Surveying and preparing a site is a significant part of kicking off a construction project, but these steps can take up to a few weeks when done manually.
Laser scanning in construction is an efficient and accurate surveying tool that collects highly detailed data on a construction site in a matter of minutes. As a laser scans the area, it collects thousands of small data points that provide spatial measurements. Surveyors will upload this data into a point cloud that construction professionals, engineers and architects will use to create models, maps and blueprints.
While laser scanning comes with many advantages, implementation is no small feat. Here’s everything you should know about construction laser scanning applications, pros and cons and the steps to implement laser scanning in your next project.
Applications of 3D Laser Scanning in Construction
Laser scanning in construction is popular due to its capability to capture thousands of data points about a site in minutes. Various applications make this technology viable for construction teams like creating accurate 3D models and recording progress at each step of a project.
Here are the five most common ways construction teams utilize 3D laser scanning.
1. Mapping a Construction Site’s Conditions
Traditional mapping of a construction site can take days, if not weeks, to collect all the right measurements and examine the site for potential obstacles. With 3D laser scanning, a laser scans the site from various angles to collect thousands of data points at once.
Specialized software then takes these data points to create a site map with correct measurements and uncover any oddities. The construction teams will use this information for future planning.
Key takeaway: Architects and engineers use 3D scanning to create detailed site analysis models to effectively plan construction projects.
2. Quality Assurance
Quality assurance is an essential part of any construction project to ensure the structure is safe and up to code. With the data from a laser scanner, construction teams can double-check their work to determine structural accuracy. These teams can also ensure that their work matches the original plans and specifications.
Key takeaway: 3D scanning can verify that construction work is done according to plans and specifications.
3. Create As-Built Drawings
As-built drawings are a set of drawings a contractor makes to show how the structure will look at the end of the project. As-built drawings show the differences between the original construction plans versus the finished result. As-built drawings are also necessary for future structure projects and renovations so other teams understand the specifications of the building.
When a contractor creates as-built drawings manually, they’ll find that it takes hours and days to get everything just right. For a faster process, construction teams use laser scanners to collect data and then use specialized software to quickly create an accurate as-built drawing.
Key takeaway: Construction teams use 3D scanning to create accurate as-built documentation of existing structures. This information is necessary for renovation and maintenance purposes.
4. Measure and Record Progress
Project managers can also use 3D scanning to monitor construction progress. By using frequent scans at each step of a project, the collected data provides accurate and up-to-date information on the status of the project. This can help ensure that the project is on track and identify any potential issues that may arise along the way.
Key takeaway: Project managers use 3D scanning to monitor construction progress and compare it to plans and schedules.
5. Build Accurate 3D Models
Thanks to a laser scanner’s ability to capture so many points from dozens of angles, laser scans can create highly accurate three-dimensional models of the structure. These models are especially useful for visualizing a worksite from a remote location and analyzing each detail.
In the construction industry, contractors often use laser scanning to create 3D models to identify design flaws, plan renovations and optimize building performance.
Key takeaway: The data collected from laser scanning can make 3D models that teams will use for visualization, analysis and planning.
Pros of Laser Scanning
Laser scanning in construction has quite a few benefits. As you may have already noticed, there are plenty of applications for laser scanning that make it an efficient and viable option.
Here are some of the most notable advantages of 3D laser scanning.
Speeds Up the Mapping Process
Traditional surveying methods typically rely on manually measuring points on the ground, which is time-consuming and leaves room for discrepancies. Laser scanning, on the other hand, captures thousands of points per second that workers can immediately use for mapping, models and quality control.
Laser scanning leaves less room for human error and creates the most accurate mapping and models. These advanced laser scanners can capture precise and detailed measurements by collecting data points all over the project site. These data points produce highly accurate documentation for those working on the project.
Encourages More Attention to Detail
Since a laser scanner can capture thousands of data points in mere minutes, it encourages everyone that’s working on the project to pay close attention to the smallest details. Thanks to this attentiveness, each part of a project ensures quality and will require fewer modifications moving forward.
Cons of Laser Scanning
As with any new construction technology, there may be a few drawbacks to laser scanning in construction. It’s important to know these downsides to decide whether implementing laser scanning is right for a project.
Requires Expensive Equipment
Construction laser scanning equipment comes at a high cost. While it can cut costs further down the road, the upfront costs may feel off-putting. The upfront costs include the equipment and either, hiring someone who already knows how to run it or paying for training.
Calls For Special Training
As we previously mentioned, these scanning lasers require experience and training to get the best results. Since the equipment is so expensive, you’d only get your money’s worth by getting the most accurate scans possible.
Here are a few options for finding a trained professional to operate a 3D scanner.
- Hire a third-party contractor. Third-party 3D scanning companies will do the scanning and point upload for you. This option could help professionals cut down on those high upfront costs but may cost more over time.
- Hire someone with laser scanning experience. You always have the option of bringing someone onto your team that has training and experience in scanning.
- Take a 3D scanning course. There are 3D scanning courses available online and across the United States. Consider taking the course yourself or offering a teammate the opportunity to take the course.
Visits to the Work Site Are Still Essential
While laser scanners capture a tremendous amount of data about a work site, they don’t eliminate the need for visiting the site. Contractors, architects, engineers and other workers should continue to visit the site frequently to familiarize themselves with site conditions and the project’s progress. They may also visit to identify any abnormalities and unique needs.
How to Implement Laser Scanning
It’s no secret that 3D laser scanning in construction can lead to efficient and accurate planning and completion of a project. When considering whether laser scanning is right for your construction team, consider the steps it will take to get the laser integrated into daily operations.
Here are the three major steps for implementing laser scanning in construction.
Step 1: Determine the Value of Laser Scanning
Laser scanning comes with a hefty price tag, so conisder how and when the team will use it before purchasing any equipment. You should also consider if it’s worth it.
Here are a few questions to ask before making your decision.
- How will the team use laser scanning? For example, does your team need to build 3D models and site maps or will you mostly use scanning for quality control? Consider how valuable each application is to your team.
- What problems can a laser scanner solve? If your team is losing time and work due to a bottleneck, would a laser scanner solve this problem?
- Do you have the training resources? Do you already have someone on the team that can operate it, or would you need to pay for training? If the latter is true, do you have the funding to pay for it?
Step 2: Invest and Train
When purchasing a laser scanner for construction, look for something durable that offers quality. When it comes to laser scanners, it often pays off to invest in the equipment.
Here are a few factors to consider when purchasing a scanner.
- Image quality
- Scanning speed
- The number of collected data points
- The amount of data storage
- Integrations with current systems
In addition to investing in the equipment, investing in training is essential. For the best results, a trained and certified surveyor with 3D scanner experience should operate the instrument. If you do not already have someone on your team that fits this role, there are certification courses available online and in person.
Step 3: Integrate With Current Programs
A laser scanner collects the data, but specialized software is necessary for optimal usage. For example, integrating laser data with your company’s building information modeling (BIM) system allows teams to create accurate maps and models.
Before purchasing a laser scanner, ensure the technology your team already uses can easily integrate with a laser scanner — otherwise, it becomes obsolete. If not, consider changing software and other operating systems that better serve laser scanning technology.
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