• Brian K. Smith

Blog#4 | "Frickin Laser Beams"

From The Chronicles of a Construction Technology Addict

Ah yes, this was not just an absolutely hilarious movie, but one of my favorite newly democratized technologies, laser scanning! I'd like to point out the fact that laser scanning is nothing new. It has actually been around since the 1960's in laboratories, then introduced to the engineering world in the early 1990's, but it would not be until 2010's when scanning really became mainstream. Like all technology it gets faster, better and less expensive with time. The original scanning technology were no different. They were large, required a battery bank to power it, slow to collect data, and even slower to process the data. Faro was the first, in my opinion, to begin the major democratization of the process in terms of hardware, cost, and creating a daily workflow for engineers and contractors.

Laser scanners are now getting so small and portable we get to add my second most favorite technology into the mix. UAV's! (we will continue that topic in a future blog) Scanners are getting so small, fast, inexpensive, highly accurate, and you can not only run them from a mobile device, the mobile device will process the data! Leica released the BLK360 this year at Autodesk University 2016 with great excitement. Why stop at using one BLK360, when you can use up to three at once and the data is processed on the IPAD. I have not used this yet or seen any of the data but the possibility sounds great! The only downside is that you have to move fast not to get in the shot.

So why is all this technology so great? It allows engineers, contractors and owners the opportunity to collect fast, accurate data. This begins to quickly and cost effectively change the way we design, construct and plan projects. It alters the way we have collected data in the past and opens new doors for the future workflow from the office to the field. From verifying existing conditions before construction starts, to scanning before critical pours, to finite modeling and prefabrication. The list of ways to use scanning continues to grow as the prices decrease.


Coordinating the changes in 3D with the Electrical subcontractor and DOT, we were able to install these fans without a single delay!


Three years ago I had my first experience using a laser scanner. We were already doing 3D modeling, BIM, fabrication plans and needed to improve our efficiency and reduce our risk. Laser scanning was the answer! I have used large Lidar data sets and felt that I could handle a scan of an interior of a building. I consulted a Laser scanning guru to do the physical work and process the data, but I was involved with the entire process. Wow, I was in for a surprise. Three years ago, we used targets, spheres and it took a considerable amount of time to process the data. Simple things like asking to have the point cloud in real world coordinates was a lot to ask! Why couldn't the BIM data, Civil data and all the other project files live in the real world? I had no idea it was so difficult. After seeing the power and complexity I instantly realized the value. A few months later we had the opportunity to work on a large DOT project where they actually had the foresight to scan the entire project! The design and engineering were built off this and it helped a ton to have this data at the bid time. The DOT engineer said, "You want the CAD files and the point cloud data? That is great! I was hoping a contractor was going to ask for this at the bid level." After 4 months of estimating, planning and design, I was on the low bid team! The separation between first and second was 3% on a $135M project. I attribute a lot of this to the great estimators, but also the fact we had an entire complete picture, where the 2D plans did not tell the whole picture. The BIM model and point clouds were the key to identifying Value Engineering alternatives.

Being able to see the entire model and point clouds on Navisworks with the Superintendents, PM's and Estimators was priceless. One example where we used the 3D model and point cloud to design an alternative was in the installation of extremely large exhaust fan and a 20' long shaft. The contract plans said we needed to remove a large section of a vented wall and then reinstall when the fans were moved. This was easier said than done. Using the 3D model, the laser scan and the new model of the fan assembly, we were able to determine we could use an existing maintenance door. Actually, the maintenance door opening was too small so we had to remove the doors and door casing to get the fans to fit though. There was a huge cost savings using the existing opening and this would not have been possible to determine without the laser scanning. A small price to pay to be more efficient and reduce risk! This worked so well we decided to see if there were any further conflicts with existing and proposed structures along the route to where the fans would be installed. Sure enough, there was a conflict with a proposed MEC cabinet. Due to the phasing of the fan installation, the MEC cabinet had to be installed first. So the new problem was, how do we get the fan in with the cabinet installed? Or we can think about this from another perspective. What if we just move the MEC cabinet so there is enough room to install the fan? Coordinating the changes in 3D with the Electrical subcontractor and DOT, we were able to install these fans without a single delay!

The opportunity to use technology on every day practices is limitless! All it takes is initiative, drive, determination and unfortunately a good reason. Trying something new for the first time can be scary, but not in this case. This is not new technology, it is a proven technology, give it a try! If engineers, contractors and owners do not begin to implement new technology and opportunities like these, they will continue to see decreased margins and increased risk.

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