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3D CAD modelling for industrial robotics

CAD modelling

Over 80 per cent of construction businesses say they will introduce robots with safety, labour shortage and environmental concerns the main drivers for adoption. With growing use of robotic solutions across industry comes the need for efficient, cost-saving design of both the robot and the project functions it contributes to.

Construction is one of the largest sectors in the world economy but the industry’s productivity has flat-lined over the past decades whilst other manufacturing industries have almost doubled fuelling an urgent need for the benefits offered by digital transformation.

Across the construction industry new data-driven solutions are driving the use of robots in multiple manufacturing and on-site functions performing repetitive and sometimes dangerous work carrying out programmed tasks using data from 3D CAD models of the relevant operating condition, structure or landscape.

CAD is an integral part of a BIM system, the core framework at the heart of every major construction project. With 3D CAD modelling, engineers can experiment with a variety of parts and materials while simulating the performance of each so they can hone in on each detail of the design and create a more efficient construction process. CAD can then be used to create and programme robot functions to fulfil the needs of the main construction model.  

CAD mapping real and virtual worlds

One of the exciting developments in CAD modelling is using the virtual information it creates to reconcile with the job site and then use robotics for mission planning driven by the 3D modelling application, , David Burczyk, robotics lead for construction at Trimble, says. “With CAD models it’s the perfect world, walls are perfectly straight and everything is exactly how it should be but the reality of the job site is often quite different so you create a hybrid version of reality versus the virtual environment using a collection of CAD models, reality capture data and 360-degree imagery to provide a composite representation that shows what’s happening on the site.

“You have to teach the robot where it can go and where it can’t go on a job site then, using the CAD models, you can really connect what’s happening in the virtual environment with what’s actually happening on the construction side. Real-time communication between field to office and back again is vital. There is a lot of upfront planning to create the building virtually and you want to make sure that the effort that’s gone into the model gets accurately translated out to the jobsite.

“With an existing structure you start with a robot and reality capture and 3D laser scans that give you an exact representation of what is there and from that you can start modelling from the data to create an accurate representation. Then you can start to do your design based on the model you’ve created. With new construction you’re already starting with the main model then you go to into the site to translate that digital information and reconcile it with the reality of the site. It’s a matter of translating what was designed virtually into the actual field construction data to gain an accurate view of both.”

Building on-site collaboration into CAD design

Construction is a collaborative endeavour and the many trades and processes involved in a project must be included in the virtual design from the outset. “As you go through the entire CAD design and construction process you must incorporate different levels of detail in the model,” Burczyk explains. “As the project continues each trade and user that is interacting with the data inputs their level of information into the model application so the general contractor can manage the overall progress and risk of the project using that data.

“As you get further into construction the virtual model transforms into truly representing the physical space by showing accurate sizes, locations, access routes and pieces of equipment, etc. The modelling data is also used for facilities management where building owners use it for testing the capacity of their systems, to ensure an existing or retrofit building can support their new changes or, if they have to change the way the building is designed and what cost might be involved. The CAD model allows you to make a change in the virtual environment and ensure it will work before applying it on the physical site.”

The 3D design model incorporates the future as well as present construction elements with the robot capturing data for use once the building is completed. “As progress continues and changes happen out in the field the robot can record progress and any changes made and can update the virtual model. This continual updating becomes a requirement at the end of the project so the owner of the building can use the information as part of their facilities management.”

Overcoming legacy construction practices

The industry may be designing digitally and using robots but it is mostly still constructing manually, Burczyk concedes. “The weak link right now is not being able to fully use 3D modelling technology on the job site where local jurisdictions require paper-based documentation. Contracts and other elements are still based on paper documents and that can be a limiting factor in how much a 3D model can be used within some elements of the construction process.”

AI and digital technology offer the potential to overcome this challenge by scanning paper documents into mixed reality and augmented reality applications with the data accurately overlaid on the physical environment. “With mixed reality applications you can immerse yourself in both the digital and physical world at the same time and still take advantage of the 3D information that’s being created digitally, while adhering to local jurisdictions and the requirement for paper documentation.”

CAD modelling for a single source of truth

The use of CAD throughout the construction process and deployment of CAD-driven robots to gather and reconcile physical reality data is central to project success, Burczyk says. “A robot application can gather the different types of data that needs to be collected on the job site then, connected to a hosting platform, can serve as a collaboration and communication platform for all the stakeholders in the project. It creates a single source of truth that everyone can reference to.

“Part of the problem with advances in technology is that one person, organisation or platform may race ahead. If they’re operating in isolation that’s fine but if you’ve got a range of collaborators and they can’t talk or work together it defeats the object.

“The objective of digital transformation is to create a level of uniformity so that all connections and communications are seamless and the technology elements work together. CAD modelling and robotics make it possible to design every element of construction to operate seamlessly before the physical work even begins.”

CTS The industrialisation of IT
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