Downer, a leading provider of infrastructure services in New Zealand, had been awarded a contract to build Ultra-Fast Broadband network in the country. Michael Maunsell, its Programme Director, tells Geospatial World how geospatial technology contributes in the multi-billion dollar Government-led initiative.
Can you brief us about the ultrafast broadband project?
The UFB Project is a 9-year, multi-billion dollar Government-led initiative to bring a world-class broadband network infrastructure to New Zealand. The project is currently in its 3rd year with approximately 25% of the target premises being passed. The Government has contracted with four organisations nationally to deliver the fibre network of which the largest is Chorus with responsibility to deliver approximately 70% of the fibre network. Downer is designing, building and commissioning just over 40% of Chorus build programme (or 30% of the national programme). Provisioning of premises with fibre when they choose to connect is being delivered by a separate but aligned project.
How does geospatial technology contribute to this project?
Downer NZ identified 18 months before the start of the UFB project that there would be a critical shortage of fibre network designers in NZ. To help overcome this shortage and to make the existing designers more efficient, we have developed a fibre network design tool developed on the ArcGIS software platform provided by Esri. This tool is called GRAIL (Geographic Reporting and Information Locator).
Prior to GRAIL, network designers would scope out a site by writing notes and doing drawings on printed A3 sheets of existing plans. They would then return to the office and use MS Visio to produce fibre designs in multiple schematical formats. GRAIL allows the designers to complete the in-field scoping on an iPad device and then return to the office and use their desktop PC to produce a geographically correct fibre lay plan. Once the lay plan is complete, the network designers run customised tools to produce the required schematical plans and reports such as the Bill of Materials and Civil Report. These plans and reports are produced based on the data inputted into the original lay plan.
Downer has also made use of the Workflow Manager that is bundled with the ArcGIS suite of products. The use of this component has been critical for ensuring a high level of consistency and quality across the significant number.
Sample of fibre lay plan
Are you aware if there are any similar GIS-based systems ever developed in New Zealand?
There is a design tool in its infancy that Chorus (NZ network owner) has started development on in GE Small World to design their bespoke network. There are a couple of design solutions that have been developed in CAD-based programs, but these don’t provide all the geo-location functionality, nor the benefits of the Workflow Manager for managing process and productivity. GRAIL is a fairly unique solution in New Zealand, and it appears across the world.
Do you see any significant increase in the project efficiencies with the deployment of the technology?
In UFB we are building approximately 400 cabinets per year, with each cabinet taking around 6 weeks to build. The key to managing the construction of such a large project is to productionise all the component parts and turn it into a “cookie cutter” process. GRAIL has played an instrumental part in this process. First, the design process itself has been productionised via the use of the Workflow Manager, meaning the correct design process must be followed by the correct person resulting in consistent outputs. These consistent outputs are then fed into the construction process. The GRAIL outputs allow the construction process to be minutely planned. This planning includes details such as what, how many and where the materials for construction are to be delivered; the type of build methodology to be used for the cabinet area and even sharing of geospatial plans with local authorities to improve the consenting processes.
Apart from at designing/planning phase, is there any scope for geospatial technology in the construction, operation and maintenance stages of the project?
We have just implemented and started using GRAIL for the first planning stage of the construction process. When the designs are completed they are provided to the build planners who use GRAIL to break the cabinet area into build zones and plan the build based on those zones. GRAIL allows the Bill of Materials and Civil Quantities reports to be output based on those build zones. We are also looking at whether we can use augmented reality to help the construction teams, though that is a project that is probably at least a couple of years away from fruition.
Downer also operates in transportation, energy, water and facilities management sectors. What is the plan for geospatial technology in these sectors?
We have launched two new GRAIL projects due for completion in 2014 for the Transportation sector. The first will provide a comprehensive planning solution allowing maintenance jobs to be analysed and distributed more efficiently. The second will allow Downer NZ to identify, analyse, and correct hazards to prevent a future re-occurrence, so an emergency and incident management tool. Downer is working closely with the NZ Transport Agency with both of these tools to ensure the outputs can be uploaded into their own Esri instance.
We are also working with the Water sector right now to identify their current work practises and determine whether GRAIL can provide benefits to them, particularly with some large new contracts coming up for tender in the next 12 months.
We currently utilise the Esri tools across all the sectors for our bids and bid planning, and are looking to further increase the use of geospatial technology in the other sectors in 2015.
What is the biggest challenge of utilising geospatial technology in infrastructure projects?
The cost! Infrastructure projects are run on very tight margins so investment in technology is only undertaken when it can be proven that it will provide impact on the bottom line. Now that we have a well-developed GIS team in Downer and the advantages of the use of the technology have been proven in Telecommunications, we are able to better identify and justify the business case behind the investment.
Remote sensing technology, such as high-resolution satellite imagery, aerial survey and LiDAR are commonly used in designing infrastructure projects. Are you looking to explore these technologies as well?
We already use high resolution aerial imagery on the UFB project, and plan to continue to do so. We expect that LiDAR technologies will be utilised in the near future, and as previously mentioned, we are also looking at augmented reality as a new technology. The other area we are looking into is the use of Ground Penetrating Radar to help identify existing underground services, and the upload and display of that data in GRAIL.