Upgrade a water plant with your phone

Bringing digital to life 9 May 2019 Michael Nielsen Jakob Myking

Using a mobile phone for 3D scanning can help refurbish wastewater treatment plants cheaply and efficiently – and this type of digitalisation can also be expanded into other areas.

6 min

The world’s water infrastructure is aging. Experts and organisations like the EU Commission and the European Federation of National Associations of Water Services have pointed to the need for more maintenance and renewal. Unless these issues are resolved, water systems will be less efficient and more prone to damage – and thus more expensive and resource-wasting in the long run. 

A lot of the equipment used in water and wastewater treatment plants has become outdated, so water supply companies are looking for efficient and affordable ways to upgrade. 

Ramboll water experts in Norway and Denmark are currently helping to develop a promising new technology that uses 3D scanning done with a phone to make refurbishment models for water plants. 

“Until the late 1990s, water plants were usually designed on paper and in 2D,” explains Michael Nielsen, Head of Department at Ramboll. “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.”


Less money, more details 

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

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 costs 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 than one from a scanner on a tripod – it is small enough to register the backs of water pipes,” Michael Nielsen points out. 

The 3D model enables processing equipment in existing facilities to be rehabilitated and replaced much more efficiently. For instance, equipment from a pump supplier’s website can be “copied and pasted” into your virtual plant. This makes it far easier to generate different refurbishment scenarios.

Vast potential

The app was initially only used in water infrastructure projects as a replacement for the old camera, measuring stick and registration method. But the app also allows quick scans of manholes and construction sites, and the scans are instantly available for inspection and measurement in a regular browser. 

“This technology is of great use in other services like buildings, surveying and HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning],” says Jakob Myking, Head of IT- and Digitalisation at Ramboll Water Norway. 

He emphasises that the technology can be used throughout the value chain, including for facility management, status documentation, building Statsbygginformation modelling (BIM) control and planning and design: 

“You instantly get a digital twin of the object or site of interest, and only your imagination sets the limits for what the data can later be used for.” 

Saving time for clients 

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.

Written by Michael Rothenborg and Martin Zoffmann

3D visualisation of a wastewater plant

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