Conference explores geotech business benefits with BIM

SA GeoTech 2017, a geospatial business conference, brought the geospatial and related industries together in Gauteng for three days to discuss and demonstrate geospatial and measurement technologies, their business benefits and applications. The conference, which took place from 25 to 27 July 2017, also provided insight into current geotech trends and deployment strategies.

Hosted by EE Publishers, the conference aimed to expose geospatial technologies to a wider audience, and along with surveyors and GIS  and BIM professionals was attended by engineers and business analysts, among others.

Geoff Zeiss, geotech consultant from Between the Poles opens the conference.

International keynote speaker Geoff Zeiss, a geotech consultant, opened the conference by providing a foundation for following discussions as he focussed on geotech trends and their business value for utilities. Zeiss said the explosion in sensors and the resulting increase in data collection, the internet of things, increased computational power and big data processing, as well as better standards and compatibility of data sharing all rely on, drive and enhance spatial technologies.

Geospatial technologies, he said, can solve some of society’s most expensive problems – from infrastructure costs such as potholes, land subsidence and smart cities to managing health risks and disasters. On top of that, geospatial solutions are becoming more accessible and cheaper, Zeiss added.

Dr. Bekker from the University of Stellenbosch’s Sound and Vibration Research Group explained how her team used 3D laser scanning to reverse engineer the propeller profile of the SA Agulhas II polar research vessel. The 3D scan of the vessel and its propulsion systems has made it possible to investigate complex ice loading scenarios and so improve engineering models. Various sensors are used to gather structural data on this vessel, she explained, adding that the resulting big data challenges are not limited to the geospatial field, but are also concerns engineers face.

Proving Zeiss’ earlier point of geotech’s cost implications, Suritec Geospatial’s Ryno Goosen, who was awarded the Best Paper prize, explained how he deployed an open source GIS solution to effectively counter copper cable theft. Combining various data sources, including geo-located ground patrol data, he determined spatial and temporal patterns of copper cable theft. These patterns informed a predictive geo-intelligence model and helped focus his client’s operations in stemming the problem, reducing cable theft by 69% over 30-months.


Many commercial geospatial companies also presented and demonstrated their hardware, data capturing, software, processing and business solutions, including case studies and potential applications.

Data acquisition presentations looked at the latest indoor, outdoor and underground technologies, such as UAVs, SLAM technology and ground penetrating radar. And while data accuracy remained a topic of discussion, it was overshadowed by big data processing, data management and 3D data.

Increases in data resolution, scale and frequency of capture have necessitated better processing capabilities and workflows, but also introduces complexities.

Automatic data processing (e.g. machine learning in the cloud) is coming into play to deliver information faster, in some cases in near real-time, as some companies showed in presentations. New modes of processing, such as the ability to process data remotely in the cloud or on a tablet, have also led to more compact, lightweight hardware solutions in which the processing and storage capabilities have been shifted off-board.

It is not only data processing capabilities that make geospatial technologies powerful, but also its ability to enable data visualisation that help communication complex and relational information.

Advancements in computing and software have also improved data visualisation, as Johann Louw from the University of Pretoria’s Kumba Virtual Reality Lab illustrated with 3D visualisations and virtual reality. Virtual reality immerses users in 3D rendered data visualisations. It offers benefits such as detection errors in designs that eliminate costly rework later during construction. Most of the lab’s work has been in mine design, though Louw believes the facility is underutilised in related fields such as construction.

Vaughan Harris, executive director of the BIM Institute, echoed Louw’s sentiment by saying that the construction industry is ripe for digital disruption. He referred to the use of digital information models and the convergence of geospatial and building information modelling (BIM) as examples.

Harris said a “3D first” approach will naturally lead to national BIM adoption in the private and public sectors. BIM, he explained, is a data workflow and management process, and contrary to popular belief is not a software approach, as it is often said to be by BIM software vendors. Harris spoke about BIM’s potential in a “build back better” approach in Knysna, Eastern Cape, after damaging wildfires destroyed large portions of the town, including many residential buildings.

New ways to think of cost are required, he explained. Tech is being held back by budgets, when return on investment instead of the cost of lost opportunity is considered; often because the latter is more difficult to measure.

Delegates got to experience 3D data visualisations in the form of virtual reality first hand during a field visit to the University of Pretoria’s VR Lab on the final day of the conference. A second site visit was also arranged to the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) Operations Centre at Hartebeesthoek.

Remote sensing by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) and satellite also enjoyed attention at the conference. Lower prices and new business models such as subscription services have made both technologies more accessible, albeit for different markets since the areas of data captured differ. SCS Aerospace Group also released the first RBG images from the recently launched nSight1 nano satellite at the conference, on which it was the prime contractor. The aerospace company’s CEO, Hendrik Burger also hailed its construction as the dawn of application specific satellites.

Optimisation was another theme at the conference, best exemplified by Kalumba Bwale from Lumbambe Copper Mine, who showed how his survey team uses 3D laser scanning to optimise blast designs in ore bodies. This optimisation, he said, changes the mind set from blasting for tonnage to blasting for optimal ore quality.

Many speakers described the adoption of geospatial technology as a “no-brainer” for the many benefits it offers users, including government. Still, the technology requires a receptive attitude, and most of all, requires putting action to information.

View SA GeoTech 2017 photo galleries here and here.