As the A/E profession continues to integrate increasingly powerful technology and prescribe evolving industry standards, many “buzzwords” are popping up. With this new vocabulary, there is possibility of confusion when owners and consultants have different understandings of terminology. It is essential to ensure we are all speaking the same language. This is especially true when it comes to high-precision surveying. Our firm is seeing increased demand for 3D laser tracking, scanning and modeling services for everything from site/civil projects, to full design/builds, to simple equipment placement planning. But what does it really mean to scan a project or provide tracking and survey control?
We want to ensure we are speaking the same language as our clients when we get requests to “create a model” or “provide a 3D scan of X.” For that reason, we are careful to get a full understanding of what the client is looking for when we get such a request, rather than interpreting it at face value. But what has also become essential is sharing the official meaning of these “buzzwords” and phrases. Below are some of the most common terms we hear confused.
3D Laser Scanning
Laser scanning has been around for some time now, but its affordability and precision has greatly advanced, making it a go-to service for capturing a space without missing the details. Laser scanning builds upon the expertise that already exists within the field of surveying for fast and exact measurements of the real world in three dimensions. Further, the laser scanner delivers all the benefits of a traditional survey with the addition of time savings and greater accuracy. The laser emitted from the scanner captures millions of points which together form a “point cloud” (see below) copy of the real-world object or environment. This is why you may have had a surveyor yell at you to get out of the way when doing a survey – if he or she is using a scanner, chances are you were just captured in the scan.
This is essentially a group of functional data points in a coordinate system. It is the output of a laser scan. A point cloud represents physical space used in a 3D format. This information, depending on the software used to process the data, allows the user to get “point of view” look at anything the laser scan captured. Since the cloud is made up of millions of points that all have specific coordinate data, the user not only gets a picture of the space but can also measure between “points.” This is a very powerful tool and an efficient way of getting a lot of information out of what is essentially a “picture.”
3D Modeling has also advanced leaps and bounds from only a few years ago, and the functionality of BIM has made this technology an A/E staple. In many cases, clients want a 3D model, but will not be able to afford everything for which they are asking. So, what does a model do for the client that a point cloud cannot do? A 3D model is usually construction media and equipment that takes a traditional 2D drawing and gives the space height. It is therefore a great tool for clash detection among trades. In addition, a model can be used in conjunction with point clouds for mapping existing facilities conditions and/or retrofit projects. However, in most cases, a client wanting a LOD of 300 or so can get the remainder of the information from a point cloud. This is not only efficient but practical for most applications.
It’s clear that the technology at our fingertips will continue to change how we provide professional A/E services. Clear communication and a shared understanding of terminology will be essential to the success of projects as the industry continues to evolve.
This article is written by Senior Mechanical Engineer Mitch Reynolds, PE. Mitch has 9 years of experience providing mechanical engineering services for projects in the government, commercial and industrial sectors. His experience includes equipment, HVAC, and pipe layout, and Finite Element Analysis for both structural and mechanical equipment. He has extensive 3D experience related to BIM modeling and analysis in Revit, Solidworks, Plant3D, and NavisWorks and Point Cloud Integration.