When Is it Time to Bring 3D Laser Scanning In-House?
In the past, 3D laser scanning has been used primarily to collect as-built data for the pre-build phase of construction projects. Today, it’s becoming an invaluable tool for quality assurance and ongoing project monitoring. 3D laser scanning can help ensure accuracy on a jobsite by identifying potential problems during construction, when there’s time to make rapid, less-costly corrections.
Today many contractors outsource their laser scanning due to historically high costs of use. Laser scanning requires investment not only in the scanner but also related software and a trained technician. But as lower-cost options emerge, specialty contractors seeking to create or enhance a unique selling proposition based on accuracy and immediacy might find they’re better served by bringing laser scanning in-house.
When making the decision, it’s important to move from asking “how much will this cost me” to “what value can this add?” If you find yourself working under any of the following conditions, for example (these are just a few use cases), bringing laser scanning in-house might be worth considering.
1. You’re installing custom products for every project
Kovach Building Enclosures in Chandler, Arizona, designs, engineers and installs commercial building envelope systems for highly complex projects in which every glass or metal component might be different and a mismeasurement could cost millions of dollars.
The company brought its laser scanning in-house to detect inconsistencies between design intent and site conditions. By having laser scanning experts in-house, the contractor can more quickly provide customers with accurate project details4 and can guarantee the products it fabricates will be easily installed.
2. You regularly renovate historic structures
Today’s handheld laser scanners make it easier than ever to get clear details of even highly constrained spaces such as elevator shafts or MEP spaces. But the value of laser scanning grows significantly when working with historic structures where rework of existing materials is not an option.
Andrew Graham, associate and architect with Leo A Daly, explained in an interview with ConstructionDive that laser scanning proved invaluable in creating a highly accurate BIM model to manage the renovation of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., which is listed on the National Historic Register. Among other tasks, the company was charged with replacing a dated utility with a modern MEP system.
"To be successful in meeting those needs, we can’t just go out there with measuring tapes and pencils," Graham said in the article. "The level of error when you are laser scanning is incredibly minute over hundreds of feet and captures existing surfaces conditions to an incredible level of accuracy." Ultimately, Graham said, laser scanning was critical to making the design work.
3. Your returning customers want new models
More facility managers are finding that BIM models of their existing structures can help them improve operational processes in addition to smoothing future renovations.
During the expansion of the Parkview Community Hospital Emergency Department in Riverside, California, Tilden-Coil Construction was tasked with providing a tie-in from the new utilities room to the existing one. In addition to new pipes and connections, the existing room needed new electrical panels. But these changes had to be made without coming into contact with any of the existing structure or utilities, as that would trigger the requirement of additional code upgrades.
In-house 3D laser scanning provided the precise measurements necessary to create an accurate model and detail all connection points needed to meet this project challenge. Because their laser scanning team was in-house, the scanning and BIM coordination process took only one week. 5
Is this move right for you?
Innovative contractors are finding new ways to incorporate laser scanning every day. As the technology keeps improving and use cases mount, it’s possible that more contractors will find themselves investing in laser scanning equipment and software, along with salaries for laser scanning specialists or training for existing employees.
Today’s 3D laser scanning services can average around $100 to $300 per hour, depending on your project needs, location and timeline.6 How quickly could you recoup the full cost of purchasing a system outright?
Megan Headley has been writing about every aspect of the built environment since 2004. As owner of ClearStory Publications, LLC, Megan demonstrates her passion for helping contractors create more productive and safer jobsites, and more sustainable and successful projects.
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