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Birds-eye view from the ground

Information technology is being embraced by rope access engineers and their clients to make the assessment of structural repair needs more effective.

Rope access specialist CAN is investing in a revolutionary item of computer software which will allow earthbound clients to inspect a building's condition high above the ground.

Structural Information Management System Two (SIMS2) gathers site readings gained from a rope technician and once downloaded, superimposes data onto a computer image of the inspected structure.

Defects including crack lengths and concrete cover are obtained using equipment such as digital cameras, covermeters and half-cell probes. The system standardises findings received through electronic hand-held equipment on site into bar codes which can then be transferred onto a computer aided design program.

Previous survey work on the same structure can be overlaid, providing CAN and its clients with an instant history of defect development over several years.

The £100,000 development is due to be launched before Christmas and will offer clients a comprehensive analysis of their building's condition. This will give their own technical staff the ability to formulate their own maintenance solutions entirely from an office, rather than CAN offering detailed answers itself.

The software serves to replace the current method of studying findings which uses disc or hard copy, where the client would have to refer manually to earlier surveys of the building if comparisons were needed. The software provides a boost to CAN's large portfolio of rope access equipment and services and provides its clients from the construction and maintenance sectors with a one-stop service for testing and repair work.

The first client likely to benefit from SIMS2 will be Birmingham City Council, for which CAN has examined all of its 410 blocks of high-rise flats in detail over the last 13 years. The company is hoping to start a five-year rolling programme surveying the council's stock of 1970s high rise buildings, with the software providing a complete visual history of every one of the flats throughout the city.

If the client's technical staff were to request a hands on examination of a structure the company offers the rare services of training the volunteer to climb and abseil.

Lack of disruption on the ground, speed and relatively low cost are the prime advantages of rope access methods, CAN's marketing director John Batty says. 'Building surveys do not demand expensive town centre road closures and, whatever the task, we operate as a single source supply.'

Safety surveys at the end of a new build maintenance period average just £2000 for a 20-storey building, says CAN.

'Technicians can survey, test, or repair the structure, and if necessary do all three, within hours rather than the several weeks needed using conventional access such as craneage or scaffolding,' says Batty.

This article was produced for NCE by Barrett Byrd Associates.

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