Road Map to Success

You had to sign up early if you wanted to catch a glimpse of the Reality Capture segment of Autodesk University. The interest in laser scanning has skyrocketed in the last few years with more and more people venturing into the technological waters. The ROI is proven but the path has many hurdles and making the correct decisions along the way is critical to a successful project. So the question becomes, do I follow a map to success on my own, do I turn to a service provider, or do I hire a guide to make sure I get there safely and on-time.

We have seen many users first exposure to this technology, and invariably their reaction is to want to plunk down money and buy a laser scanner. Is that the right decision? From a data capture perspective there is more to the purchase than just a laser scanning system. There are accessories, fixtures and software applications. If you are not already a survey firm, there is the expense of survey total station equipment. As a newbie, there are investments in other intangibles such as work process, quality assurance and standards development.

From an end-user perspective, the investments are similar – new-gen computer hardware laser scanning application software, work process development and training. The intangibles for both, data capture and data processing, are too often overlooked, but tend to be what separates the good from the mediocre.

When I encounter these new users bubbling with enthusiasm over something so mind blowing as scanning, I diplomatically ask a few engaging questions. The first line of questions usually goes something like this. What is the primary service of your business? What is your businesss core expertise? What makes the company profitable? The follow-up question to ask is how do you see can scanning helping your core business?

The decision to invest in data collection may make sense to the construction management firms whose are active on site overseeing trades and have an invested stake in the project. Owning a scanner and having invested in all that was outlined above, the CM or contractor can implement scanning throughout the life of the project to support continuous validation and progress monitoring. The value being the ability to continuously assure fabrication, construction and installation is in accordance with design and that mistakes dont have expensive downstream impacts.

The following is an outline of the components briefly described above. Applying cost to the categories will allow you to see the true cost of getting into the collection business.

Laser Scanning Hardware

o Instruments Scanner (phased, time-of-flight, hand-held)

o Accessories targets and field accessories

o Accessories Tripods and tribracks

Laser Scanning Software

o Software registration and database generation


o Instruments total station

o Accessories targets and field accessories

o Accessories tripods and tribracks

o Software post processing, survey reduction

Laser Scanning Program Development

o Project Specifications

o Field operations and Execution

o Quality Procedures


o Laser scanning hardware and field

o Laser scanning software and applications

o Laser scanning work process

The laser scanning needs for a design firm are different than outlined for the construction user. The needs are typically for up-front information to document existing conditions, to validate legacy information, or to support as-built deliverable requirements.

The value derived from the technology is in support of design and engineering models, and depending contract, construction planning. The value comes from having a complete and comprehensive point cloud model that will support configuration planning, detailed design, demolition management, and interference detection. Schedule and cost reduction are also possible through this accurate information upfront.

So where do you make your investment in scanning if you are a design firm? The answer comes back to what is the primary service of your business, and how do you see scanning helping the core business? Unlike the construction user, greatest value will come not from investing in collecting and timely access, but from investment in end user application and work process development to drive design efficiency and reduced errors and omissions.

In the case of design build or integrated project delivery, where there is collaboration and integration through all phases of design, fabrication and construction, the decision where to begin investing gets a little blurred.

So where to begin as new user or neophyte? I suggest taking a page from the Small Business Administrations playbook, and find a business mentor that can help guide your implementation. On the first few projects, youll need to make many important decisions that you may not have the answer for: whats the right scanner, how do I properly use survey control or how do I make sure my scans line up with my Revit model? But you dont have to make every decision on your own. Seek out advice from the many industry veterans, the technology vendors, service provides, consultant and experts on the laser scanning industry forums. Their collective knowledge can help you successfully use scanning to makes your projects more profitable and satisfy clients at the same time.

About the Author

Greg Lawes

Greg Lawes...<!-- is a California licensed architect with 30 years of work experience in existing conditions documentation, building code analysis, construction document preparation, specification editing, interdisciplinary document coordination, quality assurance review, plan check agency processing, construction contract administration and project closeout on a variety of project types including healthcare, educational, hospitality, commercial, institutional, industrial and residential. Since 2005 he has been with Irvine, California based, Architectural Resource Consultants (ARC), , a firm that specializes in documenting existing building conditions. In 2012 he joined the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD), . The USIBD is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to all stakeholders with an interest in building documentation.
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