Revitalizing Critical Energy Infrastructure with LiDAR Technology
Kyle Maxey posted on February 26, 2019 |

Energy infrastructure is a cornerstone of any nation's ability to provide adequate energy distribution to its citizens. But over time, improvements to infrastructure technologies develop, and new forms of energy emerge that require the old infrastructure to be updated. Today, the United States is realizing a boom in the production of domestic liquid propane gas (LPG), and facilities across the country are rapidly updating their storage and transportation infrastructure to meet the increased demand for LPG.

Building Information Modeling data overlaid on top of a 3D scan of the SEA-3 propane facility. With it, CHI Engineering is able to check existing conditions against the available survey data to ensure elements were not added, removed, or changed between survey dates. (Image courtesy of CHI Engineering.)
Building Information Modeling data overlaid on top of a 3D scan of the SEA-3 propane facility. With it, CHI Engineering is able to check existing conditions against the available survey data to ensure elements were not added, removed, or changed between survey dates. (Image courtesy of CHI Engineering.)

One facility that's been undergoing dramatic changes is the SEA-3 LLC. propane facility located in Newington, N.H.

SEA-3 Then

For years the SEA-3 propane facility has been humming along, receiving, storing and shipping out LPG from its 60,000 barrel capacity terminal via rail, road and ocean to homes and businesses in the Northeastern US. However, after the facility was acquired by Blackline Midstream, ownership decided that it was necessary to expand the importing and storage, systems of the operation.

But that posed a problem.

How do you retrofit an LPG facility, loaded with flammable, pressurized materials, while also keeping it open for business? Chris Albers, Senior Project Engineer for the Civil Engineering division of CHI Engineering Services, Inc., had a few ideas.

“What we do with LPG, has a lot to do with the type of facility,” Albers said. “The majority of LPG facilities we do work at are bulk storage and local distribution facilities. The liquefied gas is siloed at -40 degrees and that liquid fuel is basically on standby, so when you get to high demand periods, customers downstream can get the energy they need.”

With over three decades of experience working in the LPG industry, Albers was confident that CHI could handle the expansion of the SEA-3 facility, even though it was extensive and on a very small footprint.

A 3D scan of an over-the-railroad pipe rack. CHI Engineering will be tying into some of this piping, as well as fitting some new lines into the pipe rack. (Image courtesy of CHI Engineering.)
A 3D scan of an over-the-railroad pipe rack. CHI Engineering will be tying into some of this piping, as well as fitting some new lines into the pipe rack. (Image courtesy of CHI Engineering.)

"It’s a roughly $22-million project, requiring a new purification system, the method used to clean the propane before it makes its way to a storage tank," Albers explained. Beyond the new purification system, rail-unloading capacity was being immensely expanded from 6 to 16 cars and storage was being bulked up an additional 270,000 gallons of LPG. Needless to say, this retread of the SEA-3 facility would give the operation's ownership a larger stake in the Northeast's propane market.

With all of this expansion happening, it was critical that the existing facility, and all of the piping, walkways, elevations and more were documented accurately. But Albers and his team weren't going to rely on old blueprints, they would use LiDAR scans as the basis for their upgrade plans.

"We’ve been using a FARO laser scanner for a year now, and we’ve scanned 10 different facilities," Albers said. "When we have a project, we always do a pick-up visit, where we decide how our team of mechanical, civil, electrical, control, or chemical engineers will address a retrofit."

With a team assembled, Albers will set up their scanning operation in a facility to gather point cloud data about the critical components of the facility. Over the course of a scanning regime that can contain anywhere between 30 and 80 scans; the facility is digitized down to the millimeter. But measurements aren't the only thing that CHI is capturing. Color is also grabbed by the scanner, and that plays a crucial role in determining where new lines will tie into old lines to make the facility upgrade work.

"In the past, we used to go down to a terminal with tape measures and hire a surveyor to survey locations and the site for topography, pipe rack elevations, piping elevations etc.," Albers laughed. Today, things have become much more accurate and easier to use.

Two different angles of CHI Engineering’s CAD models overlaid on top of a 3D scan of the SEA-3 site. On the left, the scans are set to proper elevation, with the survey information flat and set to elevation “0”. The CAD model is converted to a Navisworks model that we can be melded into the scan to make sure CHI’s CAD layout has elements where they actually need to be. On the right, the model is placed in the scan to check for layout accuracy andto ensure that the design is within property limits and setback limits. It also works as a visual aid for clients. CHI performs a ‘model walk’ with the customer, in which they are navigated through the model to show them access, layout, and conceptually what their new facility will look like. (Images courtesy of CHI Engineering.)
Two different angles of CHI Engineering’s CAD models overlaid on top of a 3D scan of the SEA-3 site. On the left, the scans are set to proper elevation, with the survey information flat and set to elevation “0”. The CAD model is converted to a Navisworks model that we can be melded into the scan to make sure CHI’s CAD layout has elements where they actually need to be. On the right, the model is placed in the scan to check for layout accuracy and to ensure that the design is within property limits and setback limits. It also works as a visual aid for clients. CHI performs a ‘model walk’ with the customer, in which they are navigated through the model to show them access, layout, and conceptually what their new facility will look like. (Images courtesy of CHI Engineering.)

With terabytes of point cloud data in hand, Albers and his team begin creating a 3D model of the existing facility in Autodesk AutoCAD. With this accurate rendering of the facility in place, the design for the retrofit can begin.

"Based on the scans we make onsite, our design team can tie in critical locations very accurately," Albers said. "We get our elevations extremely accurate, and that's very important. In the past, we’ve had instances where we’ve got an elevation survey that's off by a couple feet, meaning our soil estimates are way off and the problems just knock on down the line."

"It was a real garbage in garbage out situation that caused a lot of rework, a lot of change orders,” said Jerry Hardy, Product Marketing Manager for FARO. Now with the accuracy of the scans coming off the FARO laser scanner, we’re able to really tone that down and eliminate extra trips, on-site errors, and fabrication errors."

One can only imagine how that not only saves money on a project by project basis, but it also makes facilities more reliable and safer places to work.

SEA-3 Future

With the completion of its expansion, the SEA-3 propane facility will be considered among the most reliable and flexible propane supply terminals in the Northeast United States. Not only will it have the capacity to deliver energy to household and business across the region, it can also take advantage of the demand of international markets offering cheaper, efficient energy.

And little of this would be possible without precise engineering, and reliable building information management facilitated by LiDAR technology. Seconding that notion, Denis Hebery, Chairman of the Newington Planning Board, said "This is an important project for Newington, for the port, for the Seacoast region, and for the tens of thousands of people who use propane all across the state. This is going to be an economic shot-in-the-arm that everyone can appreciate.”

To learn more about CHI Engineering Services, visit the company website. More about FARO’s ecosystem for an informed construction lifecycle can be found at the FARO Technologies website.

FARO Technologies has sponsored this post. They have no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Kyle Maxey

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