The digital water world

The Water Issue - Cover Story: The Water Issue

The key to helping your customers with efficient irrigation may be the method you’re using to design.

June 27, 2017
Katie Tuttle
Software can simplify the design and maintenance of systems with many features, including the allowing a contractor to email a map of a system where a customer can pinpoint a problem.
Photo courtesy of Vectorworks

Software can be used for a number of back office jobs, and is usually associated with design in the green industry, but it can also make irrigation installation and maintenance easier.

For software manufacturer IrriGreen, it’s all about their automated system.

“If you’re looking to put irrigation into a property, typically you’ve got to go in and put in lots of heads in each zone with head to head coverage,” says Ray Lamovec, sales and marketing director for the Edina, Minnesota-based company.

“With IrriGreen, all you have to do is place a head about in the middle of each zone and it’ll spray to the shape of that zone.”

And when he says shape, he means any shape you can think of.

“You can put it in the middle of a star-shaped lawn, you can put it in the middle of a square, a rectangle, a circle, an amoeba shape, and you can train it to spray in that shape,” he says.

Using this type of irrigation technology can cut down on installation time because instead of installing a handful of sprinkler heads spread out mathematically around the yard, contractors install one head and program it to spray the allotted area.

“The system, as it goes around, calculates exactly how much surface area there is, and then it puts out only the amount of water needed to water that amount of surface area,” Lamovec says. “As it goes around, the distance of the streams move in and out to follow curves … it’ll follow all of those things exactly, and because of that, it simplifies irrigation.”

If you’re installing a system with multiple heads, being able to create the design with software can also simplify the process because it takes away any guesswork.

“Users would use our software when they’re estimating from a set of blueprints,” says Phil Ogilby, CEO of Stack. “So, from a design standpoint, they can draw and count.

The software has a built-in auto find feature that will find sprinkler heads for them automatically on a set of blueprints.”

Seeing the system laid out on the set of blueprints allows contractors to be more accurate in their estimating process, both on cost and on quantity of materials.

“They actually can take the design into the field with them on their iPhone or Android phone,” Ogilby says.

For companies that are already using AutoCAD for other design operations, or perhaps companies interested in design-focused software, Land F/X has created an add-on specifically for irrigation design.

The program provides designers with tools to place sprinkler heads, draw pipes and do pipe-sizing applications. It then counts up the quantities of everything.

If your company focuses more on irrigation maintenance than irrigation installation, a software like Tapigo may be useful, as it includes apps for different steps in the maintenance process. Starting with surveying the property, the system also has apps for identifying maintenance issues, estimating job costs, approval for account managers, work specifics for repair technicians and invoicing for completed jobs.

Design right.

Whichever irrigation design software your company uses, it’s important to recognize that being able to create accurate designs is important.

“Irrigation design is an engineering field,” says Jeremiah Farmer, CEO of Land F/X. “It’s as complicated as anything. To think that you wouldn’t utilize advanced software to help you out is just kind of silly, frankly.”

It’s also important for water conservation. “(The automated system) uses 40 percent less water because we don’t overlap and we don’t overspray,” Lamovec says.

“Even though supposedly the drought is over, in the irrigation industry, the very big decision is do you go with drip, do you go with point source irrigation, and even at that level, do you go with subsurface irrigation or do you go with traditional sprays or do you go with rotary sprinklers?” Farmer says.

“You do have this very big breadth of options available that all have to do with saving water. And what software can do is, first, regardless of whether or not you’re pitching the idea to the client, it’ll free you to use equipment that you perhaps have never used before … To be able to have the software help with using an equipment imaginable out of the gate is going to help you as a designer.”

A bright future.

Being able to simplify your entire irrigation system into one program can also help with consistency, says Rob Beauchamp, co-founder and CEO of Tapigo.

“Quality control is really hard – training, consistency and getting people to price appropriately or similarly from property to property when you’ve got different accounts,” he says.

Seeing systems on blueprints allows contractors to be more accurate in their estimating process, both on cost and on quantity of materials.

He says standards can be hard to enforce, but having a software with the standards inputted can streamline the process, since everyone is using the pre-made settings.

“Price consistency becomes automatic instead of through training,” he says.

As people continue to find ways to save time, Ogilby says irrigation software will play a key role. “It helps them grow their business faster by being able to produce more business in less time,” he says. “They’re more accurate.”

Beauchamp says he’s found that there tends to be apprehension about using software.

“Fear about rolling things out into the field and fear about having to manage smart devices … it’s really fear that is preventing people from benefiting from all the great things that the software can provide,” he says.

“It doesn’t mean you’re not a designer, in the same way that spell check doesn’t mean there’s no more novelists,” Farmer says. “It just means novelists are able to work a little more efficiently … That’s all that software does. It helps the professional be even more professional.”