Company Spotlight: Technics

Credit: Technics
Credit: Technics

Company Spotlight does exactly what it says on the proverbial tin. Learn all about the history, BIM journey and latest Building Information Modelling developments of some of the industry’s most-recognisable names.

In a special Q&A edition of the Company Spotlight, Martin Penney, a Director at land and utility surveyors Technics discusses their BIM journey in one of the most interesting Company Spotlights we have ever completed.

Martin is also part of the Steering Committee and Technical Committee for the Survey4BIM task group. Survey4BIM is a Cabinet Office BIM Task Group partner – a cross-industry group open to all organisations involved in the survey, collection, management, processing and delivery of geospatial information within a BIM context.

Today’s interview is certainly thinking outside of the box when it comes to a Company Spotlight but I’m really glad Martin that we’re going against the grain today. First off, land surveying and BIM, how do they manage to mix?

Surveying and rigorous, accurate and reliable data collection is fundamental to effective asset and data management in the built environment, so in my opinion BIM and surveying are made for each other. I’m part of the Survey4BIM committee that aims to provide a forum for survey organisation and share their journey putting “BIM into practice” and to provide best practice guidance documents on survey matters relating to BIM – so for me they go hand in hand.

There are a range of services that Technics can provide clients with when it comes to Building Information Modelling, things like complete point cloud creation to laser scanning. Can you explain those in a little more detail?

Laser scanning uses a tripod mounted instrument to capture millions of points per second in space from line of sight of the operator. We use 3D laser scanners that provide us with a wide range of data collection and software output for our clients alongside traditional survey technology. They’re designed to automatically capture large volumes of 3D survey points – known as point cloud – on the surface of buildings, structures and highways.

A high density of points in the cloud the data becomes almost 3D photographic to the viewer. This data set is also known as an ‘as-built’ because it captures the current reality of the feature being surveyed. As-built point clouds are very useful and can be used as historical records, to QA a newly constructed feature against design tolerance or can be 3D modelled in particular BIM software for design or facility management use.

With the UK government construction strategy for projects to be fully collaborative with 3D BIM by 2016, laser scanning provides geospatial surveyors the perfect tool to deliver Scan2BIM surveys for major infrastructure projects.

What was Technics’ first foray into BIM? How did the company first become aware of the process?

BIM as a process that uses enabling 3D software, has been around in various guises since the 1990s used by the early pioneers though then it was just known as good practice not BIM.

We became aware of BIM after the launch of the Government’s 2011 Construction Strategy that aimed to digitise the industry and promote collaboration and ultimately generate savings.

The Cabinet Office BIM Task Group is the structure responsible for national BIM implementation and we have got involved in the Survey4BIM Committee.

Our first project was rather unusual and tricky: An old collapsed Oak tree in Surrey which was going to be used for a Chelsea Flower Show stand centre piece. We laser scanned the tree in the wood in situ, helped out by Faro, modelled it and the landscape architect, Fiona Stevenson, used it in her CAD design of the stand to see if it would fit and look good and she ultimately won best of class which was great.

In your experience, what is your biggest gripe when you work within a BIM process?

This isn’t so much a gripe but a fact of life that with BIM you learn something every day and there isn’t a simple end in sight.

A challenge we face as surveyors is that not everyone regards surveying as fundamentally crucial in the entire design, build and manage process so it can often be left out of the early BIM process and not considered until the last minute when someone needs mission critical data when it may well be too late.

As one of the very first consultants on the initial phases of a design lifecycle, our mission as an industry, and that of the Survey4BIM community, is to be recognised as arbiters of valid data standards that should be engaged throughout the whole lifecycle of an asset. Our role as professional consultants is one that we at Technics are taking to the wider infrastructure industry.

Also, the avalanche of software that is riding on the back of the BIM mandate fundamentally favours design and management from a blank piece of paper and generally not refurbishment. Although a sweeping statement, the ability for many proprietary software to deal with the irregular, i.e. the real life of curving and sagging building walls and complex rail geometry for example, is sadly poor. This is proving challenging for the as-built world we operate in.

You have utilised your skillset on a number of BIM projects in the past. Can you explain some of those in more detail?

Royal Holloway University London – a long term academic client looking at migration of all asset data to BIM and CAFM environment.

The first step was to understand the ongoing longer term client requirements and strategy to ensure we are delivering the right thing in the right way. The long term plan is the whole site migration of traditional survey data and legacy plans and information to BIM environment.

This has included modelling and experimenting with above and below ground and M&E survey data. We are also looking at how we can add our UAV photogrammetry as a further layer of 3D data. The learning is huge for both us on this project in what in effect will be a 10 year project.

Theodolite surveying techniques can also be utilised to aid a BIM workflow and I will be the first to admit I’m not sure what that term means. If any of the readers are also in the dark too, can you explain how that process works?

Put simply surveyors use various instruments to accurately collect data or points in space much like a 3D dot-to-dot – if they exist anymore! This data is positioned in wider space which is also crucial – this building is here nationally and these walls are there within the model.

This data is then drawn up in CAD or modelled to produce a 3D representation. These models are used by other professionals to design on, to add to existing designs or check against what was intended to be built.

The theodolite you refer to to put it into context is a traditional tripod mounted instrument with a telescope that measures accurate angles.

Modern digital total stations also measure distances, so with a bit of simple computer maths any feature recorded will have a 3D co-ordinate produced; each point building up the dot-to-dot picture.

The great thing about the new wave of modern instrumentation is that they can mass collect millions of line of sight points as opposed to a single point traditionally, thereby increasing speed of survey, data capture and level of detail captured.

The other interesting point about modern digital data is that after you have collected it once you can re-visit the data set to do further work on areas of the data set or do different task with it – so collect once use many – this is real value added for clients.

How much about software do the Technics team need to know when working on BIM projects? How involved would Technics be on a typical project?

Input on projects varies case by case. Some we have light touch on just delivering discreet point cloud or even 2D drawings still, and others as I’ve described above require significant input and many hours consultation, management and survey time and modelling in various software formats. But we have a rigorous training scheme at Technics; as a company it is important that all our surveyors acquire the skills they need to develop, for the benefit of the company, clients and also for individuals in their development as surveyors, and BIM training is part of this training.

Your website gives a fantastic overview of what BIM is and what software platforms are available to create and manage BIMs. Which software platforms have the Technics team came across most? Which do you feel is best?

We are still finding our way through the maze of software but we have found that some clients prefer to use their own favourite software. We don’t deal with overarching BIM project management software ourselves only the enabling software. Obviously, Autodesk and Bentley are very popular software houses with respect to design and build and infrastructure, and we work within both.

A few months ago now, two of the Technics team presented at the BIMcrunch media partnered event, GEO Business 2015 on the subject of boundary demarcation. Can you tell me more?

I presented a workshop at GEO Business on visualising 3D utility assets. This was a bite-sized lecture on the validity of visualised 3D utility data within a BIM environment. The point being that the BIM process includes all forms of geometric data both above and below ground and also onshore and offshore data that is often miss-understood.

Obviously for infrastructure development the holistic above and below ground environment needs to be fully investigated and understood. In fact, many gatekeeping planning decisions are based upon utility asset capacity and potential which makes it really important but often forgotten data. Forgotten that is until someone needs to know how and if they can power the new shopping centre or not.

Plus the models look really neat and help project teams visually understand what’s going on beneath the near surface.

Have you guys noticed your level of BIM-related work rising? Do you think that has anything to do with the Government’s BIM mandate?

Interest in BIM projects has consistently risen and half of our enquiries at least are now BIM associated.

Certainly credit has to be given to some degree to the drive for BIM from the government over the last four years, especially by its leaders Mark Bew and David Philp at the BIM Task Group – even though this was initially public sector driven this is beginning to overspill into the private sector now.

Yet at least 50% of the wider survey industry is still agnostic to the benefits, some even denying the benefits, which in my opinion is a shame at this stage. Part of the problem is what I alluded to at the beginning of the article that surveying seems to be the forgotten role in a project and we need to define what exactly is our new emerging role in this process going forward.

Hence our belief and drive at Technics and Survey4BIM to establish how surveyors provide an integral and continuos role in the BIM process and the importance of geospatial information in the industry.

To learn more about Technics, visit their Twitter feed or official website.

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