Video produced by Justin Hearn
Laser scanning is one of the most-precise methods of reality capture in construction.
The technology enables contractors and designers to capture as-built dimensions through “point clouds” that can be directly imported into design programs for immediate use, reducing the hours needed to survey a jobsite manually as well as improving accuracy, which ultimately lowers the need for costly re-work.
Despite the precision and power of laser scanning technology, it remains vastly underutilized in the construction industry, according to Matthew Byrd, president of Nexus 3D Consulting in Boise, Idaho. “My guess right now would be that 10% of the overall market is actively using these technologies,” he said.
The reasons are many, said Byrd, whose firm specializes in implementing 3D reality capture solutions and geospatial technology on construction projects across the United States.
Contractors who’ve tried laser scanning technology previously had a bad experience.
“There’s a lack of education where a lot of people just buy the newest, cheapest technology that came out and run with it and don’t do enough research,” Byrd said. “So people are afraid to try it again.”
This is why Byrd’s firm takes educating the construction community on the benefits of laser scanning seriously. Not only is Nexus 3D a laser scanning service provider, but it also has a related media unit, Reality Capture Network, that publishes podcasts of expert interviews to help the industry better navigate using the technology.
Many contractors and other construction firms don’t have the supplemental technology to support laser scanning.
Even if they want to embrace laser scanning, most companies don’t have the proper internal technology infrastructure to process the data properly.
“The power in a computer that is needed for major point cloud processing and laser scan data is three times what most firms are using right now,” Byrd said, “because they’re using typical CAD computers. And this data is big. It’s heavy. It takes a lot of processing power. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of storage.”
The initial cost of a laser scanner is high.
While properly using a laser scanner might ultimately save on costs in the long run thanks to its improved data collection and accuracy, the initial costs might result in sticker shock.
“Laser scanners themselves are not super cheap,” Byrd said. “Not everybody wants to run out and buy one anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000, depending on your industry, project case and accuracy needs. There are so many different types of scanners, so there’s a lack of education as to which scanner would be the best fit for an individual firm.”
Despite the underwhelming adoption, Byrd said more construction firms should consider further exploring use of the technology during pre-construction—even if they’ve had a bad experience.
Often, a little more education and knowledge on how to properly use and interpret the technology will go a long way toward making better use of it. “There are a lot of people focused on trying to spread information and education more on laser scanning because the value is there,” he said.
Moreover, Byrd said he expects to see reality capture technology continue to evolve in other forms, like through drones, handheld devices and robots. “We’ve seen robot dogs with scanners on them,” Byrd said. “I really see the technology continuing to be adopted further.”