Apps that could change the way you work

Autodesk’s free app produces 3D models for use in BIM

The free app 123D Catch provides many of the functions of high-end laser scanning software by stitching together images from an iphone camera.

Developed by Autodesk, the app creates realistic 3D models of buildings, or other objects, by analysing a series of photographs taken at various angles. It can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store or viewed in a web browser.

The software makes use of digital photogrammetry techniques, also employed in professional-grade software such as Autodesk ReCap, to analyse one or more photographs, using complex mathematical algorithms and determine spatial relationships. Although commonly used to create topographical maps, the technology has previously been used by architects, in manufacturing, and police investigation.

Similar to a 3D laser scan, 123D Catch generates a point cloud, from which a mesh model is generated and “dressed” with texture and colour from the photographs.

“A traditional 3D laser scanner can cost tens of thousands of pounds and involves a very laborious process of moving it into the correct positions, recording and processing the data,” says Dr Maurice Murphy, a lecturer and researcher in the School of Construction and Surveying at Dublin Institute of Technology. “But 123D Catch only requires the user to walk around taking photos with the iPhone’s 8MB camera and the resulting model can be imported into the free 3D modelling package Google SketchUp to create a very basic but useful BIM model.”

The app will not support precise measurements in the same way as ReCap, but Dr Murphy says it can function an important tool for visualising a building during the early design stages of a retrofit or renovation project.

“Where the average small firm has to invest at least £20,000 to gain a foothold with BIM, software like this can provide impressive results. My students use it in combination with SketchUp all the time and there are other free software plug-ins to enhance the data that can be included in the models generated.

Digital tool belt speeds up data flow

The RFI app will be part of a digital tool belt

A new start-up has recruited SME contractors running projects in the £1m to £6m value category to help it develop a forthcoming smartphone and tablet app geared to speeding up information flow and Requests for Information.

GenieBelt has been set up by Gari Nickson with Bob Leung, who was also responsible for the project collaboration platform Woobius.

It now plans to launch a “digital tool belt” for the SME construction sector that includes the RFI app and a programme management tool. Nickson told CM: “Information flow on small projects isn’t matched by the sophistication of the tools available today. Everyone still uses Excel spreadsheets to manage RFIs, it makes me tear my hair out.”

GenieBelt’s system, due for commercial release in May, involves creating a “ticket” each time the contractor creates an RFI. The online cloud-based system then emails the designer reminders as the due date approaches.

GenieBelt is also drawing on the experience of industry veteran Stuart Howie FCIOB, who said: “On a project, you can come to a grinding halt because details are missing on the drawings. So this seems an excellent process for getting detailed records of RFIs, and accelerating the job.”

Howie says the target project value range was chosen because “projects below £1m usually aren’t tied up in contract formalities, and over £6m you’re probably dealing with larger companies that have a QS or site manager keeping an eye on the process for them.”

Survey reveals true cost of project defects

An online survey of UK construction professionals carried out by software company Accede, with the support of CM, has found that the cost impact of construction defects can be between 2.5% and 7.5% of the overall construction value on four out of 10 projects.

Estimates of the cost impact of defect management ranged from under 1% to over 5% of the overall value of a project, while 40% of respondents said defects added 2.5% or more to a project’s cost.

The survey also found low use of mobile devices for defects data capture. Just 13% said they used mobile defects management applications, while 68% managed defects using paper-based processes, email and Excel spreadsheets.

Accede chief executive Brett Winstone said: “Accede is launching a mobile defects application in the UK and we wanted to get a view of what the market wants.”

“Getting a clear view of how snagging or defects management is handled can be difficult. Numerous different individuals and different disciplines can be involved, and the task is rarely discussed in detail at professional conferences. Our survey gave some insights into what snaggers want.”

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