Leveraging digital technologies to provide accurate and detailed structural surveys

The technology provides improvements in efficiency, cost reductions and access to comprehensive information to facilitate better decision making.
The technology provides improvements in efficiency, cost reductions and access to comprehensive information to facilitate better decision making.

Citi-Con, a leading South African concrete repair company, is harnessing sophisticated digital technology to undertake accurate and detailed surveys of structures. The company has already successfully deployed the technology on two projects to help clients gain a deeper understanding of the condition of their assets and the remedial work that is required.

Citi-Con worked with Delta Scan, a specialist engineering inspection and digitalisation company consisting of a team of engineering, quantity surveying and architecture professionals, on the projects. The two companies will also collaborate on other projects considering the high demand for these services.

In particular, mining and industrial companies are driving the uptake of this technology to enable them to better manage infrastructure assets over their entire lifecycle. Leading mining houses, for example, are already deploying augmented reality and creating virtual sites to gain a greater understanding of the condition of their assets to better inform their preventative maintenance strategies.

“While the engineering and construction industry have been slower than most other sectors to adopt digital technologies, they are now gradually realising the significant value that can be extracted from these powerful analytical 3D models. This includes improvements in efficiency, cost reductions and, most importantly, access to comprehensive information to facilitate better decision-making around greenfields and brownfields projects,” says Darryl Epstein, MD of Delta Scan.

“Delta Scan uses a combination of drone technology, LiDAR and panorama cameras to recreate an exact digital version of a structure down to millimetre detail enabling project teams to analyse entire structures from their desks without needing to go to the site. Using our software, professional teams can keep zooming in until they see every last hairline crack. This is a game changer for inspections. Companies started realising the immense value of these digital solutions during the hard lockdown that was implemented to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. They were forced to use digital technologies to undertake surveys remotely and continue working despite restrictions on the movement and gathering of people,” Epstein says.

Andre Vermeulen, MD of Citi-Con, says that it would have been impossible to provide the depth of information that was generated for owners of these developments using conventional rope-access investigation techniques. “Delta Scan generated a 1 to 1 scale 3D model of the structures, with specific focus also placed on the geometry of the structure to provide accurate measurements, as well as details of the construction materials used for analysis and engineering design. This was followed by ultrasonic and thermal testing to map all of the defects in the structures. The result was a very accurate replica of the structures and a detailed analysis of the immediate and longer-term problems that would be encountered,” Vermeulen says.

In this way, Delta Scan approaches the use of drone technology from an engineering viewpoint. The company knows exactly what it is looking for; how to find it; and what to do with the information. This wealth of data is then stored in a cloud-based platform that can be accessed quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively by all relevant stakeholders. It was developed specifically by Delta Scan to centralise the storage of the rich information that it generates so that it can be accessed efficiently and cost-effectively for the monitoring of assets over the long term. This collaboration between stakeholders and the use of detailed visual information is also changing the way in which clients and their professional teams are communicating regarding asset management, maintenance and optimisation in a positive way. It also fosters trust between all members of the professional team and client body.

On both projects, the surveys exposed major faults that required urgent and sustainable interventions that would have gone largely undetected using traditional investigation techniques.

For example, a survey of one of the developments, a high-end apartment block, revealed major issues with the façade and roof structure. These were all detailed in an extensive report, including a risk analysis, that accompanied the 3D models. For instance, a thermal analysis revealed water trapped inside the concrete panels of the façade. This would eventually lead to the corrosion of the reinforcing bar inside and major cracks as the concrete blocks started to expand due to the pressure being exerted by the water. Elevation mapping of the roof also revealed major depressions where water started pooling and would eventually leak into the structure.

Vermeulen was initially approached by the property owner to undertake a survey of the one side of the structure where cracks were already evident, and water had started seeping into one of the apartments. However, he suspected that there would be larger problems with the building that he would not be able to identify using a rope-access survey. Vermeulen, therefore, proposed that Delta Scan survey the entire structure.

“The findings were very favourably received by both clients. They are now preparing to implement sustainable solutions, and these will be undertaken by Citi-Con. This is considering that we already have an intricate understanding of the structures and their problems, combined with our proven concrete repair capabilities,” Vermeulen concludes.

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