Local company, Ga. Tech share international engineering award

A new video application developed through a partnership between MetalForming, Inc. and the Georgia Institute of Technology is garnering international praise and promises to revolutionize building measurement in the construction industry.

The video measuring technology earned the partners from MetalForming and Georgia Tech a 2011 Celebration of Engineering and Technology Innovation (CETI) Award. Announced April 3, the international award is given annually by Fiatech, a community of global leadership organizations focused on innovation in the capital projects industry.

In assessing the importance of the measuring technology, the Fiatech judges said, “The advancements have the potential to impact the entire sheet metal roofing industry by significantly increasing on-site productivity.”

Previous CETI winners in the Intelligent and Automated Construction Job Site category have included a joint venture of Shell and Saudi Aramco affiliates and the construction giant Bechtel.

The MetalForming/Georgia Tech innovation uses videogrammetry - overlaying stereo video feeds - to deliver 3D views as big as a building. It enables real-time digital measurements of nearly any object with 15 mm precision.

The innovation reduces errors, cuts labor expenses and will improve safety on construction job sites, said Geoff Stone, CEO of MeltalForming Inc., which distributes and supports high-end architectural metal-roofing machines throughout North America.

Specifically, he said, it solves a longstanding challenge for his customers in the roofing construction industry.

“We have a machine that reads CAD (computer-aided design) models, or BIM (building information modeling), and cuts panels to fit them,” said Stone.

But, “we can’t cut metal panels to as-drawn BIM files because it’s not accurate enough,” he said. “We need as-built.”

To get accurate as-built measurements of roofs, “most roofers end up pulling measuring tape several times during the roofing process,” said Stone. The manual process of climbing around the roof is difficult and can be dangerous.

Enter the Georgia Tech research team led by Ioannis Brilakis. They developed a device with twin high-definition video cameras on an extendable pole. It captures building images in stereo and then sends the files to a server that registers the visual features from the left and right cameras. The features are matched over multiple frames, allowing for the extraction of 3D information. Algorithms are used to winnow the visual information down to wireframes that contain the lines, planes, boundaries and as-built measurements.

The data is then sent to MetalForming’s roof panel cutting and forming machine (CINCO) which automatically fabricates the panels on the job site to the “as-built” specifications, assuring a perfect fit.

The team aims to have a measuring device and software on the market by summer 2012. They anticipate the first version will cost about $1,000 Stone said no other existing measurement technology—including satellite imaging, phase-shifting lasers or total stations—is accurate, inexpensive and straightforward enough to be a reasonable alternative for roofing companies to use to get precise roof measurements. “We wanted something simple, cheap and accurate,” he said.

Though initially intended for the roofing industry, Fiatech judges noted the surveying technology “could be applied to any application the requires tape measuring: commercial build-outs, kitchen and bathroom cabinets and countertops, flooring, window installation, and siding.”

For MetalForming, the video measurement application is but the latest in a series of web-centered technological advances the company has developed for its customers.

Gathered under the heading of Computer Integrated Roof Manufacturing (CIRM), the innovations are partly the outgrowth of a partnership between MetalForming and Microsoft and Level 3 Communications that can create a unified communications network for any metal roof production operation, large or small.

The CIRM suite includes remote web monitoring of machine events, throughout and operational performance. It also includes an API that allows for third party machine integration; optimization tools for reducing scrap costs and accelerating safe truck loading; and OnLink communication services that enable MetalForming technicians to provide real time service and parts support to customers through a web video (VOIP) interface. The latter service alone can save customers thousands by minimizing machine down times and avoiding costly travel for service technicians.

For Stone, the marriage of internet and manufacturing embodied in CIRM was the next logical step in the evolution of a customer-centric company that began in his basement in Peachtree City 15 years ago.

“We’ve grown to become the largest supplier of architectural sheet metal machines in North America,” he said. “Now, we’re adding value for our customers by harnessing the power of digital communication and data management to increase efficiency and profit for our construction industry partners.”

For more information, please call:770-631-0002 or visit www.metalforming-usa.com

Metalforming Inc. (MFI), a privately held company based in Peachtree City, Georgia, is the largest supplier of high-end architectural sheet metal machines in North America.

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