Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Insights to capture the full benefit of laser scanning

June 10, 2018
By Mark LaBell

Jun. 10, 2018 – When used to its fullest potential, laser scanning enhances the speed of a project, reduces costs, improves safety, and helps the project run more smoothly. One challenge to laser scanning is tailoring the approach to the specific project. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so it is important to understand the project’s goals. Explaining the process and making sure all the key stakeholders are aligned and educated will ensure that laser scanning will achieve the desired outcomes. This is no small task. Here are insights and key benefits.

Optimizing Laser Scanning
In the typical preconstruction process, scanning crews go to the site and set up a local control network based on client requirements. They then complete the scanning process, which could take from a day to a month depending on the complexity. The data collected is prepared for the engineer and construction manager.  Communication tools, such as Autodesk ReCap and Autodesk Navisworks, are then used to demonstrate needed changes. To optimize scanning, here are key considerations.

Talk early about scope and deliverables. This conversation can start with generalities, such which areas are most critical to the schedule. There may be interdependencies in pricing or verification, especially on a large project, and those need to be addressed early to avoid disruptions to the overall schedule. Typically shutdowns are not an option, and so it is critical to understand which areas of the facility are off limits during main production times.

It is also important to discuss all the mitigating factors with the project team, including vibration from production equipment, volatile areas that do not allow the use of non-classified electrical devices, and compact spaces that can be difficult to navigate.

Training is key. New technology changes the way people work, and so there is often resistance to change at the outset. Once technicians understand how the technology will save their time, they often become more enthusiastic. This can be achieved through proper training.


While the tools to use the data are fairly simple, failing to spend time teaching the project team how to use those tools will result in rework: people have to return to the field to do measurements again. Once these experienced people have gone through training, they tend to find ways to simplify their project deliverables. Industry leaders must ensure that their teams receive the proper training on how to use the point cloud asset that is delivered. End users provide valuable feedback once they are fully trained and are using the scanning process on a regular basis. Providing comprehensive training that reaches all the way from information overviews for senior leadership to hands-on technical training.

Expertise leverages optimization. The more comfortable the team is when using laser scanning, the more they will understand what to watch out for. Use cases like verification for fit of equipment, tracking of maintenance and assets, and construction sequencing are nuanced examples of how experience plays a huge role. Engaging a consultant to help with these considerations can yield dividends and save time, as shown in the following example.

In a complex preconstruction situation, effective planning ensured a successful outcome. The facility had 1.5 million square feet of manufacturing and industrial space, roof, and exterior to cover in five weeks. Multiple devices could scan in real time and transfer the data back to the team each week for assessments. At the same time, design and preconstruction activities could be completed in-house. Because of this early data, the project moved ahead according to schedule.

Benefits of laser scanning
Every project has unique characteristics, but there are many ways that laser scanning can improve the project schedule and/or budget through rapid data compilation. Providing safety managers with the data they need, in the form of a 3D point cloud, makes reading plans easier, and it gives them the opportunity to see potential safety issues immediately and prevent accidents.

Additional uses of scanning within a project include moving equipment around via point cloud. Data from such simulations informs the discussion of what equipment will be needed to move the piece, and what effects that move will have. This technique can also be used to simulate traffic routes, such as a fork truck moving equipment through the plant.

After the data is collected, it can be stored for reuse. This is an asset for global companies, which can gather data in one trip to a facility and have it available when the time comes to reassess that site. The information is immediately available for the duration of the project, which makes planning seamless.  Additional benefits include the documentation of utility locations as well as floor leveling processes.

Utilities pre-construction scan benefits. Planning is key when it comes to the installation of utilities as part of the pre-construction scan. In a recent project, one piece of equipment was set over another, with people working under it, so it was easier and safer to pre-build the equipment off site. This had the added benefit of reducing production stoppages for installation. This was possible because of modular design subassemblies that could be assembled quickly and easily on-site.

Floor flatness scanning benefits. Floor leveling is another example of saving time with laser scanning. In the past, people were down on the floor measuring the variance, grinding off high points until the floors were level. This process could take days in a large facility. With laser scanning, the uneven levels can be revealed quickly, showing flatness while the floor is still wet. The crew can trowel uneven areas, saving time and labor cost.

Better, faster, less cost and a future in automation
As the adage goes: work smarter, not harder. Project teams became increasingly aware of the need to stretch budgets, and laser scanning has been key. When financial impetus was no longer a factor, project leaders were left with a more efficient tool that continues to make project planning and pre-construction easier and faster.

There are rich opportunities in the future of laser scanning, such as automation and miniaturization of devices, which could be worn by plant workers. Algorithms comparing point cloud and documenting changes could be delivered to procurement in a real as-built of a facility. These are the kinds of questions that industry professionals are asking as they think about how work is performed today and where things will go in the future to capture the full benefit of laser scanning.

Mark LaBell is a Senior Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Technical Leader at SSOE Group (, a project delivery firm for architecture, engineering, and construction management. He has served as a user and customization expert in BIM / CAD software for over 15 years, and he provides support and training for users to educate them on how to maintain a sound and practical user environment.

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