16, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: R.A. Smith takes to the (unmanned) air to view job sites


By MaryBeth Matzek
R.A. Smith National employees have a new resource they can deploy on its engineering and surveying jobs -- drones.

Also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, drones are "another surveying tool in our tool belt," says Jon Chapman, a 3D laser scanning manager with the Brookfield-based engineering, surveying and technical services consulting company.

Earlier this month, R.A. Smith received the Section 333 exemption and is already putting UAV to use on job sites. "We hit the ground running," Chapman says.

R.A. Smith is one of few Wisconsin companies to receive the Section 333 exemption from the FAA. Under this rule, companies can operate UAVs under 200 feet in the air only during daylight and stay in the operator's line of sight. In addition, a licensed pilot must operate the controls of the UAV.

Nationwide, the FAA has approved 1,783 Section 333 exemptions.

In R.A. Smith's case, Chapman says the company has found plenty of uses for UAVs on jobs by taking advantage of their ability to fly over sites and photograph what they see.

"We do a lot of volume metric surveying, such as checking company's stockpiles and seeing how much they have of a certain product. Previously, we would have someone go out and walk on the pile and take lots of photos of it," he says. "Now, we can fly a UAV over it and take a bunch of photos without putting an employee out in what may be an area that's difficult to reach and hard to walk around."

Those images are then run through a photometric process to determine the volume total.

Another example is when R.A. Smith is hired to inspect silt fences on building sites. Previously, an employee would have to walk the entire site and take photographs. Now with the UAV, the drone can do it all from the air, saving time.

"The more we keep using the UAV, the more ways we discover how we can use it," Chapman says. "It's very exciting."

Clean sweep

Three cows from MilkSource Genetics of Freedom made history earlier this month at the 2015 World Dairy Expo in Madison. Three different breeds from the same farm captured grand champion honors in their respective classes – something that hasn't happened at the expo before.

A Holstein cow was named supreme champ while a Jersey cow was named reserve supreme champ. A red and white Holstein also earned grand champion honors.

MilkSource Genetics also was named premier exhibitor and premier breeder of the Red & White Show and premier exhibitor of the Holstein Show.

Boosting the rural economy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded 10 grants worth $575,000 to help support start-ups and expansions at rural small businesses. The grants range from the $99,999 awarded to the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council in Lac Du Flambeau to provide technical assistance to Native American business owners in eight Wisconsin tribes to $21,000 to Easter Seals Wisconsin in Madison for a program that works one-on-one with disabled entrepreneurs to evaluate their self-employment ideas and plans for start-up businesses.

The USDA awards the grants through the Rural Business Development Grant Program. See a full list of the Wisconsin grants.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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