The Business of Laser Scanning: Do It Yourselfers…Beware

A 258Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Contractors Owning Laser Scanners
An emerging trend in the commercial construction world is for a contractor to start a department–deemed Virtual Design & Construction (VDC); Building Information Technology (BIM); or Technology/Innovation Group–to lead their company on the integration of 3d technology. The contractor purchases a laser scanner with very little quantifiable analysis or understanding of the possible applications, but because they believe it’s the wave of the future and they don’t want to get left behind.

The contractor then assigns an employee that they trusts and but has very little actual experience in 3d imaging. Nonetheless they’ve attended some conferences, maybe AU, and are going to lead the laser scanning and 3d modeling initiative. Or worse, the responsibility is given to a new-hire who promised they have prior experience…when they don’t. [News flash–most people simply do not have experience because the industry is still in its infancy.]

These contractors have created something that they don’t understand…so how do they manage or hold it accountable? But to hell with it–3d modeling is the future and the new VDC/BIM page on the website is going to drive customers. Whaahoo! Unfortunately in many cases it’s the dog that caught the bus.

As the story goes–things seem to start off all ducky. Everyone is throwing high-fives and it’s exciting. Then about a year or two the reality of the investment (hardware, software, and human capital costs) sets in and things don’t seem to go so good. Why? There are no quantifiable results. There is no measureable return on the investment. The creation of a giant cash sink-hole has been born.

Management is asking WTF? while the `3d department’ are scurrying around justifying their efforts. How was this situation born? There was no plan–only intent.

The 3d guys were new and didn’t realize how much help they would need. They didn’t realize they needed to incorporate humility into their development and seek out others in the industry who could offer assistance.

Management on the other hand didn’t commit to supporting growth over time. They didn’t realize that their projects are different in nature and require a custom deliverable unique to that project. They didn’t realize that the real cost of the business is the HUMAN capital investment–not hardware/software.

Next Steps
So how do you avoid this tire fire? Here are a few ideas:
Create a plan that is short term and allows the ability for continuous adjustment. This priority of this plan is to take into account the end goals you as the new scanner owner want to achieve. Focus on how to use 3d technology with two simple goals–save money on labor expense and material expense. This will help provide the simplest of ROI calculation as well as identify areas for continuous improvement.
Outsource different components of the integration of your 3d department. Don’t boil the ocean… instead get good at a few key systems–scanning or modeling and get support on the other until you’ve mastered several areas.
Seek guidance from others in the industry because the technology is continually changing…and so will you if you want to make it work.
Educate others in your company as to the benefits of 3d technology. Don’t silo the information–share it. Demonstrate to others that it really does work and makes the entire contractor building process more efficient. So create a plan for internal communication/integration.
Create a vision of where you want to be and set longer term goals that are not limited to a single project performance. In other words, look at all projects and incorporate some phase of the technology. This way, you’ll diversify your experience and create more potential for success.
Hire people to manage this business unit who have aptitude for growth and change and sprinkle them with a little humility. If they don’t have the ability to change–as the technology does–you’re investment will not pay off.

Ken Smerz is the President of Eco3d ( Comments are encouraged at or on Twitter @KenSmerz.

A 258Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE