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Reveal: A ground breaking technology

Reveal provides a new way of understanding the risks and proximity of underground utilities.

Development has led to a new, single source of truth for understanding risk with underground utilities. CEO and Founder Sam Wiffen explains the story and benefits behind Reveal.

Striking underground utilities can result in lengthy and even lethal consequences during works on minor and major infrastructure projects.

According to Reveal, utility strikes cost New Zealand $89 million annually in direct costs and, in New Zealand is estimated to be up to $2.5 billion per year in indirect costs – a staggering 1.17 per cent of GDP.

As the CEO and Founder Sam Wiffen explains, Reveal provides a solution to what had been a legacy issue across the construction and infrastructure sectors.

“I have an engineering background and used to work on large upgrades of buildings and electrical substations across the civil construction and heavy electrical sectors. We kept on hitting objects, primarily because we didn’t have accurate information and records on what was underground,” he says.

For Wiffen, along with Co-Founders Luke Herlihy and Oliver Kirk, these personal frustrations sparked the development of a concept. One that would lead to the eventual formation of Reveal.

But the first step was to develop a deeper understanding of the problem. 

As Wiffen explains, by combining their expertise and personal experiences, the team quickly set out building a services business with a foundation of technology and innovation.

As Wiffen adds, the aim was never to deliver a “silver bullet”. Instead, it was to ensure that contractors and project owners could accurately and easily implement subsurface data.

“That was the key driver for us. Accuracy is so important when it comes to underground utilities, and this is where information is king. Information and knowledge are also the crux of the problem; some of these bad records have degraded from time and technology,” he says.

“Locating underground utilities is really hard. Our thinking was, ‘How do we make that job easier?’ When you think about Superman, having x-ray vision, that would be amazing. But what if everyone was Superman or Superwoman?

“It’s a simple notion, to be able to make sure that major infrastructure providers and smaller providers know what’s underneath them when they’re building.”

Reveal CEO and Founder Sam Wiffen.
Reveal CEO and Founder Sam Wiffen.

Pro-active detection

Reveal is a New Zealand technology company that provides a platform for understanding subsurface infrastructure environments. From its headquarters in Wellington, the company now serves the entirety of its home country, as well as the Australasian region.

The Reveal platform consists of a variety of technologies and services, each designed to increase awareness and visibility for potential sub-surface risks.

The platform is centred around the creation of a spatial digital twin which contractors and project owners can view in real time.

“The long-term vision was set around how we could collect this data, democratise this data and make it available to as many people as possible,” he says.


 

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Reveal can quickly and accurately paint a picture of any potential geophysical and utility risks, in part due to its ability to provide reliable data around subsurface assets.

Technologies such as ground-penetrating radar are used to capture data to form the digital twin. This twin then forms part of a ‘map’ of underground assets, which engineers, contractors, asset owners and government can view from a single source.

“We create accurate utilities models. We can help people do that, or we can provide an environment where users can do that themselves,” Wiffen says.

“We’re helping people to not just take the existing records of utilities and combine those before making a design. It’s providing an understanding through a subsurface utility engineering process to identify where these risks lie.

“It’s also an understanding of the legacy that we’re leaving behind at the end of a project. How do we make sure that we’ve improved our understanding about the underground? What’s the digital legacy we’re leaving behind?”

Reveal’s platform has already been utilised on crucial works during the Christchurch earthquake rebuild, as well as infrastructure works such as the Let’s Get Wellington Moving project.

The company’s work on the latter also included the world’s largest subsurface utility model (as of August 2022). 

Reveal expect the platform to also be used in more infrastructure projects across Australia in the near future.

Gratifying growth 

Wiffen says the benefits of the platform have been substantiated through positive feedback from users and project stakeholders.

“I’ve had customers say that ‘if I didn’t have the information that was provided to us through the platform, we would have had a massive utility strike’. They say that would’ve had a huge project delay or even a death,” he says.

“By having this information available to them during the planning stage, asset owners and contractors have been able to create a safe project through design. It’s allowed their teams to work faster and safer.

Wiffen believes that the real world and professional experiences of the Reveal team have contributed to what is now a “pioneer” in the subsurface space.

The platform has already been used on some of New Zealand’s largest infrastructure works.
The platform has already been used on some of New Zealand’s largest infrastructure works.

He says Reveal’s development and services are backed by a diverse staff, originating from a range of industries. He says this diversity has greater supported both idea generation and innovation throughout the company.

“We’ve got people who are masters of their craft, people that are geophysicists, geologists, engineers, technologists, project managers, accountants, economists, you name it.”

“Everyone is treated as an equal and this culture has been huge for us. What’s been really special to me is that as the company has grown, it’s given us more resources to invest back into our staff through different training and development programs.”

Reveal recently celebrated its 11th anniversary. A milestone that reflects not only the growth of the company, but also the moving world of subsurface detection technology.

The company is also now pushing further into the international markets.

“The biggest challenge is that these markets are huge, so we’ve been learning as much as we can,” Wiffen says.

“One of the biggest differences across some markets is where risk potentially lies. In New Zealand, there’s differences of where the control or change can happen on a project, particularly on the governance side of the project.

“In other areas, such as Southeast Asia, everything is on the contractor. So those motivations can be quite different.”

Wiffen says this learning has been invaluable.

“As a business we’ve been getting lots of validation that this is a phenomenal way to approach this systemic problem. That we can meet that challenge and grow the company globally is incredibly exciting,” Wiffen says.

“Of huge importance to us is, the value set that we have as a business and imbuing these values into our products and technologies – creating that positive change.” 

This article was originally published in the August edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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