BTW Company spreading its wings and flying high
An innovative sky-high idea to tackle a common subterranean problem is helping launch BTW Company into new territory.
The New Plymouth and Hamilton-based surveying, engineering, planning and environmental consultancy firm has been built on a can-do attitude and a determination to embrace the latest technology. Those attributes combined with startling success when the Waipa District Council, in Waikato, recently contracted BTW to locate leaks on the community’s major water supply pipe.
“We wanted to try and be more efficient than tramping around on farm paddocks and using ‘hit and miss’ traditional methods, such as acoustic detection,” explains BTW Company managing director Grant Aitken.
“So, our water engineers and survey team got together and had an idea of attaching a thermal imaging camera to one of our drones [unmanned aerial vehicle]. After analysing hydraulic modelling results, pipe asset information and network operations, our CAA-certified drone operators took to the air and flew along the pipeline.”
Through temperature differences between the ground and water, the thermal imaging camera was able to identify water leaks against the surrounding earth, illustrated by a real-time colour palette. The work found two leaks that needed to be fixed and has since resulted in a flood of inquiries from other local authorities.
“We were thrilled with the result. It was a lot quicker and more efficient than traditional detection methods, or putting the camera on an aeroplane, and has the potential to make a significant impact on water conservation throughout New Zealand,” Grant says.
“We’re refining it all the time and have got a few tricks up our sleeve, such as trying a different camera that will hopefully allow us a longer period of the day to survey, rather than being restricted to times when the difference between the earth and water temperatures is greatest.”
Grant says BTW is also exploring other applications for the technology, such as for locating gas leaks.
“That’s our way – our by-line is ‘make it happen’, so we always embrace innovation, come up with new ideas and think outside the square.”
And that thinking outside the square has helped BTW now gain a foothold in Waikato, having opened an office in Hamilton in 2017.
“We didn’t want to be so reliant on Taranaki for work and were already operating nationally through our work in the energy industry, so saw Waikato as a good fit. It has 12 councils with a huge amount of infrastructure that needs maintenance and upgrading, and new subdivisions.
“By opening in the Waikato, it has given our staff the opportunity to work on large-scale land development and local authority projects, which enables our business to be sustainable,” Grant says.
BTW has come a long way since it began as a land and hydrographic surveying business in 1973. Back then it was heavily involved in surveying and consenting processes for the likes of Māui, Kupe, Methanex’s Motunui plant, and the Rimu and Waihapa production stations.
It has since developed into a multi-disciplinary business boasting surveyors, planners, environmental scientists, engineers, UAV pilots, 3D scanning specialists, and land and GIS experts.
“The reason we got those early projects was because we were innovative – BTW were surveyors that loved playing with new toys. To survey offshore we had to have the latest gear and have programmers and software developers as part of our team – that has continued,” Grant says.
“We’ve got tech we’ve either developed ourselves or have purchased, such as the latest 3D laser scanners for surveying and pipe work. We were involved with the Kāpuni 3D seismic survey [obtaining land access and surveying over a 450 sq km area], and recently we’ve been involved in a significant 160-section subdivision in Ngaruawahia, a 180-lot subdivision in Raglan, and the Junction Road gas-fired power plant.”
Boasting 70 staff and two offices, Grant says he is excited about BTW’s future.
“I think our company is at a nice size – it’s still nimble. We all know each other well and care for and look after each other.
“The Hamilton office is well positioned to reach Tauranga and Auckland markets, and we’ll be sticking with Taranaki, 100%.”
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