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Ship Scanning Sets Sail

Trimble technology’s speed, versatility and data density anchors a new marine application

In September 2017, the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued an order requiring ships to manage their ballast water so that aquatic organisms and pathogens are removed or rendered harmless before the ballast water is released into a new location. Although phased in over time, all individual ships that meet the treaty’s vessel eligibility must be fitted with the required treatment system by September 2024. 

For engineering surveyor Danie Roelvert, that regulation has buoyed his burgeoning business with ample opportunities. Since launching his own company, Pinpoint 3D, in April 2020, Roelvert has created a niche ship-scanning application in Africa, delivering 3D imaging to ship owners who need to retrofit equipment and comply with new mandates for ballast water treatment systems. 

“Traditionally existing ship spaces and equipment are measured by hand so it’s fraught with measurement errors,” said Roelvert, whose company is based in Pretoria, South Africa. “Laser scanning is the perfect and only answer to this problem. Ships are in port for a limited time so you need to work efficiently and ensure you collect everything––you don’t have another opportunity to rescan once the ship sets sail. The speed, versatility and data density of laser scanning enables you to quickly set up in cramped spaces and capture the fine, detailed elements of entire engine or pump rooms in a few hours. With that virtual environment, designers can place pipes exactly where they need and ensure they’ll tie together.”

Roelvert is typically only given a few days warning from operators who need vessels scanned so he needs to be ready to work at a moment’s notice. Marine architects and designers provide him with drawings of the ship’s layout and circle in red the specific areas or pieces of equipment they want scanned. It’s Roelvert’s job then to figure out how to capture that information to create one complete model of the entire area of interest (AOI).

Roelvert has scanned several ships in South Africa and West Africa, including an offshore fuel tanker in Togo, and a bulk carrier in the South African port of Durban, for ship owners needing to retrofit their ballast water treatment systems.

For the Durban project, Roelvert was tasked with scanning six AOIs across three decks of the engine and control rooms of the Melina, a 28,000-ton bulk carrier. As the ballast water system involved an intricate web of pipes, it was key that he captured specific flange positions and connecting pipes targeted for replacement.

Roelvert started on the lowest deck of the engine room and worked his way up. Using a Trimble X7 laser scanner, he captured the particular elements highlighted by the client and an extended boundary for proper scan overlap. For each setup, he collected a full-color scan and a set of corresponding photos in about two minutes. After each scan, he reviewed the 3D image using Trimble Perspective software on his T10 tablet to confirm that he clearly recorded the important assets positions and that there was enough overlap to connect scans together. Within six hours, Roelvert captured 82 scans with data quality that was well within precision requirements. He then post-processed the data using Trimble RealWorks, rendering the 3D dataset into a complete colorized model of the ship’s engine room and control room.

With that virtual detail, marine architects had a precise, as-found picture to accurately design ballast system replacement equipment that would be manufactured and ready to install at the Melina’s next port.

By replacing tradition with innovation, Roelvert is burgeoning his own business, while enabling ship owners to comply with environmental regulations and support a move towards healthier seas.