CONTENTS

3D LASER SCANNING ENABLES BESPOKE PREFABRICATION

THE PROMISE OF HIGHLY-ACCURATE ‘BESPOKE PREFABRICATION’ IS BECOMING A REALITY ON CONSTRUCTION SITES AND IN EARLY DESIGN DISCUSSIONS, THANKS TO ADVANCED 3D LASER SCANNING TECHNOLOGY. AUSTRALIAN STEEL INSTITUTE (ASI) MEMBER FIRM, WATKINS STEEL IS LEADING THE CHARGE; ITS 3D LASER SCANNING TECHNOLOGY IS ENABLING IT TO CREATE STRUCTURES THAT ARE A ‘GLOVE FIT’ FOR SPECIFIC SITE CONSTRAINTS.

After 50 years in operation, ASI member firm Watkins Steel knew it needed to embrace technological change to safeguard the future of the company. As just one of over 400 fabricators in South-East Queensland, Watkins was competing on both man hours per tonne and price.

According to Managing Director Des Watkins, “We had to come up with a way to be different to the other 400-odd fabricators against whom we were competing. So, we embraced technological change and transformed our traditional processes through innovative thinking.”

“We invested in the market leading Faro Focus 3D X 130 Laser Scanner. This enables us to accurately capture the full external or internal detail of any building, site or environment. Shooting approximately 1 million laser points per second, data from the 3D laser scanner can be compiled to recreate a digital ‘3D point cloud model’ of the scanned site. We can capture height, length, surface area, quadrant, slope—just about anything really,” says Watkins.

“We invested in the market leading Faro Focus 3D X 130 Laser Scanner. This enables us to accurately capture the full external or internal detail of any building, site or environment. Shooting approximately 1 million laser points per second, data from the 3D laser scanner can be compiled to recreate a digital ‘3D point cloud model’ of the scanned site. We can capture height, length, surface area, quadrant, slope—just about anything really.” Des Watkins, Managing Director, Watkins Steel.

“Consequently, all our shop drawings completed in Tekla Structures Software can be cross referenced with the ‘3D point cloud model’ of a scanned site. This ensures that all drawings are accurate before moving to the steel processing and fabrication phase. In addition, by using 3D laser scanning technology, we can also collect 3D data of scanned sites with unparalleled speed, quality, detail, and accuracy.”

“By detailing a modular building using technical software, we can now program any CNC machine without the need of additional data or human input. This means that we can scan a site, detail the building components in the ‘3D point cloud model’, and then feed this data into the robotics system, which processes the steel to suit.”

WHY 3D LASER SCANNING?
Watkins Steel has been utilising this 3D laser scanning technology for three years now, adopting an end-to-end digital workflow that significantly increases accuracy, eliminates rework, and delivers more to clients.

“We often found that what was on-site didn’t match what was on the plans. The builder might put the footings in the wrong location, or the blockwork would be off-grid. As a result, we’d have to modify all the steelwork at our own cost.”
“Now, we can show the client our scans. We can easily demonstrate what should be on-site, versus what is actually on-site. And then, most importantly, we can fabricate for the conditions that actually exist, rather than the conditions that should exist. There’s no need for us to measure or trial fit fabricated components.”

“We supply tailored pre-fabricated components made exactly for the site, including any existing anomalies. So, we know that they will fit like a glove when they arrive on-site and there will be virtually no construction issues. We can even galvanise or powder coat components before they’re delivered to site,” says Watkins.

The results of embedding an end-to-end digital workflow in the metal fabrication and installation process have been significant. Watkins Steel can now claim near 100% accuracy on every job.

Watkins Steel employees try the Microsoft HoloLens—the first self-contained, holographic computer. Image courtesy of Watkins Steel.
Watkins Steel employees try the Microsoft HoloLens—the first self-contained, holographic computer. Image courtesy of Watkins Steel.
New construction superimposed on existing 3D scanned structure. Image courtesy of Watkins Steel.
New construction superimposed on existing 3D scanned structure. Image courtesy of Watkins Steel.
New construction superimposed on existing 3D scanned structure. Image courtesy of Watkins Steel.
New construction superimposed on existing 3D scanned structure. Image courtesy of Watkins Steel.

 

THE WAY FORWARD
“It is exciting how fast things are moving. The laser scanning was our first step. Recently we have linked the photo geometry from our drones into the cloud. This means that we are able to capture a site to complete accuracy to +-2mm over 60m,” says Watkins.

“The next step that we’re working on now is animation within the point cloud, using augmented reality. By utilising the Microsoft HoloLens—the first self-contained, holographic computer—we can visualise components within a holographic projection of a site. This amazing piece of technology allows us to view and interact with 3D models using mixed reality.”

“For example, by overlaying a fabricated spiral staircase within a holographic projection of a site, we can undertake both quality control and quality assurance. Rather than transport the spiral staircase to site, we simply use the model to confirm that it is going to fit.”

“Where we obtain the most value from the HoloLens is its ability to aid in design. Our clients can wear the HoloLens, and effectively ‘walk through’ a project design. They can change the design as they walk—they might increase the width or the length of gantry, or might decide that we need an extra column somewhere…It enables us to create structures that are a ‘glove fit’ for the specific site constraints in a form of bespoke prefabrication.”

THE RESULTS
As a result of investing in advanced technology, Watkins Steel has removed around 3,000 man-hours per month from its business. It now operates 24 hours per day, and is competitive with some overseas markets when it comes to price.

Watkins Steel is winning contracts for work that was being completed overseas, bringing work back to Australia. And its increasing its workforce. From a low of about 45 employees several years ago, Watkins now has over 70 staff, and has moved from a very traditional business working in steel fabrication to much more of an IT business.

It has also tackled some of the most high-profile projects around Queensland, including the Commonwealth Games athletes’ village, and recently started working on projects overseas, including in New Zealand.

For further information on steel and digital construction, visit the ASI’s newly launched website: http://steel.org.au/focus-areas/innovation/digital-construction/

Tony Dixon, Chief Executive – ASI.


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