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Westfield's drone tech presents whole picture

“All this technology helps us to produce a better product at the end of the day – safely, cost-effectively, quickly.”

I’m sitting with Westfield UK head of design and construction Keith Whitmore in the project office at the firm’s major expansion of its White City shopping centre.

Across the road from us, Europe’s biggest retail construction project is under way. You can read all about it in this week’s project report.

Of particular interest for this column, though, is Westfield’s approach to technology, with the client/contractor doubling down on its use of BIM, drones (see video), laser scanning and more.

“As the construction department within our business, we’re expected to respond to the business’ needs,” Mr Whitmore says. “It’s important to me to stay ahead of the game.”

So, this project is the first Westfield scheme to use full BIM – nothing too groundbreaking there, you might say, although the firm is one of the few private clients to have re-written the BIM Protocol for its own ends, it claims.

But its use of drones is very interesting, especially for an urban development.

Below is a video of a drone fly-through, which Westfield is using to monitor progress on all aspects of the site.

Westfield has conducted more than 100 drone flights so far, at a rate of one every two weeks, coupling the results with a smart board to carry out site inductions and briefings.

The drones are also carrying out point-cloud scans, accurate to 3 mm either way, with photography stitched over the top of that to create what is an impressive illusion of a true 3D model.

“We can use it as a management tool – to see who did what when,” Mr Whitmore says.

Additionally, inside the building Westfield has deployed 360 cameras, stitching together multiple photographs to produce a complete virtual picture of the inside of the site – useful when the firm’s leasing team is talking to potential tenants about taking up retail space. Now, rather than using their imagination, they can show them exactly where there store will be and in what context it sits.

While none of this technology is necessarily brand new in and of itself, it’s always good to visit a project where so much of it is being used in tandem to produce practical benefits.

To read more about Westfield London’s phase two expansion and its other myriad challenges, click here.

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