Technology

An SME steel fabricator’s digital journey

While the structural steel sector has been at the forefront of BIM and digital technology for decades, every player – large or small – in that sector has adopted BIM and technology at their own rate. This is the digital journey of one SME: Nugent Manufacturing, a steel manufacturer based in County Kildare, Ireland.

The business primarily specialises in the fabrication and supply of secondary structural steel components, such as platforms, walkways, stairs and railings, in addition to more bespoke fabrications, including one recently for the Chelsea Flower Show.

Stephen Nugent, director at Nugent Manufacturing, says: “Thanks to our continued investment and the hard work and dedication of our people, we are proud to be very technologically advanced for our size, aligning ourselves with some of the larger players in the construction industry.”

Two years ago, the decision was taken to change the way in which Nugent Manufacturing carried out surveys on site, upgrading its existing system to a Trimble X7 laser scanner (for a typical scan, see the main image above). 

Jason Gray, drawing office manager, says: “It’s the level of detail contained within a scan from the X7 that is perhaps the biggest benefit for us – it’s truly extraordinary, especially when compared to the previous infrared method. It provides a real-life, high-definition snapshot of the entire site.

“Especially ideal for the more complex projects, the X7 provides us with added confidence, knowing that the scan will have captured every small detail of the site and/or structure. A great example of this was on a recent project where, when reviewing the scan data, we noticed that a concrete column was out of position by 40mm. No other project team was aware of this error or had been able to detect it on their surveys.”

It’s the level of detail contained within a scan from the X7 that is perhaps the biggest benefit for us. It provides a real-life, high-definition snapshot of the entire site.– Jason Gray, drawing office manager, Nugent Manufacturing

This level of accuracy is key given that Nugent Manufacturing is a secondary steel fabricator: when detailing components to fit into an existing space or structure, precision is critical.

However, it is not just the accuracy enabled by the X7 that is so valuable, adds Gray, but the speed and efficiency benefits: “Since using the X7 scanner, we’ve been able to complete site surveys in record time. For example, we were recently on a site with three concrete-framed buildings that were several storeys high. We were able to carry out a full, detailed site survey in just four hours, something that would previously have taken us up to three days to complete.

“It also requires fewer people on site to operate – key given the social distancing guidelines and site restrictions of the last year – and can be controlled remotely via a tablet, meaning that site access or safety issues can be easily overcome.”

3D detailing

Once the site survey is complete, Nugent Manufacturing exports the scan data into Trimble Realworks (see image below) and CAD drawings are created. These drawings are then imported into Tekla Structures, with the information used to detail and model the steel components. This interface between the software facilitates an integrated and connected flow of data, maintaining the assurance of accuracy. Once the model is completed and approved, fabrication drawings and production schedules can be automatically generated from the model.

Nugent adds: “In many ways, the heart of the company is in the drawing office. To me, this kind of digital work flow is the only way forward – it helps to bring everything together and ensure it is all connected and nothing is lost. Ultimately, the less manual work you have to do and the less manual processing of data, the better, helping to reduce the likelihood of human error.”

Applying tech to all operations

Nugent Manufacturing has also recently started using Tekla PowerFab – an information management software suite developed specifically for steel fabricators. Suitable for use from estimating and purchasing to fabrication and logistics, PowerFab delivers a continuous real-time flow of information throughout the project life cycle.

Once the site survey is complete, Nugent Manufacturing exports the scan data into Trimble Realworks

General manager Jason Hickey says: “As well as the traceability element of the software, we’ve also found it to be really efficient at the procurement stage and also shipping, enabling us to easily calculate weights and loads and better plan logistics when sending out deliveries.

“We’re currently in the process of introducing it into the fabrication shop, where we expect to see the most value. Of course, something as revolutionary as this takes time to embed, especially as many of our fabrication shop team aren’t accustomed to working in such a way – it’s all about changing mindsets. When we show them what we’re able to get out of the software, they begin to see and understand the value.”

Connecting with Trimble

Along with PowerFab, Nugent Manufacturing also added Trimble Connect to its digital portfolio. Gray comments: “Since we first purchased the license, it’s been in non-stop use. I can’t imagine working without it now.”

A cloud-based platform, Trimble Connect acts as a central hub, helping connect people to the right project data at the right time.

As well as the traceability element of the software, we’ve also found it to be really efficient at the procurement stage and also shipping, enabling us to easily calculate weights and loads and better plan logistics when sending out deliveries.– Jason Hickey, general manager, Nugent Manufacturing

Gray continues: “A picture tells a thousand words – it’s this that makes Trimble Connect so valuable. As a central information source, we can use it to provide us with a visual picture of the steel components, enabling us to review the site and model before the works even begin. Teams can access information and view the BIM model on mobiles and tablets, both in client meetings and on site – and not just view it, but interact with it, zooming in, panning out, spinning it around, etc.

“As well as enabling a greater understanding of the project, including how our steel components fit into the broader picture, this level of visualisation can also help with site orientation and detecting potential design issues or problems.”

This, in addition to Tekla Model Sharing, which enables Nugent Manufacturing to share its models with other Tekla users, has been crucial in facilitating a more collaborative, coordinated and, in turn, efficient way of working.

Nugent concludes: “In recent years, digital technology and BIM truly has become the heart of our business, with Trimble and Tekla providing us with a competitive edge over others. Today, the emphasis in the construction industry often falls on the importance of data and information. Being able to provide this data not just to our clients, but also architects, contractors and engineers, has helped to position ourselves as the expert and leading voice on a project – despite only being a medium-sized company. 

“It’s also about accuracy, with our use of digital technology enabling us to manufacture to a far higher degree of precision – a level that would perhaps be unthinkable and unachievable to those without such a technologically advanced workflow.”

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