Element6 – Solving 3D Brownfield Problems with Reality Capture
Technology Provides a Better Service
Rob Jickling, of Element6 Solutions has spent the past 25 years in the process plant design and construction industries. He was introduced to laser scanning in 2015 while working for a consulting firm and immediately saw the potential.
When Element6 was founded in 2017 one of its first purchases was the Leica BLK360 laser scanner and software. Element6 made the purchase decision based on its confidence in the Leica Geosystems brand, its expert optics reputation and the overall value that it offered. Six months later, it had already recovered its investment.
Element6 believes that it is necessary to own its hardware and software to ensure that the point cloud data and workflows can be seamlessly integrated into every project, regardless of the size. This is particularly important for capturing the as-found conditions on the challenging brownfield projects that are now Element6’s specialty.
“The BLK360 was our first scanner and it helped us to develop the workflow and skills required to capture process plants in the necessary detail to create high impact results,” Rob noted. He continued, “Very few small firms have made the investment in 3D technology that Element6 has and they see this is as an advantage. It will soon be too late for firms who are not in 3D to catch up.”
As Element6 was starting with a clean slate, it developed an end–to-end 3D brownfield workflow that is referred to as Virtual Plant Design™ or VPD. Rob commented, “I am a believer in the adage that there has to be a better way. VPD was the 3D digital solution to tape measures, field change orders and the lack of collaboration between engineer and owner, since most people can’t visualize in 2D.”
Over the last 2 years the investment in VPD has seen Element6 grow from one person to 15 with offices in Toronto, Sarnia and Halifax. To support that growth Element6 has acquired additional Leica Geosystems products including the ScanStation P30, two RTC360 laser scanners and a TS13 total station which allows its own control. It supports these sensors with a variety of software including CloudWorx Ultimate, Cyclone REGISTER, and TruView running on the AWS cloud.
After investing in the BLK360, Element6 spent six months researching the 3D laser scanning market, but in the end, decided to standardize on the Leica Geosystems family of products. Rob explained, “We chose Leica Geosystems for its best in class reputation, support and end–to-end suite of hardware and software solutions. We have built a partnership with Leica Geosystems and we are confident they will keep us on the leading edge of technology.”
Solving 3D Problems
The brownfield projects that Element6 specializes in present a number of technical and health and safety related issues. The facilities tend to be old, congested, heavy process plant environments that often involve hazardous chemicals. They are not easy or clean places to work in.
When the procedures for using the equipment are learned, the scanning itself is relatively straightforward. It’s knowing what to scan that makes Element6 different from less experienced firms. It understands what data is needed for the design.
Element6 recently had a project where it was provided 38 as-found scans. Before the project could be completed, it had to acquire another 50 scans to get all of the data needed to properly finish the design.
One of the more challenging projects that Element6 recently completed involved a dock that extended 0.5 miles out into a lake. A number of modifications to the piping were required under challenging marine environmental and safety conditions. Element6 set the required targets, established control and collected the existing conditions.
Element6 supplied the client with a ReCap file so that they could design the piping design in CadWorx for AutoCAD. The preliminary design was returned to Element6 who then used CadWorx and Cloudworx to check for clashes and interferences. The necessary modifications were made, and the final design was used to pre-fabricate the new piping in the shop in order to minimize the time in the harsh marine environment.
Element6 uses point cloud data every day on every project. The team carries its RTC360s everywhere, to every client meeting, using it like a point and shoot camera. “Just yesterday I went to a meeting with a prospective client to discuss a potential project. I had the RTC360 for a demo and then asked if I could capture the data while I was there – no commitment, no strings attached. I knew it would take longer to drive to the site and back if they wanted it later, so I offered to take a couple of hours and grab it. They set me up with a hot work permit, and in 2 hours I had 51 scans and all the data required. The next day we received the official RFP and now have the advantage of the data to prepare our proposal. People love this scanning technology and the Element6 VPD workflow. It’s a sensory, visual experience,” related Rob.
When asked about return on investment, Element6 indicated that it was hard to quantify since it has not taken the time to track it, but its continued investment and growth of the company would indicate that it makes sense . It’s also finding benefit in the re-use of 3D digital data and designs on new projects for clients.
The point cloud is an integral part of the Element6 workflow, a tool of the trade – like a truck driver needs his truck. The productivity improvement to the engineering process, combined with the enhanced collaboration with the owner’s team and wow factor certainly give Element6 an advantage. “It’s an incredible marketing tool – people love it,” Rob said.
Element6 believes that over the next 5 to 10 years 3D laser scanning will become the standard method for collecting plant data, and eventually the use of it will not even be discussed. It will just be accepted as the norm.
Finally, Element6 is already using the Microsoft HoloLens for client model reviews. The team sees greater use of 3D in the field, with construction trades bringing the productivity that has been discovered in the engineering process to the fabrication and installation process.