Top 5 considerations prior to laser scanning

As laser scanning technology becomes more cost efficient, the ability to scan projects has been catching the eye of many of our clients.  Laser scanning produces a point cloud, which is linked into Building Information Modeling software to produce extremely accurate construction documents (a process known as “Scan-to-BIM” in the industry).  This process has proven to be extremely beneficial for projects that require accurate documentation of existing conditions, especially if the project owners and the team will be working on an existing building with little to no prior documentation of the as-built conditions.  However, before deciding if laser scanning is the right choice for a remodel or retrofit project, here are the top five considerations to evaluate:

  1. Scanning vs. scoping

Scanning can reduce the time and need for a scope trip, but it might not necessarily eliminate it.  For example, a technician can scan a project early in the process, allowing the Project Architect to digitally review the site conditions from the office.  If the Project Architect then needs to visit the site later, they will already have the dimensions and images of the site on hand to allow for a faster and more deliberate visit.

Scanning is also advantageous if the project’s scope of work evolves as the project progresses, potentially eliminating the need for added site visits.  For example, whether the team uncovers that an obscure dimension has become critical, or the team would like to add an opening through a precise location in the building’s envelope, if the space was scanned, the project team will likely have all the data they need.

  1. Consider the level of detail needed

In most cases, prioritizing the information which needs to be captured can reduce the time on site for the scan.  If the team identifies some areas of the site as less significant to the project, these areas can be scanned at a lower resolution to produce faster scans.  Also, even if the overall square footage of the project is relatively small, the time that it takes to scan a project can skyrocket if the building is subdivided into many smaller spaces (such as many small offices, or even restrooms with lots of stalls).  For some of these areas, it might be faster to document using traditional scoping methods rather than scanning.

  1. Condition of space

Scan the project in the condition that requires documentation.  For example, if a landlord plans to  demolish prior conditions before the project kick-off, the team should plan on scanning after the demolition has occurred.  Also, the scanner requires a direct line of site to any objects that need documentation, so it is best to scan when there are minimal obstructions on site, including pedestrians or workers.

  1. Look at the weather report

Extreme temperatures can cause problems for scanners, therefore the location of the project might necessitate additional planning. For example, if the project is located in Phoenix and the project timeline indicates the team will need to scan in the summer, it may require a special scanner that can handle the temperature range.

Rain/sleet/snow also will hinder scans.  Although some scanners may be rated to work in wet weather conditions, precipitation in the air will still cause noise in the scans.  Additionally, wet surfaces can either reflect or absorb the laser causing spurious points or holes in the data.

  1. Optimal situations for scanning

Scanning is ideal for unique space configurations, poorly documented spaces with little to no information available ahead of time, and any sites that might be dangerous or difficult to document through typical scope services.  Scanning may save substantial amounts of time versus measuring those spaces by hand.

Ultimately, laser scanning is beneficial if the team needs to take a comprehensive snapshot of the built environment in which they are working.  Based on our experience with this technology, laser scanning captures extremely accurate and comprehensive data, which can deliver enormous benefits to a complex project.


About the author:

Steve Burton, AIA, LEED GA, has over 10 years of industry experience, with a focus on optimizing process-driven workflows using innovative technologies. Steve is also a professor of Building Information Modeling, teaching classes at Johnson County Community College (Overland Park, KS) since 2014.  Email him. Steve’s LinkedIn