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Technology adds new dimension to surveying

BTW Sarjeant Gallery laser mapped
The Sarjeant Gallery as depicted by BTW's laser scanning technology

Cutting-edge technology continues to revolutionise surveying and engineering, and BTW Company is taking a leading role in the implementation and development of the new tools.

BTW has its own dedicated high definition 3D laser scanners, which enable precise computer models of the likes of buildings, piping, and vessels to be computer generated to millimetre accuracy.

And, through applications by BTW’s own innovative developers, those 3D models are now being used to create virtual reality (VR) tours of sites – giving clients the ability to put on a pair of VR goggles and ‘walk through’ a building, object or proposed development from the comfort of an office or lounge.

BTW, which has offices in New Plymouth and Hamilton, has been providing surveying, engineering, planning and environmental consultancy services since 1973. It was at the forefront of Taranaki’s energy boom, working on the surveying and consenting processes for the likes of the Māui platform, Kupe, and Methanex’s Motunui plant.

That connection with the energy sector has continued and has been strengthened in the past decade through BTW’s membership of the Energy and Industrial Group (EIG).

BTW managing director Grant Aitken says EIG membership has enabled collaboration with other businesses on projects throughout New Zealand, and given it a valuable presence at conferences and events through marketing, exhibitions, industry sponsorships and educational opportunities.

Grant says the latest technological tools for surveying and engineering, which includes the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, are complementary to conventional instruments, such as total stations.

Sitting on a tripod, the 3D laser scanner works by capturing whatever it can see in its field of view. As the instrument turns slowly in a 360-degree circle horizontally, a lens in the centre of the model spins quickly vertically, scanning all the points of the surface.

The scanner is then repositioned in another area of the space being surveyed and the process is repeated. Once all the required scans are completed, the millions of points of data captured are knitted together via computer software to create a 3D model. 

The speed of the technology’s evolution means that BTW has bought two more instruments in the past 18 months to ensure it has the latest tools available, while the computer software required to create the 3D model is also constantly improving.

“When 3D laser imaging first came out 12-14 years ago, very few had the computer power to actually model the data that was captured,” Grant says.

“When we jumped into it six years ago, computing power had improved significantly. The computers we use for this work are the highest spec available.”

The process is a lot quicker than traditional surveying techniques, with large projects that require a vast number of areas to be surveyed now taking days rather than weeks or months to complete.

But Grant says qualified and experienced surveyors are still vital to ensure accuracy.

“Data’s only as good as how you’ve captured it. There’s the set-up, the linking the points, the geo-referencing and ensuring the data is correct, and then the modelling. You need a professional,” he says.

Recently, BTW has scanned the entire Māui B platform – “we scanned it in approximately four days, including all the intricate pipelines, in millimetre accuracy” – along with a number of First Gas sites around the North Island, Taranaki Base Hospital, and areas at Fonterra, Ballance Agri-Nutrients, and Refining New Zealand.

It has also scanned and modelled the Sergeant Gallery in Whanganui and the Taranaki Cathedral of St Mary Church in New Plymouth as both prepare for earthquake strengthening.

“We can scan and capture the data and hold it for future modelling, which is useful for the likes of earthquake prone buildings. We can also work alongside other companies, such as scanning a pipe or piping system for an engineering company, whose own piping designers then model the data.”

With VR technology, the modelling is being taken a step further.

“We thought, now that we’ve got this data wouldn’t it be cool to present it to the client. We’ve had two software designers working on the technology and are now including it for projects such as Māui A and B, First Gas sites, and the Green School at Oakura,” Grant says.

“Although there is currently little to see on-site at the Green School, we’ve taken the drone over where it will be built, scanned the ground surface and used our engineering designs to model roads and buildings.

“So, we can take someone there just by putting the goggles on whether they are here or overseas and showcase what it’s going to be like – it’s very exciting.”

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