Paving the way, with digital technology

Desktop with three monitors showing Tekla Structures model. The desktop has a Trimble X7 Laser Scanner on it.

From initial site surveys and 3D detailing through to fabrication, third party coordination and site installation, digital technology can be used at every stage of a construction project, enabling businesses, such as Nugent Manufacturing, to deliver a higher-value service to clients.

While digital technology can be beneficial even when used in isolation, it’s value only increases when used as part of a wider, integrated workflow, providing a seamless and efficient flow of information and data. One company which has been reaping the rewards of such a technologically advanced approach is Nugent Manufacturing, a steel manufacturer based in Ireland. 

With over 20 years’ experience, Nugent Manufacturing primarily specializes 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. The core of the business revolves around the principle of delivering high-quality steel fabrications designed with millimeter accuracy and providing its clients with the best possible service. To help them achieve this, Nugent Manufacturing has invested heavily in digital technology over recent years, including the most recent acquisitions of the Trimble X7 Laser Scanner, Tekla PowerFab and Trimble Connect, transforming the way they work. 

Steel eye-shaped steel pod suspended by crane above Chelsea Flower Show

Stephen Nugent, Company Director at Nugent Manufacturing, said: 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. 

Smarter surveying 

Back in 2019, the decision was taken to change the way in which Nugent Manufacturing carried out surveys on site, upgrading its existing methods of a disto, level and total station to the Trimble X7 Laser Scanner. Developed for surveyors and geospatial professionals, the Trimble X7 is a high-speed 3D laser scanning system, with advanced technologies to help simplify adoption and increase efficiencies.  

Speaking about the impact switching to the Trimble X7 has had, Jason Gray, Drawing Office Manager, said: 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, using 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. 

Trimble X7 scanner on site

On any construction project, you need data that you can trust and the X7 provides us with exactly that. Given the level of detail contained within the scan, you know that it’s both accurate and reliable. In fact, the X7 is so trusted and respected within the construction industry that we now often have other trades relying on us and our data, using us as the central data source.

This level of accuracy is key, especially considering Nugent Manufacturing is primarily a secondary steel fabricator. When detailing components to fit into an existing space or structure, precision is critical. 

Jason continued: However, it’s not just the accuracy enabled by the X7 that is so valuable to us – it’s the speed and efficiency benefits too. 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 less 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.

Photo of site compared to imagery produced from Trimble X7 scanner

3D detailing 

Once the site survey is complete, Nugent Manufacturing exports the scan data into Trimble Realworks and CAD drawings are created. These drawings are then imported directly 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, offering further assurances of accuracy. Once the model is completed and approved, fabrication drawings and production schedules can be automatically generated from the model. 

Stephen added: In many ways, the heart of the company is in the drawing office. To me, this kind of digital workflow 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.

Trimble Realworks pointcloud with IFC from Tekla Structures overlaid

Tekla PowerFab

However, Nugent Manufacturing’s use of technology to drive a more efficient and connected way of working doesn’t end there, with the company recently introducing Tekla PowerFab - the information management software suite developed specifically for steel fabricators. Suitable for use from estimating and purchasing all the way to fabrication and logistics, Tekla PowerFab delivers a smooth, continuous and real-time flow of information throughout the project lifecycle. 

Speaking about the experience so far, Jason Hickey, General Manager said: As well as the traceability element of the software, which is fantastic, 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 in, 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.

Trimble Connect  

Along with Tekla PowerFab, Nugent Manufacturing also added Trimble Connect to its digital portfolio, with resounding success, as Jason commented: Ever 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 something of a central hub, helping connect people to the right project data at the right time. 

Ever since we first purchased the Trimble Connect license, it’s been in non-stop use. I can’t imagine working without it now.

Jason Hickey, General Manager at Nugent Manufacturing.

Jason continued: 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. Thanks to its accessibility, teams can access information and view the BIM model on mobiles and tablets, both in client meetings and out 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.

Stephen concluded: 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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