by: Rick Johnston
From the Paleolithic humans of the Stone Age chiseling images on rock to the invention of the world’s first commercially available camera in the late 1800’s, there have been ever-evolving efforts to visually portray our world. Today, most industries, including the utility industry, want to go beyond that and model our world in three dimensions (3D) to include various topological characteristics and as-built asset information.
The modelling process – be it a project site, a building or a topological characteristic – is easy to achieve and can be achieved even for a complete novice. The process can be as simple as clicking some photos with a smartphone camera and using easily obtainable software.
Advances in so many areas, from hardware and imagery capture devices (e.g., cameras, scanners, 3-D printers) to software packages (e.g., Autodesk ReCap 360, Autodesk ReMake), offer a variety of uses from creating a simple model to working with the imagery in the context of other existing geospatial data. One of the uses of the three-dimensional model within a design package would be to design in context. For instance, you can create an existing as-built condition model of the exterior or interior of a building for a remodel. This allows the designer to view the building in a before and the after state to review the design changes for planning purposes, which essentially allows you to view the remodel as an “as-built”.
Over the past several years, I’ve worked with utility companies across the U.S. that wanted and needed to capture and model their assets in their as-built state. This process of reality capture allowed them to not only capture the as-is state but also allow for review and design changes reducing costly and repeated field visits. This reality capture process works to protect the safety of operations and management staff and to aid in NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) and FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) regulations.
An example of this occurred a few years ago, when Anchorage Municipal Light & Power (AMLP) asked me how to take what they had been learning to the next level. AMLP had a problem when it came to planning and construction cycles, due to Alaska’s extremely cold and dark fall and winter days and its hot and long spring and summer days. They wanted to find a way that the utility could maximize its short spring/summer construction season. They envisioned a better planning season in by capturing existing asset conditions, whether it was a substation, a utility trench or an underground vault. AMLP chose to start with their underground vaults since they are under a thick layer of ice half of the year.
I spent about 45 minutes training a qualified utility operations member (because I was unqualified to enter the vault), and he headed to the first vault with a mobile tablet scanner. AMLP had initially utilized a high-end camera, and while the results were excellent, some features of the vaults were not accessible. Certain angles of the vault were needed for use in the post-modelling engine and they proved difficult to capture. Using a mobile tablet scanner, we were able to get the images needed for the complete model of the vault to be captured. After an hour working in the vault, we were able to produce the point cloud as shown in Image #2.
After this project, Anchorage Municipal Light & Power is well on its way to solving their initial issue of completing a thorough planning of their construction season and also now has a trusted, documented source of 3D models to refer to rather than having to rely on only interpreted data. Their employees can review the contents of the vault and viewing the image as if they were actually in the vault.
The reality capture process has paved the way for many utilities to utilize 3D models in design and planning meetings and for safety purposes. As one of the workers at AMLP said, “We have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible and have not even begun to envision everything that may be possible.”
Are you working with the best version of your data? Could 3D images of your utility and infrastructure assets provide even better insight into the potential design capabilities? Let us know if you want to catapult your 2D data into 3D – our Reality Capture process will make you a believer!