Technology

Costain deploys MARIO to create 3D map of rail lines

21 October 2014 | By Dave Arminas

Costain has started using its MARIO 3D survey imaging technology to map out train lines as part of the UK's plan for train electrification. In February, Costain and JV partners Alstom and Babcock won a £900m, seven-year framework under Network Rail’s National Electrification Programme.

MARIO – which stands for Mass Asset Recognition and Intelligent Optimisation – uses a laser scanner to scan physical structures to produce accurate 3D digital models for use by maintenance workers, installation contractors, facilities managers and design engineers.

To map roads and motorways, a scanner is mounted on top of a van and driven along the carriageways at normal speed, taking “pictures” of everything it scans, including lamp posts, signage and potholes, explains Joe Rice-Jones, asset programme manager for Costain.

But for MARIO’s diversification into the rail sector, Costain has hired a maintenance train engine and mounted Topcon's Compact Plus imaging scanner on the front, and is running it along main rail lines.

The contractor reports immediate savings in time and money because MARIO reduces the need to invest hundreds of man-hours in physical inspections in the first place.

The laser scanner logs around 30,000 points per second and arranges them in a coordinate system where the points are defined by X, Y, and Z coordinates, to create a three-dimensional image called a point cloud.

Point clouds, which appear as masses of dots, are then used to create highly detailed lifelike 3D CAD models for objects such as manufactured parts and buildings.

The 3D images are also automatically geo-referenced by way of a Geographic Information System (GIS). This means that a scanner’s point cloud can be used to create a highly detailed moving image enabling an asset manager to virtually tour a site such as a roadway.

The system’s accuracy for pinpointing the exact geographic location of an object is around 40mm if the scanner is mounted on a moving platform, such as a car.

But accuracy improves greatly if the scanner is stationary, Rice-Jones told BIM+. If set up on a tripod, for example, scanner accuracy is around 1mm.

The technology can be used to facilitate BIM, with construction companies able to use Bentley MicroStation or Autodesk Revit to bring point cloud data into a 3D working environment, and use it to create 3D images of infrastructure objects, such as roads.

Rice-Jones suggested that if a supermarket chain has 1,000 stores in the UK, a contractor could laser-survey three buildings and sites a day, giving a complete graphical inventory of the estate within a year.

“The images can be demonstrable evidence when presenting a case for maintenance, or when an FM is going in search of money within their organisation for the work,” he said.

In 2013 MARIO, which then incorporated the Trimble MX8 laser scanner, was used to facilitate the refit of the tunnel infrastructure at Heathrow Airport, where a traditional approach would have meant closing the tunnel, logistics planning, traffic management, and night work.

The technology also makes it easier to determine movement or changes within an asset, giving an early warning of problems including physical deterioration of assets. 

MARIO was the first winner of the Costain Start-Up initiative, an internal competition launched in 2012 to create and support innovative business ideas across the company.