Conference Review: Moving Forward2010 Leica Geosystems HDS Worldwide User Conference

A 2.610Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

This year’s Leica HDS User Conference once again raised the bar for return on investment in terrestrial 3D laser scanning conferences. With attendance approaching 300, up some 15 percent from 2009, Geoff Jacobs, Senior VP of Marketing and the rest of his team have developed a proven formula for delivering a diverse mix of workshops and "how to" user presentations from customers around the world.

Add to this content a few carefully placed Leica technical marketing sessions, a high impact luncheon keynote, a fun social event and plan contest, and you can understand why users keep returning to this highly educational event. But as Geoff likes to remind people–perhaps the best value comes in the form of networking opportunities with international business leaders from a number of segments of the laser scanning industry.

Juergen Dold, CEO of Leica Geosystems opened the event with a spirited welcome and announcement that business had bottomed in Q3 of 2008. Since then the NAFTA region and Europe have been in a steep recovery with business in Asia only slowing for a while, but still growing over the previous year. He noted that overall the company has a healthy mix of revenues from each region and that they are "carefully optimistic" about the future.

On the product front, the new C10 laser scanner was a huge success for the HDS group, due in large part to its versatility and speed. C10 operation via a common field controller that also works with other key Leica Geosystems’ sensors had just been released.

Dr. Dold had just received word that all of the regulatory agencies had signed off on the recently announced Intergraph acquisition by Leica’s parent company Hexagon. This potentially game changing combination of a premier sensor/measurement company with a world leader in CAD and geospatial software applications will be interesting to track. The corporate vision is for Hexagon sensors to feed the Intergraph software applications with real-time measurement information. It’s a bold strategy that will require significant systems and corporate integration.

User Presentations
A wide variety of 3D laser scanning applications were covered during the three-day event, but with its own parallel track for the first time, forensics came out with the most content. This included a one-day, pre-conference "Shooting Reconstruction Workshop" at a local firing range. Sessions included fire and bomb scene reconstruction, high speed vehicle crash scene analysis, geometric accuracy determinations and how to get your laser scanned data admitted into trial. Tony Grissim has been doing an outstanding job of building this business for Geosystems.

In the construction application arena there were two presentations on the use of laser scanning by panel fabricators and installers. This highly specialized activity is often one of the most challenging 3D surveying operations on a building construction project, especially when the surfaces are curved and/or irregular. The panels have to be attached to what is called the substrate–the layer just under the roof or walls. Locating the points of attachment in 3D within a quarter-inch or less is required. In some cases every panel can have a different shape and dimensions.

Ken Smerz from Kovach Construction in Arizona explained how they have reduced their field fabrication from 40% to virtually zero through the use of laser scanning on more than 50 projects. Tim Egan from Carvist Corp., a 25-person glass and glazing contractor in California, reported that they now use HDS to as-built every building substrate prior to installation.

One of the most sophisticated uses of laser scanning on a construction project was described by Samir Emdanat, Director of Virtual Construction at Ghafari Assoc., Dearborn, Michigan. Samir’s title provides a clue to the approach that his firm takes to building construction. Ghafari is a leader in Integrated Project Delivery–IPD and lean construction methods. The entire project, in this case a $320 million hospital project was modeled in 3D using BIM–Building Information Modeling. BIM adds additional intelligence, which is stored in a database, to the 3D CAD model. It’s GIS for buildings.

Samir pointed out the goal of the project team is to "build the model". They view laser scanning as a risk management tool, but no matter how perfect the model, there will always be installation tolerances and field deviations to deal with. As with the previous panel fabrication example, by laser scanning the in-progress construction, errors can be found and adjustments made before they become costly mistakes. The goal that this approach seeks to attain is to make construction a "process of assembly". Change orders are not allowed on an IPD project.

BIM was also included in a presentation by Kelly Cone from Beck Architecture, Austin, Texas. Beck is the only firm in the US to hold a General Services Administration (GSA) IDIQ– Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity for both BIM and laser scanning. Kelly pointed out that the GSA has only let $1 million in project work under these programs. This has been disappointing to all those who invested heavily in competing for these awards.

Kelly believes that a key reason for this is cost. The GSA field staff believe that laser scanning is too expensive. As Kelly pointed out, this all depends on the required level of detail and resolution. He has been working with the GSA to demonstrate that high levels of accuracy are not always required. His approach was simple–to lower the costs you need to reduce the number of scans.

For the second year there was a presentation on the use of Geosystems’ tripod scanners being used to build a mobile LiDAR system. In this case it was the HDS6000–a phase-based scanner. In fact, Alan Barrow of ABA Surveying in the UK designed and built his own mobile mapping system that incorporated three HDS6000’s. This gave them the accuracy they needed and in the end allowed them to "thin" the stored point cloud by as much 90%. Alan went on to report that they were achieving engineering grade survey accuracies without the need for ground control. More input to the ongoing debate.

The questions continue concerning when Geosystems is going to release their mobile mapping product. Most of the other vendors have announced a product. The corporate position on this is that it is being investigated and when the time is right they will bring a quality product to market. One Geosystems product in the market that continues to garner rave reviews is TruView. This free, intuitive point cloud viewing, measurement and mark-up software (the Cyclone data Publisher must be purchased) runs over the Internet, or locally providing data access to end users who do not have any training in manipulating point clouds. The reason for the incredible popularity of this software, in addition to its simplicity is that it helps Geosystems customers sell the technology to their customers. It’s all about the power of visualization.

There were also a number of excellent digital heritage presentations, but none that had the impact of the Mt. Rushmore luncheon keynote address. This past spring CyArk and the US National Parks Service completed a digital preservation survey of the monument. Doug Pritchard of Scotland’s Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualization presented a recap of the incredible challenges associated with the data collection. The imagery of the faces and the places that they set up the scanners was just incredible. (Note: See The American Surveyor’s Rushmore article HERE)

In the category of great sounding presentations that I missed there was one on ship and oil-rig building. Harry Berg of West Contractors in Norway explained how the use of laser scanning was attracting customers to their shipyards based on the reduction in out of service time.

The other missed session of interest was on the use of HDS in making feature films. Turns out that laser scanning has a long track record in this industry. I have tried in the past to identify some of the firms involved with this application, but without much success. Craig Crane, industry veteran with Motion Associates in the UK has just recently embraced HDS, but word is he is already producing impressive results. Unfortunately he was not able to attend, but the presentation will be included on the conference DVD for attendees.

Plant–one of the largest markets for laser scanning was conspicuous with relatively few presentations at the conference. Not sure of the reason for this as the manufacturing and energy sectors are some of the strongest in the world economy, but there have been years where it has tended to dominate the conference so this tends to even things out.

Another observation that I would make is that it seems that in general European companies and their customers take a longer term view of investing in disruptive technology, and they do it with a high degree of sophistication. There is just something different about these presentations.

In general this is not a conference that you primarily attend for the exhibits, but for those with a need to perform underwater surveys, BlueView Technologies from Seattle, Washington was there demonstrating their recently announced BV5000 3D mechanical scanning systems. These scanners use sonar, not LiDAR to determine the range, but after that it is pretty much the same workflow. In fact their point cloud data can be processed with Cyclone.

Overall the 2010 HDS conference was another outstanding event. Juergen Dold ended his presentation by borrowing a quote from Abe Lincoln, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." Leica Geosystems and its customers are hard at work doing just that.

Gene Roe has more than 40 years experience in the surveying and mapping field with a particular interest in disruptive technology. He is the Managing Editor of LiDAR News and provides strategic consulting services worldwide. Roe has his PhD in Civil Engineering, is a registered professional engineer and a licensed land surveyor in New York.

A 2.610Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE