wgpdigital - surveyor, photographer and drone pilot

My Journey

Warren Peters – Surveyor:

In the beginning

As of the 1st February 2019 I will be freelance/self-employed, my 21 years as director of The Meon Survey Partnership have been a real rollercoaster ride with some truly amazing years and some downright awful ones. Thankfully the awful years have been limited. Going back to 1997, I was in full-time employment with Sterling Surveys Ltd, I learnt a lot there and the company was run by genuinely nice people, unfortunately there was a big recession and money was tight for a long-time. It was time to move on and I had the knowledge and expertise to form a new company, I approached Keith & Steve who were both keen to start a new venture. Our speciality to start with would be measured building surveys and land/topographic surveys.

The Meon Survey Partnership Ltd started trading late in 1997 and was in full swing as 1998 came round. Back then electronic theodolites were the norm, but not with lasers, just EDM. Laser technology came later and our workflows began to change, no more trig from 2 setups, 1 setup and laser distances became standard, plus more internal polar. We had installed linux and continued to use the original survey software suite, this was great until it went wrong, I can remember many a weekend installing linux from scratch onto a PC, partitioning hard-drives and the battle with permissions and mounting etc. Right from 1997, everything was plotted direct into Autocad and quality/accuracy became our forte.

We quickly became busy and we were pushing our luck at the Tindle Enterprise Centre in Whitehill, we were only meant to stay 1 year and I think we stayed at least 2 years. I started to look around and considered some old portacabins in Steep Marsh, fortunately a unit became available in Campbell Park in Milland, it was currently used as a timber workshop and would need converting to an office, Audrey & Danny were good and helped with some of the costs, my dad provided the tradesmen to prepare the floor, partitioning and the installation of a kitchen.

Expansion continued and the company continued to grow, some amazing opportunities came around and we were lucky to be involved in the Duke of York’s Square project in Chelsea, this formed a lasting relationship with Cadogan Estates and Paul Davis & Partners.

Our reputation was increasing and we were renowned for producing quality surveys, we were specialists in topographic surveys and measured building surveys, especially historic buildings and churches.

Technology was moving fast, laser distos were now smaller, robotic instruments were faster, laser scanners were appearing and there was talk of BIM! I loved tech and it was fairly easy to embrace the new hardware and software.

Linux was powerful but it was time for a windows based software, after some testing we decided to go for N4CE which was easy to use and to customise.

Laser Scanning

Laser scanning was the next big thing in our survey world and we started using this more and more on projects, our first encounter was the Leica C10, we had always used Leica instrumentation and this strengthened our relationship with SCCS who we hired it from, this added a huge dimension to our surveys, capturing large amounts of 3D survey data in minutes from a single setup. Technology moved quickly and the Leica scanners before more powerful and faster, although the weight and size was a downside. The processing side also improved, although Leica’s Cyclone always felt a bit cumbersome. Faro launched their budget range of scanners and we used these on several projects, their light-weight and portability was refreshing, but the processing/registration was restrictive and certainly not as reliant as the Leica P Range, even so they had their place in the market and we used it with success in the roof space of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

For many years I had predicted that 3D would become the norm in the survey/architectural world and several of us went to evening classes at Alton College to gain an AutoCad 3D City & Guild Certificate, this would prove to be useful. However 2D was still favourite and even now counts for 85% of Meon Survey’s workload.

We were relocated in Campbell Park to the first floor office, which was very spacious, this suited us and the landlady Audrey. The company are still based in this office.

BIM

Building Information Modelling (BIM) was becoming popular with some architects, maybe my 3D prediction would come true? Myself, Steve & Rob went on an intensive course to gain Level 2 certification, this proved to be extremely useful as at times and with certain clients became very popular. Revit was/is an amazing programme but isn’t best suited to real-life surveys but more as a design tool, even so we soon came to realise that you really could get round most issues with Revit, it was just a completely different workflow than with 2D packages. Importing 3D point clouds into Revit (scan2BIM) was brilliant, and it became a good way to build a model quickly, however building families of detailed doors/windows was best to rely on site dimensions.

We had a few large downturns in work but always managed to hang on to our staff, obviously 21 years had seen a bit of a change round in personell, some good, some not so.

Over the last few years Brexit (what a nightmare and a farce!) has created some uncertainty and some major peaks and troughs in workload, competition has been fierce and we decided to purchase from SCCS the leica BLK 360 laser scanner along with an iPad, we were extremely excited with this and the potential to decrease site time was huge, it’s light-weight and portability also made it a joy to use. However, although the scanner is good and it does save some time, it’s got some major flaws – It needs targets, lots of them, if it doesn’t have these then the cloud to cloud registration will take it to some strange places, I’m talking from a surveyors perspective here, 4 to 5cms or sometimes more. We’ve worked out a workflow to get around this, which means lots of targets, which negates some of it’s benefits. The processing time can also be very time consuming also reducing some of it’s benefits, it’s a good tool but only for the right project, dare I say it, but sometimes the “old fashioned” way is actually faster!

PHOTOGRAPHY

The last 3 or 4 years has seen the increase in photography in surveying, in particular for the use in creating ortho/rectified imagery, taking a series of images and using software to stitch these together, then applying coordinated points to these images to make them to scale. My passion in photography (if you have time go and take a look at my photography website www.ispypixel.co.uk) made this a keen interest of mine, my personal camera and lens purchases (canon 5dmk3) were put to great use and I’ve created some amazing images. A particular project that springs to mind is Colston Hall in Bristol for Levitt Bernstein Architects (link here…), this involved hiring a cherry picker and me climbing in and photographing the front and rear facades, what could possibly go wrong? As it turned out the project went well, with no dramas, apart from being hoisted very high up in a rickety basket! Being November 2017 the day was quite short and the sun in the morning wasn’t kind casting lots of shadows. The images from the Canon were very good and both facades came out extremely well with great definition. Link here to photography section on Meon Surveys website.

I’ve also created some high quality rectified/ortho images of moat walls at The Tower of London for Historic Royal Palaces and some churches for other architects. As I write this, I’ve just finished the production of rectified/ortho photographs at Hampton Court Palace, this was done using a mast and images from my drone (more on the drone in a minute), this was challenging mainly due to the weather, the sun was too bright! Photographers are never happy and in this case the bright and low sun made taking the images tricky, especially from the drone as we had a short window in the morning to obtain these. Interested in photography, take a look here – www.ispypixel.co.uk

360 PANORAMAS – VIRTUAL TOURS

Continuing the photography theme, many years ago I looked into Virtual Tours, I captured some amazingly high quality 360 panoramas at Uppark and The Tithe Barn and I really thought that this would be an amazing niche, unfortunately we became busy with topographic and measured building surveys and we weren’t really in a position to market this. However, over the couple of years there has been quite a bit of interest in this, one project was to record all of the internal timber layouts as they were going to strip out the old wood and re-build, a photographic record was essential. The canon 5d was put to good use and a comprehensive number of 360 panoramas were created, the quality was staggering and you were able to zoom right in to view the detail, the client was Donald Insall Architects who were very impressed.

An amazing project to be involved with was Banqueting House for Historic Royal Palaces, the brief was too capture the cornicing of the Rubens ceiling at Banqueting House, the project was challenging in that once on top of the scaffolding you could just about stand-up, good for standing up but not moving about, also the light wasn’t great and finally there were lots of people moving about. But I made the best of the opportunity and the staff there were brilliant and we were able to work together to ensure there wasn’t too much movement whilst I was photographing the ceilings. The images again from the canon 5d were stunning and I was very pleased with the results from the 360 panoramas, I then created a virtual tour of the ceiling so you could move around to each part of the room. The results were well received. See the results and feedback here… I’ve created more Virtual Tours of Sub-Stations and I’m going to be working on more of these from a training perspective in the near future, these will be high quality but also highly informative.

AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Back in 2017 I purchased a drone/UAV and obtained permission to fly from the CAA (PfCO), I’ve only used it a few times for commercial operations but can see massive potential for this in the surveying/architectural photography world. Read more here…

SUMMARY

I’ve enjoyed the journey with Meon Survey and running a business has taught me many skills, I’ve also a real passion for technology and loved the changes with the software and the hardware. When I decided that it was time for a change I had a moment of what would I do? But I have so much knowledge and skill sets in 2D CAD, land/topographic surveys, 3D, BIM, measured building surveys, photography, aerial photography, photogrammetry, laser scanning, project management, client liason, quotations, risk assessments, staff management, marketing, social media marketing, web development and business strategy, surely I can do something! Currently my plans will be to help LEEPS with their plans for the future and promote the architectural photography side of the business, I may also have to do some freelance surveying or some CAD, here’s to the future!

Meon Survey highlights:- Bramshill Mansions, Prisons, RAF Halton, DOY, Toddington Manor

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