De-risking in the digital space: A Niagara College – Steelcon partnership

Niagara College’s research team utilized 3D laser spatial scanning technology to create a three-dimensional image of all surroundings (left image), in order for SIN Structures to precisely plan for the installation of its massive new SIN Beam line (right image).

It was major news this past December when Steelcon Fabrication Inc. — a Brampton-based structural steel company — announced a $40 million investment into a St. Catharines facility, along with the creation of up to 100 new high-skilled jobs.

The new Garden City location is part of Steelcon’s expansion of its revolutionary SIN-Beam line — an innovation that produces construction beams that are lighter, using less steel than conventional wide flange beams. When they needed precise logistical expertise in installing this massive fabrication line, they turned to Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) and its 3D spatial scanning technology.

Installing the robotic SIN-beam assembler/welder — machinery that took 11 large shipping containers to transport — came with complex hurdles, explained Fabian Hoggard, general manager of SIN Structures, the company incorporated by Steelcon to operate the day-to-day manufacturing at the Grantham Avenue location.

At 250 feet long and 29 feet wide, the automated production line had to fit inside a 500 ft-long, 30 ft-wide bay, and still have enough room to store raw materials and finished product. SIN Structures also had to design and incorporate material handling equipment to maneuver the 50-ft x 5-ft steel beams, once manufactured, through a 20-ft opening between columns, into an adjacent bay for processing.

Add to that dilemma the variation in floor elevation well beyond the half-inch tolerance of the new 150-ton machinery and a very limited ceiling height.

“We basically had to shoehorn the equipment into a less-than-ideal building envelope,” said Hoggard.

It was crucial for SIN Structures to have precise measurements to plan and coordinate the intricate installation process.

Enter Niagara College and its leading-edge 3D-laser scanning and visualization technology, capturing the dimensional data of the facility to verify various elevations, distances between pieces of equipment, as well as the floor gradient, both accurately and reliably.

 “This technology is able to de-risk the equipment placement by realizing it in the digital space first, before SIN Structures committed to the placement,” explained Jim Lambert, centre manager of WAMIC, part of the College’s Research & Innovation division.

The research team, including staff and a graduate student, utilized its FARO Focus 3D laser scanner inside the facility to create a three-dimensional image of every visible surface, using laser light to measure millions of points, which is then imported into CAD software, said Lambert.

“Having that 3D profile from Niagara College was extremely valuable to see how we could move things in 3D space,” said Hoggard, adding that he hopes to further partner with the College to develop the automated equipment to fully facilitate the movement of the beams to the nearby bay.

The College-Steelcon partnership was made possible through funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).