VEERUM's digital twin technology puts construction sites at managers' fingertips
January 30, 2018
By matching digital technologies with capital project delivery, Calgary, Alberta-based VEERUM is helping clients build a better world.
From a humble beginning of microchips in muddy wooden platforms to today's slick virtual reality visualization, VEERUM's digital twin solution for large construction sites predicts and resolves issues in the virtual world before they impact costs and schedules in reality.
"The digital twin technology we developed with the help of the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) and the Government of Canada's Concierge service creates a digital duplicate of a physical construction site that enables project teams to be more certain in their decision-making and deliver projects more efficiently, from design to construction," says VEERUM CEO Steve Fisher. "Visualization of the Digital Twin, easily accessible via platforms like Chrome or virtual reality, means project teams can share a single source of truth about a project. For instance, everyone involved can see precise progress on a massive earthworks site and work accordingly."
Fisher's first foray into the technology business stemmed from his idea of using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to track the locations of thousands of 900-kilogram wooden mats that are placed on unpaved roads in remote areas to serve as work platforms for heavy equipment rigs. In the past when rig mats broke or went missing, suppliers did not have a system for pinpointing where they were so would often just charge their clients for them. Fisher's tags would improve accounting in an industry plagued by huge project overruns.
Helping him turn this revolutionary RFID application into reality was a chance encounter at a technology workshop, where he met Karl Miller, then an Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) with NRC IRAP. Miller saw that the tiny startup was not only stretched for resources, but also moving at breakneck speed toward development. He knew Fisher and his partner would benefit from world-class R&D support, solid business guidance and impartial advice, so introduced them to resources that could provide research, development and testing services. Miller also connected them with strategists for applying RFID technology to the rig mat business, and a sales expert who could help them market the product under the SmartMat brand for his company, GEM Services.
"Canadian government programs are incredibly beneficial and unique to our country. I highly recommend that anyone trying to get a new company off the ground start by taking advantage of free services like Concierge."
Once the product was market-ready, the company gained traction in the industry with continuing support from Miller when he moved to Concierge as an Innovation Advisor (IA). As such, he broadened Fisher's business network and introduced him to funders, clients and collaborators. "These included programs and consultants in the oil and gas industry – even customers," he says. "Among these were Alberta Innovates, Devon Energy and ARC Energy, a huge private equity firm that supports energy industry initiatives."
One game-changing referral by Miller was to the GE Innovation Centre, which was on the lookout for Internet of Things (IoT) applications that could impact big industrial projects. There, Fisher connected with TrueSite View, another firm focused on solving the problems of similar ventures, but by using technologies to create digital replicas of physical project realities. In 2016, Fisher left GEM Services in the hands of his partner, George Otcenasek and joined the TrueSite View team to help build the newly rebranded company VEERUM, which in its first year grew from three to 26 employees.
Miller points out that an important part of VEERUM's success is that the partners are "consummate entrepreneurs intent on identifying and delivering what the customer needs."
Hot connections with help from Concierge
Fisher adds that Concierge's mentorship and funding guidance has been invaluable, admitting that when building a business, "you're so busy you can get blinders on." Being able to walk shoulder to shoulder with advisors like Miller is a bonus, since IAs see the broader picture and have personal connections to others working on complementary endeavours.
According to Fisher, the "trifecta of success" is a blend of the VEERUM team's ideas, NRC IRAP's expertise and receptive clients from Concierge's huge network of partners and resources. "Seeing us work within government structures and systems immediately instills client confidence in us."
One client uses the digital twin to manage a massive earthworks project in northern Alberta. "Fed by data from drones flying the site every four hours, the Digital Twin provides ongoing progress monitoring of soil type and quantities moved, and creates a single source of project facts for everyone involved," he says.
As VEERUM continues to grow its capacity to reduce the risks associated with cost and schedule overruns, Fisher foresees that more companies around the world can confidently enter the energy arena. "At the moment, such risks are deterring a lot of infrastructure investment from bringing reliable, sustainable energy to the world," he points out. "As these risks are removed, more capital can flow into such projects and we can help our clients bring infrastructure to parts of the globe that don't currently have it."
With determination and strong support from Concierge, the VEERUM team is on an upward trajectory toward conquering the world.
"Canadian government programs are incredibly beneficial and unique to our country," says Fisher. "I highly recommend that anyone trying to get a new company off the ground start by taking advantage of free services like Concierge, which introduces you to important resources, teaches you to structure your business for success and provides the networks to help you grow."
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