Walid K. ElHajj
Technical Manager, Geotech 3D, Dubai
With its ability to present a detailed view of things and provide greater accuracy, 3D surveying offers a number of benefits to the users over conventional surveying. Walid ElHajj tell us about his company’s activities, the evolving role of 3D laser scanning and more
Tell us about Geotech 3D and its activities. What are the key verticals that you focus on for your growth in the region?
Geotech 3D started in 2009, under the brand name of Geotech Surveying Services. The company’s activities were initially limited to just conventional surveying services including land surveying, ground surveying, hydrography, laser scanning etc. A couple of years later, we discovered that the demand for laser scanning or 3D surveying in the Middle East market had increased considerably while the demand for conventional surveying was diminishing. Thus, in order to adapt ourselves to the changing scenario, we decided to change the name of the company to Geotech 3D with primary focus on 3D surveying services. While our major activities are still in UAE, but last year a significant amount of work done by us was in Saudi Arabia. Besides, we are also operating in other GCC countries and also on some overseas projects in Singapore, Argentina and Africa. Another service which has become an important part of our activities in the recent past is 3D printing. We started 3D printing last year for our archaeological site projects, and found that it had significant demand in the market.
We concentrate on all those verticals where there is growth potential and scope for the use of 3D surveying technology. For example, Oil & Gas is a big potential market because capturing pipelines and other assets using the conventional surveying techniques is almost impossible. Besides marine surveying is another market that we target. Architecture is another potential area. We are trying to promote a concept called ‘Go 3D’ in order to encourage people to move towards 3D instead of conventional surveying.
Tell us about some of your ongoing and upcoming projects.
At Geotech 3D, we concentrate more on 3D projects. For example, last year we did a really big project for Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia. The project involved 3D surveying work for gas plants, where in we created as-built of all the piping systems, the valves and processing units etc.
Apart from that, we have done a lot of architectural projects, like a really interesting project in Abu Dhabi, called the Swift 141. The Swift 141 was a very old ship which had to be converted into a huge luxury yacht for the royal family. The ship had to be completely redesigned and fitted with all the modern means of luxury. Our task involved scanning the entire structure, from outside and inside in order for the builders to reconstruct the ship. It is a huge project which has been going on for the past four years.
In our overseas projects, we are working on an aerial survey project in Tanzania which involves flying a UAV mounted with special cameras and laser scanners over mines, so that the data can be used to create a 3D model. The 3D model will help the authorities in Tanzania to monitor the changes over a period of time.
What are the key benefits that 3D laser scanning can provide over conventional surveying? Do you think 3D laser scanning will eventually take over conventional surveying?
3D surveying has a lot of benefits over conventional surveying techniques as it can offer the users with a three dimensional view of everything with the finest details, while conventional surveying will simply give you a set of points. Accuracy is another major benefit. In conventional surveys, a lot of jobs have to be done two or three times, which eventually takes a toll on the accuracy. We can cite the example of Mecca to highlight the benefits of this technology. In Mecca, the authorities recently decided to make the place bigger to accommodate more people and thus they had to remove some really old monuments. However, before removing those monuments, they wanted some kinds of records for historical purposes. 3D scanning was looked at as the ideal solution in order to capture every tiny detail, so that if they decided to reconstruct it even 100 years later, it could be done with extreme accuracy. I think that 3D laser scanning has already taken over conventional surveying in a number of areas like Oil & Gas, architectural services etc.
How do you see the 3D laser scanning market in the Middle East a few years from now?
The 3D laser scanning market in the region is a bit slow at the moment, apart from a few sectors like Oil & Gas. The primary reason for this slowness is that a lot of clients still look at the cheap costs that conventional surveying offers, but do not consider the enormous benefits that they get with 3D. I am positive that in a few years time, the market will pick up and there would be much more demand for this technology. The problem with the market now is lack of funds. With Expo 2020 preparations in full swing in Dubai, we hope that things will improve a lot in the next few years.
With so much competition in the market, how do you see your company positioned? What are your future plans?
The competition is really hard and the market is not easy, especially when we are competing with the big companies. However, one of the biggest advantages is that we are a local company while most other companies dealing in 3D reverse engineering are from outside. We started here and thus have a lot more local knowledge. The most important aspect is that we are always with the client whenever they need us for any kind of support.
Our plan is to try and increase the demand for laser scanning by at least 30 percent this year. Next year, we intend to expand to other nearby countries. While we have a base in Saudi Arabia but are still managing our Qatar Business from UAE, so we have plans to open branches in Qatar and Lebanon. Until now we have not managed to replace the conventional survey with 3D but our plan for the next five years is to totally go for 3D. There is growing awareness about 3D in the market and we plan to build on that.