By Jerry Grant, Non-Executive Director, Murphy Geospatial
Reflecting on the re-brand of the company, I thought it of interest to note the transformation in survey technology and geospatial data management in engineering and construction management over my career which roughly spans the history of Murphy Surveys (now Murphy Geospatial). As an engineering student, I got rudimentary training in carrying out a chain survey, use of a dumpy level and theodolite, all now consigned to the history museum. It was basic training for a young engineer to carry out level surveys for long distance pipelines, with the frustration of a closing ‘error’ between two Ordnance Benchmarks requiring that the exercise be repeated until resolved. The field exercise was followed by manual drafting of survey detail, manual interpretation and plotting of contours before the design process could proceed.
My early encounters with Electronic Distance Measurement (EDM) was associated with long distance gas pipelines, when I first came across Peter Murphy, delivering a digital terrain model (DTM) along the strip enabling not just the design of the pipeline, accurately aligned to the topography, but controlling and tracking the ‘as laid’ drawings. With the acceleration in major roads projects, Peter was able to build a solid business for Murphy Surveys, meeting the need for large-scale DTM coverage, with the data incorporated into early 3-D design software for road design. This was a major advance on the previous manual survey techniques, allowing for design integration to the landscape. It led to much more efficient design and production of drawings, bills of quantities and earth balance assessments.
From the early 1980’s, the design technologies developed constantly from basic CAD, which automated 2-D draughting leading to MOSS Design which enabled full 3-D design and visualisation. Murphy Surveys matched each step in the journey, always at the forefront of the business. The passion that I recall in Peter in those early days remained a characteristic of Murphy Surveys for each growth stage. As projects became larger, the scale and accuracy requirements of largescale surveys increased. Over time, the Planning system became more rigorous, with the requirement for environmental impact assessment (EIS) demanding much more extensive site data.
This requirement was increasingly satisfied by incorporating topographic and photographic detail. As Geographical Information Systems (GIS) became standard, with multiple layers of data, the level of data was enriched to enable the required multi-disciplinary analysis became a standard method of options assessment and design critique. At every stage, Murphy Surveys was a ‘service provider of choice’, at the leading edge of verified data capture and integration. It is worth noting that as project scale and complexity increased, the requirement for certainty of the underlying data was critical to avoidance of delays and costs in construction.
Accurate tracing of sub-surface utilities is another critical area of geospatial knowledge required for design and construction of large infrastructure. Without this, major time and cost impacts arise from conflicts discovered late in construction. Murphy Surveys has pioneered the accurate and reliable application of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), with expert interpretation by highly trained professional staff to provide maximum certainty of underground services. In Irish Water, I saw at first hand the challenge of capturing accurate underground asset data and the costs of lack of certainty, not just financial but in avoidable customer outages.
As we embrace digital modelling as the basis for design, environmental assessment, day to day operation and lifetime asset management, we can now recognise our critical dependence on a much broader range of geospatial data, and more sophisticated technologies for data management, interrogation, analysis and reporting. The growing adoption of BIM for buildings and infrastructure is facilitated today by Murphy Geospatial. I have been privileged to see at first hand in recent years the evolution of these survey and data analytics in the company. Partnering with Clients, Designers and Contractors, the company now offers a comprehensive service that provides a full 3-D geospatial model, incorporating both above ground and underground data. Within this environment, Clients and their designers can adopt an integrated asset management approach through the whole life of the asset, based on confidence that the underlying data is both comprehensive and fully verified.
Looking back over four decades, I have seen the evolution of Murphy Geospatial services at every stage of development of the industry. For all the technological advancement in computer aided design, its power to meet the needs of asset owner clients is determined by the accurate capture, validation and integration of multiple layers of geospatially referenced data. By investing in its technology, people and processes, the company is meeting this challenge. Increasingly, the company is adding value to the lifecycle stages through a range of powerful analytical tools that can interrogate the data to determine changes over time, monitoring impacts and determining compliance with standards and constraints (planning, consent).
Looking to the future, it seems clear that asset owners and regulators will increasingly require digital technologies at the core of their asset and project management. This will enable high tolerance design and construction, compliance with strict consent standards and lifecycle asset management. In that environment, Murphy Geospatial will enjoy continued success as clients recognise the inherent value its professional offerings.