3D Laser Scanning: Better Design through Better Understanding

The most effective measuring tool for a renovation, alteration, expansion, or upgrade to an existing site is a 3D laser scanner. This device creates a permanent 3D model of your site that can be used for documentation before, during, and after construction. Why use a 3D laser scanner? One benefit is that it captures all objects in its field of view, including structures, equipment, and MEP. It records millions of complex dimensions with excellent accuracy, superior visualization, and enhanced flexibility.

Completing a 3D laser scan of a facility or structure consists of a five-step process, which was developed by our engineering team to be thorough, while avoiding unnecessary time and expense.


Planning and Estimating

This is the first step of the 3D laser scanning process. It begins with client coordination to identify the focus areas of the project. This could be specific buildings, areas of buildings, site features, utilities, or other points of interest. Once the focus is determined, the engineer estimates how many scan locations will be needed to comprehensively cover the area. Typically, a scan is conducted every 25 to 50 feet, depending on the type of project and level of detail required. The last part of the planning and estimating phase is walking the project site with the owner to make sure the plan is accurate in person.

Scanner Setup

The second step is physically setting up the scanner and all the necessary equipment. First, the engineer conducting the scan will ensure everyone on site has the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such a closed-toe shoes, hard hats, safety vests, and eye protection. Then the scanner will be set up on a tripod in the location of the initial scan. It will be moved to a new location for each subsequent scan, and a scan marker will be left in the previous locations.

Scan Using Registration Spheres

For the third step, the engineer places the registration spheres and conducts the actual scan. 3D laser scanning relies on registration spheres to achieve accurate scan alignments and focus on relevant features. Each scan should use at least 12 registration spheres placed in key locations and the precise placement of the spheres eliminates repetitive features when the multiple scans are overlayed with each other.


Point Cloud Alignment and Quality Check

The fourth step of the process involves aligning the multiple scans based on the registration sphere locations. For this step, the engineer uses a computer program to “stitch” together multiple scans into a series of scan images that depict the project focus area. These images are then reviewed and analyzed to ensure they thoroughly cover the needed features and are of a high enough quality to facilitate future work on the site.


Complete 3D Model

The fifth and final step brings all the collected data together into one product that can be presented to the client. From this product, the team will be able to decide how to move forward based on the needs of the client and how they see the project progressing from the information gathering stage to the design and renovation/construction stages.


Once the primary scanning process is complete, there are an array of post-processing options available. These options are provided as requested by each individual client and can include:

  • Feature extraction

  • Floor plans

  • Dimensions

  • Revit/CADWorx modeling

As you can imagine, 3D laser scanning comes with a broad collection of benefits to both the client and the engineering and construction teams. At its core, the benefit of this process boils down to “Time Savings = Cost Savings.” Some of the specific benefits include:

  • Providing a better understanding of existing conditions than may be found in current documents or uncovered by other means

  • Avoiding critical errors that could occur from having inaccurate or incomplete data

  • Creating better construction documents by providing a high level of detail

  • Obtaining accurate as-built, three-dimensional information rather than simply relying on two-dimensional drawings

  • Aiding in the creation of historical preservation documentation for buildings already on or in the process of being added to the National Register of Historic Places

  • Providing clash detection capabilities for designs

  • Creating a model that can be used to establish an accurate safety analysis

Having accurate documentation of a site of building at your fingertips, allows for better design through better understanding. Whether looking to renovate, expand, or upgrade a space, a 3D laser scanner is an indispensable tool for your project. Its straightforward five-step process, useful post-production options, and tangible benefits that save both time and money, keep projects moving forward by providing accurate and precise measurements.

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