Flying high

Civil Engineering Technology student James Kretz has taken the skills he’s acquired as an applied research assistant to soar to new heights with his own business

Civil Engineering Technology student James Kretz is converting his experience as an applied research assistant in Building and Construction Sciences into a new business venture.

Under the direction of Professor Richard Borger, Kretz has worked on light detection and ranging (LiDAR) scanning and data collection for commercial and industrial projects using drones, high-resolution cameras and 3D modelling software since he began his program in 2019.

The LiDAR scanner mounted on a drone sends out laser pulses that beam data off physical surfaces. Kretz is responsible for calibrating and processing that data to create a 3D point cloud — a digital twin that is an accurate and complete geometric representation of the dimensions and shapes of structures and geographic environments.

Kretz has worked on factories, blast furnaces, power plants, bridges, sports venues, and even a critical Ontario Power Generation dam within the raging Niagara River.

“Working with disruptive technology like this makes me an excellent candidate for employers who want to explore LiDAR scanning and drone work. It’s really in demand so my experience really made me stand out,” says Kretz.

“School helps you build those fundamental skills, but in applied research, you’re learning what the industry is moving toward.”

Kretz has been working at Hamilton engineering company JNE Group of Companies as a civil and structural designer as both a co-op and summer student. He’s been offered a job at graduation.

But he’s also developing an entrepreneurial opportunity. That came out of Mohawk’s drone work on a rehabilitation project of the deck, girders and piers of the Canadian side of the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. It was a challenging, complicated project with Quebec-based company Construction Demathieu & Bard, but it was a success.

Data captured by drones showed the otherwise hidden parts of the bridge required even more repair than initially thought.

Afterwards, Kretz was asked by a point person at the construction company — a Mohawk graduate — to edit together a video recapping the bridge project. From that initial video, Kretz has built a freelance business called Engineering Visuals.

It brings together Kretz’s existing skills in video editing with his newer skills in drone work.

“Working in applied research opened my eyes to a new technology and a new mindset about how it could be used in a new way.”

But it also exposed him to critical skills in project management, communications, deadline management and teamwork that have been key for his business and also for his role in supervising students.

“I think James found a hidden entrepreneurial talent. Applied research opened an opportunity for James to start his own disruptive technology business,” says Borger. “Mohawk has fostered an atmosphere where applied research is encouraged and supported. Students get real-world experience that opens opportunities for careers and businesses.”

Engineering Visuals has completed videos for the redevelopment of piers in Hamilton Harbour and Kretz sees opportunities in residential construction and real estate, too.

“I am committed to developing more parts of my business. I think there is a lot of demand for drone-based videos.”

Kretz has also been hired by Mohawk to conduct flight reviews for those seeking advanced drone certificates.

And he is part of a project to test the accuracy of a new type of drone-mounted LiDAR that can collect and process data much more quickly. The Mohawk team will create a high-density model of a specialized on-site crane at ArcelorMittal Dofasco using the new technology to more fully understand the application and functionality of this next generation of LiDAR scanners.

The group has been invited to present its results at a national conference of Construction Specifications Canada in May.