Measure twice, cut once: Using drone data to calculate concrete volume

Earlier this year, EMJ completed an expansion at Ruby Falls, a tourist attraction in Lookout Mountain, Tenn., that boasts the nation’s largest public underground waterfall. Our team constructed a new lobby, retail space, pedestrian mall, and more next to the original, historic castle that sits more than 1,000 feet above the underground waterfall.

The expansion required removal of a significant amount of rock to create a pad for the new construction. Considering the site’s location on a mountainside above an underground cavern, the team carefully drilled out the rock section by section, rather than blasting. As documented in a recent Ground Up podcast, the rock removal process required precision planning, logistics, and execution by all project team members. It also required careful consideration for how to prepare the resulting site to endure the elements for many years to come.

Among those considerations was waterproofing and the best method to ensure the exposed rock could withstand the elements. Of particular concern was a void between the new building and the rock wall. This gap was created when the team carved out the rock to create the building pad. The design team presented two options for EMJ to consider: apply a vinyl-waterproofing product or fill the space between the building and the mountain with concrete.

But, here was the catch. While the team could estimate the cost of the vinyl waterproofing, it was impossible to measure the gap and estimate the cost of the concrete.

The team called on Caleb Wickersham, EMJ Virtual Construction Engineer and licensed drone pilot, who had already flown the site and created a 3D model of the mountainside using photogrammetry.

Caleb layered the architect’s building model next to his mountainside model. Using his previous calculations, he was able to determine the volume of the space between the building and the mountain, which provided the amount of concrete needed to solve the waterproofing issue.  From this, the team calculated the concrete cost, and in comparing it with the vinyl-waterproofing cost, the vinyl product was the more cost-effective and prudent option for Ruby Falls.

There is an old adage that applies to construction, “Measure twice and cut once.”  In a figurative sense that means to plan and prepare in a careful, thorough manner before taking action. Using construction technology, that is exactly what the Ruby Falls team did, helping make sure its recommendation to the client was accurate.

Check out this video of Caleb’s handywork.

Related story:

EMJ’s Chattanooga team wraps up Ruby Falls expansion


Photogrammetry offers easy, accurate solutions for owners and trade partners

A site capture of Firestone in Opelika, Ala., offers measurements at 1-inch accuracy through use of survey control points.


Construction of the Firestone store in Opelika, Ala., required a series of cut and fills before construction began. Wanting to ensure that the site’s grade was maintained and that stormwater drainage requirements were achieved, the EMJ Special Projects team enlisted the help of Caleb Wickersham, Virtual Construction Engineer and licensed drone operator.

Using GPS coordinates and other data, Caleb conducted programmed, automated flights along the same path at each stage of the site’s preparation. During the flights, the drone captured high-resolution images of the site from which Caleb applied photogrammetry.

“Photogrammetry offers construction teams the ability to capture measurements and record the site how it was at the time of flight,” said Caleb.

The measurements obtained through this process are within an inch of accuracy and offer endless applications in the construction industry.

“It allows us to go back if something goes wrong and see where and when the problem occurred or can be used to hold project participants accountable for their contracted responsibilities,” said Caleb. “Taking measurements can also offer data that would otherwise take extra time, effort and money to obtain. For example, after a drone flight at the Hampton Inn site in Decatur, Ga., we captured the height of surrounding buildings. This was then used to discuss crane logistics and security camera locations for the site.”

At EMJ Construction’s Ruby Falls project in Chattanooga, Tenn., the team requested Caleb’s help in determining the amount and estimated cost of concrete.

“It allowed the project team to see how much concrete would be needed to fill the space between a wall and cliff face and make decisions based upon that volume estimate,” said Caleb.

This photogrammetric 3D model was used for confirming measurements at Ruby Falls. Green photo projections represent where the photos were taken in 3D space.


Drone flights cost roughly $500 per flight, but the cost can vary based on the number of flights and the job site location. Teams receive their drone deliverable package typically within 48 hours of the drone flight, and Caleb and his team can provide them anything from an orthomosaic sitemap (a top down view of site at high resolution) and volumetric calculations to 360 photos and video.

“Additionally, EMJ clients are able to see the data as we capture it,” said Caleb. “This allows them to see a timeline of the building as it rises from the ground and assists in communicating progress. Subcontractors also benefit from the data and the availability of an active, up-to-date map of the site as they develop their execution plans.”

For more information on photogrammetry or to enlist the Construction Technology team’s help with a project, contact

Caleb Wickersham joined EMJ Corporation in 2017 and is focusing on building EMJ’s field technology capabilities, such as drones, Matterport and laser scanning, as well as assisting with BIM coordination and other related tasks.

EMJ, Branch to build the world’s first 3D-printed house

EMJ Corporation has partnered with Branch Technology to build the world’s first 3D-printed house. EMJ will serve as the construction manager on record led by EMJ Special Projects and the EMJ Construction Technology department.

Branch Technology, a Chattanooga-based start-up, is home to the world’s largest free-form 3D printer and uses a technology called cellular fabrication, or C-FAB, to bring large-scale designs to life.

Founder and CEO Platt Boyd, who spent nearly two decades as an architect, developed the technology, which prints large structural shapes into cell-like matrixes for maximum strength, efficiency, and nearly limitless options—unlike traditional construction materials and/or designs that were once impossible to actually construct.

Branch gained national coverage when it announced its sponsorship of a design competition to construct the first 3D-printed house through its new technology. After reviewing submissions from 1,300 designers in 97 countries, Branch awarded WATG in Chicago with the winning design for its 1,000-square-foot, 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom house entitled “Curve Appeal.”

Printing and building a house piece-by-piece is unprecedented, but Branch has already tackled similar projects across the nation, including being involved in the world’s largest 3D-printed pavilion and the design for a 3D-printed habitat for NASA’s deep space exploration. Similarly, the house will be created by printed carbon fiber polymer matrixes, which will be filled with traditional insulation and then clad with dry wall.

“Branch is a world-class leader in bringing innovation to the construction industry,” says Jonathan Deming, Director of BIM and Construction Technology at EMJ. “This work has the potential to completely revolutionize the architecture, engineering and construction industries.”

Branch and EMJ are currently collaborating on the final plans for the house. This includes site logistics planning, phasing of prefabrication and installation, constructability and engineering of the design components.

“We are testing materials, mocking up options and reviewing scenarios to ensure the house is built to the highest quality standards,” said Jonathan Horne, EMJ Director of Quality, who is working alongside the EMJ Special Projects team and the Construction Technology Department to finalize the construction plans.

The house is expected to be completed in 2018 and will be built on the Chattanooga State main campus to be later used as an advanced technology demonstration space.

To learn more about plans for the 3D-printed house, click here, and see more about Branch’s C-FAB technology here.

Related articles:
Big ideas: 3D printing pioneer Branch Technology ‘doing things no one else is doing’
Behold: The World’s First Freeform 3D-Printed House Might Look Like This
See the Designs for the First Free-Form 3D-Printed House

Wegmans: 3D BIM coordination aids through-slab MEP planning

The structural concrete slab of the Wegmans grocery store in Medford, Mass., includes several recessed areas, trench drains and a significant amount of utilities running through and below it.

Realizing the room for error in the complicated design, Boston’s EMJ Construction team reached out to Will Callery, Virtual Construction Engineer, and Brian Tiehen, Quality Manager, for assistance in planning their approach.

Together, the teams reviewed the plans and set up a measurably accurate 3D model of the slab penetrations, elevations and specialty features. The model provided the project team with a map to identify each slab’s dimensions and where each feature on the slab should be located.

Underslab BIM Coordination showing sanitary and electrical slab penetration locations. This process was used to locate slab penetrations and avoid conflicts.


For example, it could be used to see how the drain locations aligned with owner provided equipment or to make sure an electrical box didn’t get placed directly under a wall.

“The team knew exactly what we were going to be working with before we even got started, and the technology helped identify potential problem areas and prepare adequately,” said Bruce Tassone, Senior Project Manager. “It helped ensure proper placement and prevent clashes.”

Photo courtesy of Wegmans,


The Medford Wegmans is on track for a fall opening.

Read more about the team’s outstanding work on the project in this article about using templates to perfect drywall details.

Snapshot of the overall BIM coordination, showing multiple trades represented in 3D.


Guiding teams into the future with construction technology

EMJ’s people are the building blocks of the company. Their personalities, skills and past experiences are large parts of what make the company great. We are proud of each member of the team and enjoy sharing their stories.

Jonathan uses a Matterport reality capture device to capture virtual walkthroughs of rooms at EMJ’s 728 Market Street project.


Jonathan Deming, EMJ’s Director of BIM and Construction Technology, began his construction career building U.S. Embassies internationally—most notably in Beijing, China, and Moscow, Russia. He worked in various roles from construction project manager to design engineer, gaining understanding of the complexities and challenges of many construction roles.

After several years of international construction, he changed his course to focus on BIM and technology.

“Building internationally expands your perspective and pushes you to look beyond the way things have always been done,” Jonathan says. “Exploring ways to increase efficiency and improve the overall construction process in other countries really launched my passion for construction technology.”

After shifting his career focus, Jonathan gained experience working on projects of all sizes, including the Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA) $90 million Defense Distribution Center. He led a team that self-performed the design and fabrication of mechanical systems to include ductwork and piping, using 3D modeling technology. This effort resulted in over $500,000 in savings to the project and several accolades, including first place in the 2013 Sysque Model of the Year.

Jonathan also worked on DFW’s Automated People Mover and Terminal Expansion, a $1.2 billion program, where he served as a quality assurance engineer and scheduling manager.

A model of Shaw Industry Group’s Create Centre by EMJ’s Construction Technology team. The office building was designed by Gensler.


Today, Jonathan leads EMJ Corporation and its family of companies in the training and application of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and various other construction technologies, such as laser scanning, smart site, 4D scheduling and more. Some of the projects impacted by his team’s work include 728 Market Street, U.S. Xpress, Connection Park, Chattanooga Whiskey and Farmer Brothers.

“Applying technology to construction can be complex and disruptive, so it’s important that we compare methods and help clients understand what the best options are so that they can achieve their goals and cut risk,” says Jonathan.

Jonathan’s department is also responsible for selecting and implementing the cloud-based project collaboration system Procore, currently being rolled out across EMJ.

With nearly 20 years of experience, Jonathan is committed to sharing his knowledge with others in the industry. In 2016, he founded Grassroots BIM to serve his Chattanooga community. This group of like-minded professionals who are passionate about construction technology holds quarterly meetings to foster community and collaboration within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries.

“The group’s tech-focus aligns perfectly with Chattanooga’s emphasis on innovation, and it has the potential to really enhance the AEC community,” says Jonathan. “We are building great momentum and are excited to see the results.”

He has also served as the speaker for Autodesk University and a guest lecturer for Carnegie Mellon University Graduate School of Civil Engineering, The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, and The University of Tennessee School of Engineering Technology. This August, Jonathan will be one of the main speakers at the Advancing Field Technology 2017 conference, where he will address topics ranging from data analytics to ROI case studies.

For those trying to find their way in the construction industry or life in general, Jonathan says,  “Find your passion. It won’t necessarily be instant or easy, but when you find it, you will have a whole new outlook on your job and your purpose in life.”

Learn more about EMJ’s Construction Technology offerings here, and learn more about our EMJ team and how to become a part of it here.

Laser scanning to produce structural drawings


Kevin Lloyd, Senior Estimator at Accent Construction Services, and Jonathan Deming, EMJ Director of BIM and Construction Technology, are receiving EMJ’s C2C Spotlight Award for their innovative work at the US Xpress office in Tunnel Hill, Ga.

While working with U.S. Xpress on another project, Kevin proactively identified an opportunity to add unique value by producing an accurate set of drawings for existing conditions at their office building.

Kevin saw an opportunity to add value, saying, “Hang on a second. I bet we could facilitate this for you. I called Jonathan, who confirmed that the space would be an ideal project for laser scanning, and within two weeks, we were in business.”

A “scan” is a powerful laser recording that captures a site’s shape and appearance and converts those conditions into highly accurate 3D models and structural drawings at sub-millimeter accuracy.


“We asked the client, ‘What are you trying to accomplish?’ Once we understood their goals, we proposed a better and more economical solution,” said Jonathan.

U.S. Xpress took Jonathan and Kevin up on their offer, and Jonathan brought in the laser scanning team from Coast 2 Coast Survey Corporation. The resulting scan is now in post-processing, and the new set of drawings will soon be delivered to the client.

By LISTENing to the client and THINKing of innovative solutions, Kevin was able to not only serve them better, but also bring additional business to the family of companies.

Kudos to Kevin Lloyd and Jonathan Deming for their dedication to our C2C approach and for collaborating to deliver U.S. Xpress an exceptional client experience.

Click here to learn more about our C2C approach.

EMJ Vice President Greg Everett presents Kevin Lloyd with his C2C spotlight award.


Pictured, from left to right: EMJ’s Jonathan Deming with Wallace Beard of U.S. Xpress and Werner Slabber and Shaun Heldzinger of Coast 2 Coast.


Grassroots BIM to meet January 25 in Chattanooga

In October 2016, nearly 40 architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) professionals from 19 companies gathered at EMJ’s Chattanooga office for the first-ever meeting of Grassroots BIM. Sponsored by EMJ Corporation and cultivated by Jonathan Deming, EMJ’s Director of BIM and Construction Technology, the group is self-described as a “network of like-minded professionals who are passionate about construction technology” and aim to foster community and collaboration within the industry.

“This group’s tech-focus aligns perfectly with Chattanooga’s emphasis on innovation, and it has the potential to really enhance the AEC community,” said Deming. “We are building great momentum and are excited to see the results.”

Deming, along with Applied Software’s AEC Building Specialist Mike Massey, and Mark Petrucci, Director of Construction Technology Group, led the inaugural meeting, discussing centralized cloud-based Building Information Modeling (BIM) data with those in attendance.

The group plans to meet quarterly at different companies’ offices around Chattanooga with the next gathering set for Wednesday, January 25th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Callahan Mechanical . Chris Callahan and Jason Bell from Callahan will present on “BIM to Fab” and discuss Callahan’s CAD/BIM capabilities and how design files are transferred to automated fabrication machines.

“It’s encouraging to see the Chattanooga community connecting and growing together with the end-goal of enhancing project experiences for everyone involved,” said James Tyson, Senior Vice President of Estimating at EMJ.

Topics for future meetings include newly-emerging BIM technology and its impact on design and construction. Membership is informal and open to all.

To learn more about Grassroots BIM or to join, connect with the group on LinkedIn here or email For more information about the January meeting, click here.

Here’s a look at EMJ’s construction technology in action. A 3D model of the Chattanooga Whiskey distillery was combined with an actual photo from the construction site to aid all project stakeholders in visualizing the end goal.


Technology’s impact on an urban mixed-use project 


Building a 10-story structure within the close quarters of a bustling downtown community can pose some unique challenges. The EMJ team on the 728 Market Street mixed-use development in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn., is utilizing the latest technologies to assist in navigating these obstacles.

Existing structures on three sides and a main downtown thoroughfare on the fourth side border the project site. In order to carefully plan the construction of the building and minimize disruption to neighboring businesses, the EMJ team employed Building Information Modeling (BIM) along with laser scanning, 3D site logistics planning and 4D scheduling. These tools helped the project team map the construction schedule step-by-step, foresee challenges, mitigate potential conflicts and streamline the construction process.

Lance Lindsey, Superintendent at 728 Market, witnessed firsthand the benefits of clash detection: a BIM tool used to identify conflicts with building components (a plumbing pipe in the same spot as a HVAC duct line, for example). Rather than identifying such conflicts during installation, clash detection allows the team to find and resolve the conflict early—before work even commences.

“In a nut shell, the benefit is an accelerated understanding of the structure in its entirety and finding clashes or conflicts between building components early,” said Lance.

He ranks clash detection as the most valuable tool on the site so far because of the cost savings for the owner and time savings for the entire team.

“I now realize there’s an easier, faster way of understanding the site in its totality and resolving clashes,” he continued.


Lance also credits 3D visualization as it shows the “structure in its entirety.” The team understands where components will be located, and the technology saves time and gains savings and quality for everyone.

“3D Visualization techniques reduce mistakes and thereby decreasing the time and cost to complete a project,” Lance said. “Whenever you are able to save time you gain savings and quality which ultimately benefits everyone.”

However, he predicts virtual room mock-ups will steal first place when the process is polished and ready for use on project sites. The Market Street team was instrumental in helping EMJ develop a repeatable process showing a 3D representation of each room type complete with useful information visually shown such as fire ratings and wall blocking locations.

“Those should produce a thorough understanding of exactly where rough in components will be located which will be a huge time saver,” Lance said.

His experience with technology on this Market Street project will be incorporated in future projects.

“Technology is helping us to improve and streamline the ‘EMJ way’ of serving our clients and reaching our goals,” he said.

728 Market Tour

“Our team is excited about bringing these innovative tools to assist our construction teams,” said Jonathan Deming, EMJ Director of BIM and Construction Technology. “Learning these technologies and understanding their application continues to help us find value on projects.”

With an expected completion date in 2017, the 728 Market Street development will feature 125 apartments, offices and ground-floor retail.

The Market Street team includes James Williams, Project Manager; Lance Lindsey, Superintendent; Chris Jones, Superintendent; Caleb Dickerson, Project Engineer; Jonathan Woolsey, Project Engineer; Drew Templeton, Co-Op; and Will Callery, Virtual Construction Engineer in the BIM and Construction Technology Department.

Discover EMJ’s C2C Tech Roadmap and learn more about what EMJ’s Construction Technology team can offer your project.


More on 4D Scheduling



Pictured are images from the 4D Scheduling of 728 Market Street. This process merges a 3D model with the project schedule to show a proposed sequence of construction. This sequence in an interactive setting encourages informed decisions in the planning phase.

For example, in the 4D Market Street study, our team loaded schedule data into Autodesk’s Navisworks, a model-based review software, and associated that data with 3D model components. The program then created building images depicting the planned progress of the building. Our team used these images to create documents showing the construction progress over a two-week period to post on the jobsite. This process allows project participants to visualize the construction sequence before it happens, evaluate the validity of their planned project schedule, and communicate the upcoming work in a more meaningful way.



Related stories:

Chattanooga leaders tour job site at 728 Market

728 Market St. breaks ground in Chattanooga



Technology enhances the construction experience

A nearly 500,000-square-foot retail development in west Houston is nearing completion and has signed on a handful of national anchor tenants.


EMJ Corporation’s C2C Tech Roadmap outlines 21 tools available to clients and project teams through our Construction Technology department to assist in planning, building and operating facilities more effectively.

These technological capabilities can provide enhanced insight about everything from project site conditions to completed facility operations costs, and processes such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) can be utilized throughout the construction timeline to streamline the process and assist in enabling operational efficiency. 

According to McGraw Hill’s 2015 SmartMarket Brief: BIM Advancements 01, “Large construction firms have seen a 5% decrease or more in final construction costs through use of BIM-enabled workflows.” 

These technological tools are being utilized more and more on construction sites to help teams identify obstacles, eliminate unnecessary costs and capture opportunities to add value throughout a project timeline. View EMJ’s C2C Tech Roadmap below to learn more about our capabilities and how they can benefit your construction project.

Construction Technology Brochure