How data and technology are revolutionising natural resource projects
The last 50 years have brought immense change to the natural resources industry; however, project service roles have remained constant. An experienced professional is sent into the field with shop drawings, building plans and a host of other technical documents to verify construction progress and determine if it remains on track. While the fundamental role is the same, we are seeing a dramatic increase in efficiency when capturing and working with digital construction data.
By Andy Lenihan, Associate Director and Suryash Chakravarty, Consultant.
The role of technology in the natural resources sector
Digital 3D models assist qualified quantity surveyors by creating a ‘digital twin’ of the construction site, a model that allows them to quickly navigate the entire site and compare digital data with site data. When discrepancies are found, the quantity surveyor can simply pull out a tablet with the 3D model loaded and mark-up any issues.
This leads to very accurate information, and is also a highly efficient process due to near real-time collaboration between client, contractor and consultant teams.
The model can then provide more structured communication and updates between the stakeholders or parties working on a project. With access to the model, all stakeholders are fully aware of the project status and what needs to be done to meet the deadlines and commitments made.
Efficiency and accuracy with LiDAR devices
Even greater efficiency can be realised when using LiDAR devices (Light Detection and Ranging). These devices essentially use lasers to capture geospatial data pertaining to the objects around it. By measuring the time taken for a beam of light to bounce back off an object, the device can effectively measure its distance from the device. More importantly, the device can also measure the relative distance between two objects, providing extremely accurate digital imagery.
The output can be converted to a 3D point cloud which, when used in combination with the 3D model, can verify if geometry items contained within the model have been installed or not. Depending on the LiDAR scanning device, this method can capture upwards of 600,000 points of data per second.
The detail in the model allows a structure to be reviewed in a digital space. For example, a LiDAR scan may identify any issues arising from each stage of the construction process and allow the team to quickly find a solution and react, minimising project delays.
Introducing another layer: modern-day machines
Autonomous vehicles, such as drones, can provide another layer of data collection, drastically reducing the time needed for the quantity surveyor to be physically present on site. Real-life applications could include the surveying of large areas, such as open pit mines, long stretches along pipeline routes, or even locations where it might be hazardous for humans to be present, such as nuclear reactors or operating refineries.
Modern-day autonomous vehicles can follow a pre-programmed route, eliminating the need for a person to control it during routine operations. By doing this periodically over the life of the project, the owner has contemporaneous records and an understanding of how a facility or building is constructed. While this may not be needed today, when maintenance is required in the future, the scope of the project is very clear, and this will ultimately result in time and cost savings.
Leading the change
Traditionally, the construction industry is slow to embrace digital change. With LiDAR scanners now optimised to the point that they can now be considered portable, making them suited to site-based walkdowns, the opportunity for change is real. By using modern-day computer algorithms and software to quickly reference the captured data points, high levels of detail in relation to the work completed and remaining is obtained.
Our teams have been using this technology on several projects in the natural resources sector, helping to break the stigma and lead the way when it comes to digitalisation. The benefits include providing the information needed to make important, timely project decisions, assisting client and stakeholder communication and, most importantly, improving efficiency throughout the project lifecycle.