AWS for Industries

WPD efficiently visualizes and maintains its network using Fugro Roames on Amazon Web Services

Western Power Distribution (WPD) aims to be forward-thinking, innovative, and cost effective in its approach to managing the vegetation in its electricity distribution network. To that end, the company wanted to begin digitizing its vegetation strategy so that it could increase network visibility and confirm that its contractors were maintaining the network’s vegetation effectively.

The company used a competitive selection process and chose a solution from Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner Fugro called Fugro Roames, a virtual world asset management solution. Fugro Roames—an acronym for “remote observation automated modeling economic simulation”—relies on AWS services and offered WPD the fast data processing and advanced data presentation capabilities needed to transform its monitoring and maintenance approach. By using Fugro Roames to deliver insights from light detection and ranging (lidar) data, WPD can reduce physical network inspections and deliver vegetation maintenance more intelligently and cost effectively.

Using Data to Deliver Innovation on Fugro Roames

Fugro specializes in geodata analysis and serves a range of critical infrastructure clients across use cases that include power, rail, coastal resilience, and renewable energy. The company’s primary services are site characterization and asset integrity, and it delivers these services for both land and marine environments. Fugro began working to engage large power-industry customers in the United Kingdom in 2015 and began an official engagement with WPD in 2018.

WPD manages a power distribution network in the United Kingdom spanning 55,500 square kilometers of varying geography. To maintain the vegetation in its network, the company performed visual helicopter inspections and engaged contractors to patrol and maintain about 20 percent of the network area each year. However, it needed greater oversight and control over the maintenance process to manage costs and to care for its network proactively.

Fugro Roames, which serves as an online repository for lidar and imagery data, uses AWS to rapidly process and present data in a digital 3D environment. “We model every pole and conductor as well as the ground, vegetation, and buildings,” says Chris Boreland, business development manager at Fugro. “That information becomes a digital 3D representation of the world, which helps us develop analytics that provide critical information such as intrusions into vegetation and ground clearances.” By using Fugro Roames to process its lidar data, WPD improved the speed and efficacy of its system using data insights.

To support WPD’s need for fast analytics, Fugro needed to process 10–20 TB of raw data per campaign, and it needed to do it within 2–3 weeks—a deliverable that is achievable on AWS. “Scale is the foundation that Fugro Roames is built on,” says Boreland. “We rely on our AWS architecture for the scalability to host WPD’s extensive overhead networks.” To perform computationally intense data calculations, Fugro uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. And because it must efficiently store raw and interpreted data, the solution uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), an object storage service offering industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance. Amazon S3 doesn’t require Fugro to define the purpose of the data up front, leading to increased opportunities for analytics later.

To ingest structured data, Fugro also uses Amazon Redshift, a fast cloud data warehouse, which is compatible with WPD’s existing business intelligence tools. Using Amazon Redshift, Fugro’s solution can support the querying of big data and can scale to meet WPD’s requirements.

Managing Change and Enhancing Decision-Making

To implement Fugro’s solution, WPD equipped its Helicopter Unit to gather lidar data and photographic imagery and simultaneously strategized about how to use the resulting data. “Fugro worked really hard with us on an organic process,” says Robin Tutcher, accountable manager at WPD’s Helicopter Unit. “The team has been very adaptative and responsive to our needs.”

WPD’s new routine inspection program involves taking photographs and capturing visual and nonvisual defects on the network. “We carry three people on board the aircraft: a pilot, an observer, and a mission system operator who’s responsible for the nonvisual inspection and the collation of the lidar data,” says Tutcher. The company flies its helicopter fleet daily, collecting data that it aggregates into larger datasets and then sends to Fugro for processing using Fugro Roames.

Working alongside Fugro, WPD receives processed data in multiple formats, which empowers the company to issue fast, intelligent directives to its contractors about which trees to cut. “Fugro Roames gives users the ability to view the network remotely, which is transformative, particularly for the tree contractors,” says Tutcher. “It’s a very capable, powerful system that provides the user with a large quantity of information.” Using Fugro Roames, WPD can inspect its network more efficiently and with less manual effort.

Tutcher hopes to capture cost benefits from the areas that have been well maintained and put those savings toward the areas that need more attention. Additionally, the company can digitally identify clear spans—areas without trees or risk from trees—and avoid having to pay for contractors to physically inspect those areas. Plus, it can use mathematical calculations of vegetation volume and length from Fugro to understand contractors’ fees ahead of time and in a more granular way.

Innovating into the Future Using Fugro Roames and AWS

Tutcher expects the company to complete its first full year of normal operations in late 2022 and to ultimately reduce what was previously a 5-year maintenance cycle to a 4-year cycle. The company is also engaging AWS directly to develop a cloud-based solution for storing and exchanging data alongside Fugro. The solution would help WPD to scale and streamline its data storage and access.

WPD is also interested in continued data innovation as well as the ongoing digitization of its vegetation strategy. “We aim to digitize the process to the point that it turns into a ‘chainsaw’—meaning that everything from the data capture to the physical tree cutting is digitized,” says Tutcher. “And Fugro is a part of that goal.”

Davinder Harcharan

Davinder Harcharan

Davinder Harcharan Singh is a Global Alliance Manager at AWS where he works with Energy & Industrial partners to build, launch, and co-sell cloud-based solutions. Davinder brings over two decades of industry experience and has been engaged customers in the Energy, Power, Utilities, Federal, and Defense segments. Davinder received his MBA for the University of Manchester (United Kingdom) and hold a BSc in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University. Davinder’s passions include solving complex customer challenges, and engaging in inclusion, diversity and equity conversationsequity conversations.