The Business of Laser Scanning: The Future is So Bright, We’ve Gotta Wear Shades

A 400Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

With the recent election results in the books, is the U.S. now headed toward economic recovery or disaster? Arguments can be made for both, but one thing is certain, laser scanning and 3D modeling will continue rapid expansion in spite of what happens to the economy.

Here’s some evidence to support this optimistic point of view:
The world is rapidly going 3 dimensional. Younger generations who have grown up with computers expect to see the world in 3D. As they continue to enter the workforce, they’ll bring those expectations with them. Laser scanning is the instrument used to collect the data needed to create these 3D worlds.
It works… airborne, mobile, or terrestrial LiDAR scanning technology, when utilized by competent, qualified operators, works. It is a viable method of measuring fast, accurate, and without contact. The visual communication provided by creating 3D images is far superior to almost any form of 2D.
There is profit to be made. All markets are severely uninformed on what 3D scanning and modeling can do to benefit their businesses; those that do "get it" comprise a group , smaller than 5% of the total market. Inversely that means there is 95% virgin market opportunity. How many other markets are this wide open? A prime example is BIM or Building Information Modeling, which is still a buzz word to most, and is nowhere near its maturity within the A/E/C space. Consider what will happen once BIM does reach its maturity and the fundamental BIM concepts are taken to other industries outside construction such as ship building; healthcare; casinos; and others. A market exists anywhere there is need for 3D spatial measurement.
Laser scanning hardware is continually evolving, costing less, and becoming easier to use. Many hardware manufacturers have either recently announced new products or are scheduled to in 2013. This allows service providers to grow their existing business as well as seek new vertical markets. It also opens the door for green field startups to enter the market. Even plant/ facility owners might now consider purchasing instruments. Ultimately, it allows multiple markets to integrate LiDAR technology because it’s easier than ever before.
It’s affordable for an end user to integrate scanning and modeling into their workflow. The value in working with very accurate 3 dimensional data has eclipsed the cost of integrating scanning. For example, having a highly accurate and detailed model of a pre-existing condition before the project starts is worth the cost of scanning. Another example is using scanning as a QA/ QC tool on project milestones to capture mistakes as they occur. Having the ability to reduce rework far exceeds the cost of scanning integration. The return on investment for the end user is concrete, measurable and easily cost justified.
Software to process the scan data is rapidly improving. This is significant because the greatest expense in laser scanning is the processing of the data. Reducing the modeler’s time to produce the final deliverable allows them to provide an end product to the client faster, as well as work on additional projects. So the real expense in the business–creating deliverables from the raw data–is being reduced. Furthermore, the interoperability between software platforms is improving which allows the same data to be taken to a variety of applications.
We’re moving toward a paperless project. The world is digital and the cloud is providing the ability to store and share massive quantities of data online that can be accessed from anywhere on the planet. Data from laser scans and 3D models are no exception. The ability to scan a project in Russia, send it electronically to Phoenix for modeling, and then bounce it back around the world again is an amazing use of this technology.
The low capitalization to enter as a service provider or owner of laser scanning technology will continue to drive entrepreneurs and owners to invest. There will be small, start-up businesses that set up shop to play in this space, and there will be larger companies that decide to bolt on scanning as a service to their clients. Whether these businesses succeed or fail, they won’t have to invest substantial costs to enter the market compared to other companies that require parts inventory, heavy equipment, etc. The cost of scanning is really about building the team–not making massive capital investments.
The convergence of photogrammetry into the point cloud world will act as a complimentary catalyst to push the world further into 3D measurement. Photogrammetry will facilitate the technological education of the end user and make 3D more mainstream. The more that people are considering 3D measurement, the more it will benefit LiDAR. Less time will be spent on educating your client on 3D and more time will be spent bidding work that was previously unavailable.

My optimism about our 3D future is undeniable and I look forward to seeing our industry continue its positive trajectory. Good luck to all of us out there pushing new limits!

Ken Smerz is the President of Precision 3D Scanning ( a service provider that travels throughout the nation working with A/E/C and forensic clients. He can be reached at with any questions or comments you might have.

A 400Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE