Upgrade a water plant with mobile 3D-scanning

Jakob Myking

Civil Engineer

T: +47 9249 0316

“It takes around half an hour and cost less than EUR 1,000, where a traditional 3D scanner on a tripod typically takes half a day and costs at least EUR 6,000. And the phone scan is more detailed, because it is small enough to register the backs of water pipes." 

- Michael Nielsen, Head of Department at Ramboll

The world’s water infrastructure is aging and unless new approaches to maintenance and renewal are put to use, water systems will be less efficient and more prone to damage – and therefore more expensive and resource-wasting in the long run.  

Ramboll water experts in Norway and Denmark are currently helping to develop a promising new technology that uses 3D scanning done with a mobile phone to make refurbishment models for water plants – and it is both detailed and cost-efficient. 

The 3D model makes it possible to efficiently rehabilitate and replace equipment in existing facilities. For example, equipment from a pump supplier’s website can be “copy-pasted” into your virtual plant. This makes it far easier to generate different refurbishment scenarios. 

Less money, more details  

Basically, you invest around EUR 600-700 in a 3D-enabled phone, and then install the Imerso scanning app, which integrates mobile scans into CAD drawings. When you do a scan, your data is saved online in the Imerso web platform, where you can view your data, share it with others, take notes and measurements and export your scans to work offline in any industry software. 

You then walk inside the water plant, use the camera, “connect the dots” on your computer – and you now have a 3D model including point clouds and mesh files that are dimensionally stable to within 2 cm.  

“It takes around half an hour and cost less than EUR 1,000, where a traditional 3D scanner on a tripod typically takes half a day and costs at least EUR 6,000. And the phone scan is more detailed, because it is small enough to register the backs of water pipes,” Michael Nielsen, Head of Department at Ramboll, points out. 

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The app is based on technology developed by Google and supports both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).  

“Until the late 1990s, water plants were usually designed on paper and in 2D,” explains Michael Nielsen. “We find that many clients only have a few old pen drawings stashed away somewhere, and they’re typically incomplete. Such clients therefore need a new digitalised model of their plants. With our new technology we can do this much more cheaply and efficiently with a phone than with a big, traditional 3D scanner – and in so doing perhaps gain an opportunity to help clients with larger projects too. For instance, a total redesign of entire wastewater plants.” 

Saving time  

One of many projects where Ramboll has used the app successfully entailed establishing two mud strainers at the Høvringen wastewater treatment plant in Norway. For the project 25-30 hours were spent generating 3D scans and modelling that determined the space required and the challenges posed by irregular walls and ceilings as well as by a wide range of existing pipes and electricity. 

Another example is a mini-treatment plant that was to be established in an old, discharge tunnel at Killingdal in Trondheim. Ten to 12 hours were spent generating the 3D scans and modelling used to find out what could be fitted into the tunnel – a process that the narrow and irregular tunnel walls made extremely difficult to execute with traditional measurement methods. 

Statsbygg (The Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property) is among Ramboll’s clients in this area. 

“The app is saving us a lot of trips to the construction site, but it is also saving us time, money and not least environmental impact,” says Erik Antonsen, Project Director at Statsbygg.

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