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Why it’s better to work from a mesh

‘Digital twins’, climate change requirements and heightened awareness of the importance of digital information for building safety compliance are making many asset owner-operators more demanding of their suppliers in the built environment industry. However, this isn’t just about applying technology in delivering new buildings or infrastructure. Steve Salmon, CEO of PointFuse, says that combining onsite data capture with the latest ‘meshing’ software also provides a rich foundation to assess and understand existing facilities and plan future developments.

In developing more connected, energy-efficient and safer buildings and infrastructure, it can be tempting for asset owner-operators to focus on new-build projects. However, such a focus ignores the vital importance of existing assets. The economic life of many buildings and other facilities is commonly measured in decades. According to the UK Green Building Council, for example, over 80% of buildings in 2050 have already been built, and could represent 95% of future built environment emissions. In 2021, the Construction Industry Training Board said reducing emissions to Net Zero will require retrofit work on 27 million UK domestic buildings and on over two million non-domestic buildings.

When it comes to planning new works on legacy assets, a logical first step is to understand what already exists and where. Reality capture technologies such as laser-scanning and photogrammetry are invaluable from the outset as they can help to build a geo-located, high-definition, three-dimensional representation of all visible elements of the facility. Structures or systems hidden in walls, under floors or above ceilings may require additional investigations, but the point cloud outputs are a rich starting point for owners and facility managers needing to scope what needs to be maintained, serviced, improved, replaced or remodelled.

The ‘mesh’ difference

These millimetre-accurate point clouds, though, are often contained in files measured in gigabytes, requiring high-spec computer processing and storage, and proprietary software applications to access and explore them. But intelligent point cloud applications, such as PointFuse, can make a huge difference by streamlining data workflows. PointFuse’s ‘meshing’ technology combines image data points, rendering geometric shapes that can be rapidly assembled, viewed and explored. Individual objects or groups of objects can be segmented, labelled and classified by system type, location (including room, floor or zone), state of repair, etc. And, as PointFuse’s mesh files are software-agnostic, they can also be viewed and shared via commonly available applications.

This is a critical advantage for owner-operators of existing assets, particularly in the commercial world. Large organisations will often have asset management databases and applications (Oracle, SAP, IBM Maximo). A segmented ‘mesh’ provides a powerful and highly visual connection between the geo-located 3D physical model and such corporate asset information registers.

And if no asset information system is in place, ‘meshing’ can streamline the initiation of one. A survey company can rapidly scan the owner’s facilities, classify and annotate the ‘mesh’, and then export the resulting data (including as a CSV file) for immediate use by the facilities manager or other supply chain partners for planned preventative maintenance, to manage compliance processes, or to designers for proposed new works (PointFuse connects readily to Autodesk’s Revit via our plugin, reducing the time to create a BIM model by 36%).

As well as buildings, the advantages also extend to other facilities. We have seen PointFuse used to rapidly create accurate models of bridges, petrochemical plants, dockyards, railway stations, airports, electricity substations and power stations – all capable of connection to asset management systems. Even geographically dispersed corporate estates can be managed; meshes of buildings can be incorporated into geospatial platforms such as ESRI, for example.

Insurance opportunities

Point clouds and meshing also enable a more direct connection between what exists and how it is – or will be – used. Detailed surveys and accurate models of commercial offices or high-rise residential buildings, for instance, can detail the floor areas occupied by tenants, what changes have been made by the tenant, what repairs might be needed, what emergency provisions are in place, etc. With many buildings either over- or under-insured, such information can be invaluable for insurance purposes – both for tenants and for commercial insurance costs borne by the building owner. Following the recent passing of the UK’s Building Safety Act, mesh workflows will also enable the efficient capture and upkeep of safety-critical ‘Golden Thread’ data, helping to safeguard those who live in, work in or visit a building covered by the legislation, while also supporting those professionals with compliance responsibilities (see also this Autodesk white paper, to which PointFuse contributed).

And to return to my opening points about climate change and legacy assets, it is also likely that embodied carbon concerns will increasingly influence asset owner-operators’ redevelopment plans. A major UK retail project in central London was recently put on hold over concerns that demolition then construction of a new store and offices would be more wasteful than redevelopment of the existing building. Reality capture and meshing would be able to help such organisations, their investors and their supply chain partners to evaluate the pros and cons of different redevelopment options.

In short, the latest ‘meshing’ software forms a powerful connection between geo-located 3D physical assets and the business information systems supporting an organisations’ asset management. It offers a rich foundation to assess and understand existing facilities, and to then efficiently plan and manage future developments.