We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jay Miele, Vice President of Allnorth Americas in Alpharetta, Georgia. Allnorth Americas (www.allnorth.com) is an engineering firm headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, with offices across North America. Allnorth has perfected working remotely, meaning using professionals in their various offices collaboratively in real time to execute clients' projects. No longer is there a need to move people from office to office or office to site to quickly and efficiently execute engineering projects.
Paperitalo: Jay, how long has Allnorth been in business?
Allnorth: Allnorth has been providing engineering services to the pulp and paper industry as a trusted advisor across North America for over twenty-five years. Allnorth was one of the first companies to develop workflows using laser scanners and 3D modeling. Allnorth's designers have been using laser scanners as their "tape measures" for more than fifteen years.
Paperitalo: As I understand it, you share work between your offices depending on skills needed, office workload volume and proximity to the client. What tools do you use to do this?
Allnorth: Allnorth uses Skype for Business (SFB) to enable seamless communication across geographic divisions. SFB allows instant messaging, file transfers, screen sharing, and voice and video calling or conferencing. Users can work concurrently in real-time, reducing the inherent difficulties of managing a project through multiple geographies. In line with Microsoft's direction in technology support, we will eventually transition to using Microsoft Teams. MS Teams offers all the functionality and then some, of SFB. In most cases we use the same tools for communicating and remote sharing with our clients, however, we are also flexible to use the communication tools preferred by our clients for interfacing with them.
Paperitalo: What other tools do you use?
Allnorth: Allnorth uses various high technology tools among our different engineering disciplines for our engineering efforts. For example, we work exclusively in a 3D environment and utilize industry-leading software to execute our projects. All engineering disciplines work in the same 3D model regardless of the designer's location.
3D model design reviews with our clients can also take place remotely. We have developed 3D model design review processes that efficiently and effectively captures client input to ensure complete and accurate documentation of the 3D model review and changes to be made.
For delivering consistently across all our offices and for supporting our dispersed project teams, we utilize a comprehensive Microsoft SharePoint site organized based on Allnorth's years of project management experience. One portion of this site is dedicated to project delivery and is supported and maintained by our Project Management Office, where team members can find all the information they need to be successful at providing quality and consistent engineering products to our clients. Built-in document sharing and version control ensure the latest information is available in real-time. Mobile and desktop forms relay remote site data to the project lead office where it is converted into real-time reports, ArcGIS maps, PDF documents, and more.
With our sharing, collaboration and communication tools, the Allnorth team can work as if they are physically in the same office.
Paperitalo: Sounds great as far as office-to-office is concerned. How do you get as-built data from the client's current field conditions?
Allnorth: Allnorth uses industry leading reality capture technologies: 3D laser scanning, surveying and drone technology to capture vast amounts of data for use in interfacing with the existing mill infrastructure. The use of these technologies also allows us to work on projects without the need to be at site for extended lengths of time or make multiple site visits, thus being more cost effective for our clients while at the same time being more accurate with our engineering deliverables. Software and other technologies within the Allnorth ecosystem allow our team to efficiently and effectively work on projects of this nature from any one of our office locations or from home.
Paperitalo: Does Allnorth work with other engineering firms?
Allnorth: Yes, we do. Even though Allnorth has capability and expertise across all engineering disciplines, we sometimes collaborate or refer work to others in the event there is unique engineering challenge, or in the rare event that we do not have the capacity. We also provide engineering services for the major pulp and paper equipment suppliers, augmenting their engineering where that type of solution is best for the client. In fact, one of the major equipment suppliers called upon our scanning and modeling expertise for producing detailed drawings for a machine that required replacement where existing drawings were no longer available. As mentioned earlier, we endeavor to be a "trusted advisor" to our clients. As a recent example, one of our clients had a specialty engineering need we could not accommodate at the time. Instead of just turning down the business, our response was to find an engineering firm that had the expertise and capacity to meet their needs and introduced the client to this firm.
Paperitalo: What else can you do with this expertise, say when engineering is underway, and the client is planning erection?
Allnorth: Allnorth can do virtual construction planning, interference checking, crane lift plans, work sequencing and much more.
Paperitalo. How big is the typical field team for your reality capture technologies?
Allnorth: If necessary it can be as small as one designer depending on project site safety requirements. A crew of two can often capture all the necessary data for larger projects (3D scanning & survey). This crew of two would typically spend two - four days at a site to complete the field work, keeping all associated travel costs to a minimum. Allnorth can, however, react quickly to dispatch multiple crew members and multiple instruments to capture a large amount of data in the shortest period of time.
Paperitalo. Jay, I have got to be frank. I have heard talk of such services for years and years, but, at least way back when I was running an engineering office, there was a lot of promise, but little actuality. How long has Allnorth been doing this? How many projects has Allnorth completed this way?
Allnorth: Allnorth has owned 3D scanners for over 15 years. Our point cloud models (3D scan data) have been used on virtually every brown field project, regardless of the project size, that Allnorth has executed since 2005. Over the past 15 years our fleet of 3D scanners and software has evolved with the technology. Allnorth now implements software which allows efficient remote working capabilities and the ability to share this project data internally as well as externally with our clients.
Our library of scan data and 3D models, built up from our project work (and kept confidential to each client), allows us to execute new projects for these clients, in some cases without having to visit the mill site. This ability presents a significant advantage with today's social distancing requirements.