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On the move with CATSURVEYS

By Peter Fitzgibbon - 22nd August 2014 - 15:57

One enterprising surveying business makes its mark in Britain's energy sector with tools and techniques that take asset management to the next level

With new and more stringent Ofgem requirements on safety and reliability of supply coming into force, network operators and their contractors are faced with maintaining fixed assets to an ever higher standard. It has brought a wave of new business for those who have the skills and tools needed for sector-specific surveys and where speed, accuracy and innovation provide the driving force. One company that ticks all three boxes is the CATSURVEYS Group (, based just a stone’s throw from the busy M25 interchange at Brentwood in Essex.

Established in 2004 by two experienced land and utilities surveyors, Dave Brown and Janos Dobsi, the enterprise has expanded into a group of companies employing more than 85 people both in Britain and at a wholly-owned production facility in Budapest, Hungary.

Locating buried assets such as pipes and cables using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and Cat & Genny radiodetection devices (from which the company derives its name) continues to be an important source of income. However, by ploughing profits back into staffing, training and flagship technologies, this has been augmented in recent years with a raft of specialised geomatics, utilities surveying and site investigation services for household names such as BT, UK Power Networks, Western Power Networks, SSE, Southern Gas, Carillion and Balfour Beatty to name just a few.

With 7,000 surveys completed each year, it’s little wonder that CATSURVEYS has carried off some impressive wins in the Essex Business Excellence Awards: Business of The Year title in 2012, as well as Best Growing Business, Business Person of The Year (Janos Dobsi), and awards for Innovation (two years running for the latter).

More speed, less haste

The company’s business success undoubtedly stems from making hitherto labour-intensive activities more productive, efficient and, of course, safe. For example, while a conventional hand-pushed GPR is a necessity on pavements and in confined spaces, CATSURVEYS has achieved considerable time and cost savings with a home-grown, trailer-mounted version, the STREAM-EM.

With its multiple electromagnetic sensors, this GPS-enabled instrument records from all angles at depths of up to six metres as the vehicle is driven in a straight line. It is one of just a handful of mobile GPRs operational in the UK and has obvious advantages in terms of worker safety and traffic management. “It doesn’t eliminate the need to dig but it does pinpoint where digging will be most effective,” says Survey and CAD manager, Luke Steadman.

Another recent addition to the compan's portfolio is Mobile Asset Management (MAM) using Topcon's IPS2 mobile mapper. Here again, speed, accuracy and safety are the cornerstone of a service that employs a 360O camera, Inertial Management Unit, a dual frequency GNSS receiver and five laser scanners to dramatically reduce site working time.

With the vehicle travelling at distances of up to 100km a day, surface features are captured at a rate of 150,000 points/sec to an accuracy of ±50mmsecure cloud server, can be measured, drawn and tagged with asset attributes and made available in a variety of formats to facilitate easy database integration. Trials conducted in partnership with Aquarius Railroad Technologies have also demonstrated the value of MAAM in surveying rail network assets.

Getting streetwise with CAT360o

The latest innovation being put through its paces is another home-grown development designated CAT360o. Similar in operation to Google’s StreetView backpack, this man-portable or vehicle/UAV-mountable unit employs a specially modified 3D printed Frame and six 12MP cameras to capture HD stills and video.

Completing the package is a customised StreetView interface that links the georeferenced imagery to interactive mapping and user-specified routing and gives end users an immersive view of assets in the context of their surroundings. The brainchild of Joe Baldan who heads the company’s Development & Innovations team, the CAT360o solution generated much interest when showcased at a recent exhibition staged by the United Kingdom Society for Trenchless Technology and is already employed on two projects with more in the pipeline.

Intelligent package

While such developments are important in themselves, they underpin the company’s ability to offer customers what Luke Steadman calls the intelligent feasibility package. “This typically includes above and below ground survey data plus environmental and stakeholder information, all of which will help installation providers and utilities contractors prepare accurately costed tenders in what is a highly competitive arena,” he explains.

In practical terms, the package is assembled using AutoCAD and output for clients as a series of pdf drawings that are hyperlinked to relevant imagery and attribute data. “It’s a solid, non-changeable document and perfect for tendering purposes,” says Steadman.

With its multiple methods of data collection, CATSURVEYS is well placed to meet the demand for 3D data as an input to BIM solutions. Recent work for Scottish and Southern Energy, for example, involved the laser scanning, 3D modelling and attributing of electrical substation exteriors and interiors.

The company’s workflow for BIM-ready output uses a combination of Autodesk’s Revit building design and Navisworks project planning and review software. It is, claims Steadman, unique in its ability to deliver comprehensive surface and subsurface data to clients in a single package. “They can retrieve a 2D engineering drawing with a single click and just as easily access the 3D model. It’s the way things are going.”

In many senses, the new technologies in which CATSURVEYS invests embodies the survey-in-an-office approach whereby site visits and re-work are kept to a minimum. “It won’t stop it, but it certainly helps,” says Steadman. That help is clearly of value to a sector that faces significant challenges over the coming decade in providing secure energy supplies, meeting renewable energy and decarbonisation targets and maintaining affordability for consumers.


1. The energy sector faces significant challenges over the coming fecade in providing secure energy supplies, meeting renewable energy and decarbonisation targets and maintaining affordability for consumers. Composite image copyright thanapun / Krasowit / Shutterstock

2. Pictured on the left, locating buried assets such as pipes and cables with a Cat & Genny radiotection device, a ‘push’ GPR, and a Total Station for precise positioning. On the right, The STREAM-EM mobile GPR.

3. CAT360o man-portable unit and custom StreetView user interface

4. Raw HDS point cloud of an electricity substation is converted into a BIM-ready 3D model.Pictured lower left is a sample from CATSURVEYS' BIM model library of electrical components

5. Pictured (from left to right): Janos Dobsi, Joe Baldan and Luke Steadman with the Topcon IPS2 mobile mapper

Read More: Terrestrial Surveying Utilities

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