25 May 2021
CAD/BIM Tech: 3D Scanning Is Your Sight on Site
What if a 3D scanner could spell (or measure) the difference between success and catastrophic loss?
What would you do if a prized piece of equipment valued at $125 million was destroyed on your watch because of a technical error to do with measurements? That’s precisely what happened to an extremely important and invaluable piece of equipment sent into space to orbit Mars as the first interplanetary weather satellite. The Mars Orbiter was irretrievably lost in 1999 because the NASA team used metric units while a contractor used imperial. The $125 million probe strayed too close to Mars as it tried to maneuver into orbit and is thought to have been destroyed by the planet's atmosphere. An investigation concluded that the “root cause” of the loss was the “failed translation of English units into metric units” in a piece of ground software. Perhaps, had both teams been using a 3D laser scanner for quality-assurance purposes, this epically expensive disaster could have been avoided altogether. We’re willing to bet heads rolled, careers ended overnight and some lawyers got richer. We’re guessing, however, that labor laws were a little less stringent back in 1173 in Europe.
If the Italians had known about CAD, BIM and 3D laser scanners back in 1173, the Leaning Tower of Pisa would, today, simply be known as the Tower of Pisa. But those imaginative Italians didn’t have access to modern technology and today, as a result, the city of Pisa has a globally recognizable tourist attraction.
The construction business can be a complex one, where the tiniest change or error can have a disastrous domino-effect. Ask those Italians for whom the completion of that eight-story tower took close to 200 years. Clearly “il tempo è denaro” or “time is money” wasn’t a mantra in the construction game a thousand years ago.
Even a design change that seems insignificantly small or a fractional mistake in measurement can have a massive impact on a building’s design and functionality. And that, as every BIM and CAD pro knows, costs dumpster-loads of time and money. (Although the Italians clearly didn’t give “un culo di topi,” known to us non-Romance language speakers as “a rat’s behind.”)
. . . the tiniest change or error can have a disastrous domino-effect.
Here’s a question for you: Would you invest mere minutes in something that could (a) help you save time and money, (b) avoid frustration or embarrassing screw-ups, (c) achieve remarkable accuracy, (d) optimize data gathering and (e) ensure easy collaboration regardless of distance? How about if you could also (f) reduce the time spent on repetitive tasks and, for example, (g) achieve fast and flawless imports to your chosen platform? Sounds like seven good reasons to crack on, right?
Whether you work with MicroStation, Revit or AutoCAD, your goals on every project most likely include accuracy, efficiency and speed. 3D scanning certainly contributes to that. If you’d also like enhanced capabilities within your choice of platform, read on. Look, no matter how cool, calm and collected you are, and notwithstanding your gloriously admirable CAD skills, the truth is that regardless of your chosen platform, they all present their own challenges — frustratingly finicky imports being one of the chief complaints. And we’ll get to that, so stick with us. (By the way, we only deal with finicky imports. So, if you’ve got a finicky starter motor, dog, significant-other or some other randomly finicky thing, we wish you luck with that and hope you find a decent support group, if needed.)
On a project, changes, even small ones, can negatively impact the scope, schedule and budget of that project. BIM, for example, is designed to alleviate or prevent such issues with a tangible 3D view of a project even before construction starts. But the value of BIM itself (or CAD) increases exponentially if it can incorporate and adjust to the reality of what is occurring on the jobsite. And that’s where 3D scanning (or 3D laser scanning, as it’s sometimes known) truly comes into play.
What’s the Real Value of 3D Laser Scanning?
As you know, a 3D laser scanner is basically a kind of camera that emits a laser beam which is directed at a surface. The camera unit then essentially captures the information reflected off an object or surface and puts together a construct using multiple scans.
When 3D scanners were first introduced, they were strictly the domain of experts and trained specialists. You’re no doubt aware, however, that as more intuitive and user-friendly models have emerged, their use is no longer limited to building inspectors and those in the construction industry.
. . . the potential for error and inaccuracies can be nail-bitingly nerve-wracking.
Yes, 3D scanners have been around for a while, but they only began gaining serious traction in the construction industry relatively recently. In 2016, for example, demand for 3D scanning in the construction industry was around 20%. By 2017 it had increased slightly to about 22%.
However, by 2018, it had hit 57% — a huge increase, virtually overnight.
Valued at $3 billion back in 2016, the 3D scanner industry is anticipated to grow to around $10 billion by 2024. Things are really cooking in this arena, and if you’re serious about building a reputation for incredible accuracy in your projects and for staying abreast of developing technology available in your industry, then now is a good time to discover the full potential of 3D scanning and what, precisely, the benefits could be for you.
Today, artists, yacht builders, climbing-wall designers, event planners, filmmakers, real estate agents and more are turning to 3D scanners for their ability to capture the finer points of reality faster and more accurately than their human counterparts ever could. This accurate data, in turn, provides a degree of detail for CAD and BIM pros that was previously virtually non-existent.
Side note: While we’re on the subject of detail, did you know that 3D scanning is changing the world in numerous ways outside of construction? For example, by using 3D laser scans to produce 3D printed models of fossilized dinosaur bones, exact replicas have been reconstructed to study musculature in motion studies without any damage to the original fossils. Who knows, maybe Jurassic Park got it all wrong? Perhaps we’ll discover that those prehistoric beasts did not lumber their way into extinction, but rather that they tippy-toed and danced to their demise.
Laser-Scanning Uses You May Not Have Considered
Speaking of dancing, if someone you know is passionate about sculpture, you could have them dancing for joy with a 3D-scanned replica of some of world’s most stunning artwork. This website has over 12,000 scans to choose from, with everything from a bust of Nefertiti or Fibonacci, to Julius Caesar, Buddha or Venus Rising from the Waves, plus many contemporary offerings. (Fancy Michelangelo’s David in your bathroom?)
On a more practical note — yet one with a profound impact — 3D scanners have recently forever changed the prosthetics industry. Traditionally, artificial limbs have been neither particularly attractive, nor realistic. Apart from the physical trauma of losing a limb, many amputees have traditionally suffered with mental health issues related to a loss in self-confidence due to the loss of the limb and the perceived “ugliness” of their prosthetic replacement. Now, with 3D scanning and CAD software, it is possible to create an exact replica, either from the existing limb, pre-amputation, or as a mirror image of the opposite limb. This results in much greater acceptance and confidence for the patient, as well as far fewer mental health issues, which is highly applaudable.
In the CAD/BIM industry, construction sites and building inspections go together like brick and mortar. During actual construction, building inspectors from construction companies and design firms show up on site for routine inspections. This helps to ensure smooth progress on the project and helps the construction company stay on track. (If your builder is vocal about the inspections, make sure he isn’t attempting unsanctioned shortcuts. Just to be clear, nobody’s suggesting that your builder is unscrupulous or cutting corners. If you think there’s an element of the old “the lady doth protest too much, methinks” scenario, bear in mind that the data from a 3D scanner is laser-accurate, which builders may find frustrating or annoying if their own generations-old techniques are not keeping pace with advancing technology. Just keep a close eye on things, much like a 3D scanner.)
Through the genius of 3D scanning, prosthetics can achieve greater realism.
Now, instead of constantly needing to have someone on site, a simple 3D scanner can be used to provide 360-degree measurements all around the site. Other than no-lie laser-accuracy, the primary benefit of this is that multiple scans can be turned into a 3D composite. This can be shared remotely, allowing for instant collaboration with team members.
3D Scanners: Compact and portable means no jobsite is out of reach.
On a jobsite, prior to running an actual scan, it’s possible to preload the scanner with critical content such as CAD designs or BIM models, for example. Since accuracy is key in construction, the scanner connects the preloaded design data to actual building coordinates, and the physical locations and preloaded designs or models are (hopefully) aligned.
Any errors or mistakes are going to be glaringly obvious at an early stage, which means correction is a whole lot cheaper, potentially translating into savings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Next, the data from the scanner is loaded into the CAD or BIM software where its true value becomes obvious. Any team member, regardless of where they are geographically located, can immediately access all the required data, without ever having to set foot on the building site. Files can be saved and shared, allowing for instant access and collaboration.
Laser Accuracy: New Tricks for Old Dogs
A 3D scanner really comes in handy when the project focuses on an addition or a remodel to an older structure. Getting 100% accurate data from manual measurements in the field is not only incredibly time-consuming and expensive, but the potential for error and inaccuracies can be nail-bitingly nerve-wracking.
A 3D laser scanner, by contrast, quickly and accurately captures the reality of the existing structure, perfectly mapping every detail, which can then be imported into BIM software such as Revit, for example, resulting in spot-on accuracy for the project.
Any errors or mistakes are going to be glaringly obvious at an early stage, which means correction is a whole lot cheaper . . .
Detailed 2D drawings or 3D models can be used both for construction planning, to compare new construction to original plans or models or, additionally, for quality assurance purposes.
Warp Speed and Beyond
. . . the value of BIM itself (or CAD) increases exponentially if it can incorporate and adjust to the reality of what is occurring on the job site.
In a wonderful display of synergy, 3D scanners allow CAD and BIM professionals to produce more accurate drawings and models faster than ever before.
These drawings and models, in turn, allow for faster, more accurate construction, combined with greater cost-efficiency.
That’s an all-around win-win situation and we like those. Molto. (That’s Italian for “a lot.”)