3D Laser Scanning, As-Built Surveys, and Insights From The SPAR 3D Expo
Over the last 18 months, 3D laser scanning has radically changed the way we capture As-Built survey data at PPM. A process that used to take several days in the field using a handheld laser measuring device can now be completed in a matter of hours with a mobile laser scanner – and with far more data to show for it. The equipment and software are changing so fast, it has been a fun challenge catch up and keep up. We’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to take advantage of the advancements in 3D laser scanners and AEC documentation, to the point we have even created a full-time Director of Survey Technology position at PPM to help us stay on the leading edge of this ever-evolving technology.
We are always on the hunt for new opportunities to learn about new developments in laser scanning, BIM, and CAD construction documentation. One of the events that we look forward to is the annual SPAR3D expo & conference. This event draws the leading companies and innovators across a broad range of 3D technology industries including laser scanning, BIM software, gaming, visualization, and more. In June, the SPAR3D conference came to Anaheim, and PPM was there. Greg (Director of Survey Technology), Colin (Field Service Director), and Mike (BIM Manager) joined Andy for the three-day event. We attended workshops, demoed new technology, and met with the leading companies in the 3D industry. Along the way, we identified a few prominent trends that stuck with us.
3D Laser Scanners Keep Getting Better and Cheaper, But PPM’s Favorite is Still the Zeb-Revo by GeoSLAM
If you have an interest in 3D laser scanning, there was no shortage of toys to play with at the SPAR3D conference. All the key players in the industry had a presence in the exposition hall, including Faro, Leica, Trimble, GeoSLAM, and more. One of the more interesting new scanners we saw was another mobile laser scanner from Paracosm that boasts full color in their point cloud data but took five times longer to process than other mobile solutions. After spending 3 days getting a first-hand look at all the new and existing equipment out there, it was clear to us that GeoSLAM’s Zeb-Revo is still the best tool for residential and commercial As-Built survey data capture. The Zeb-Revo is four times faster than traditional terrestrial laser scanner, provides extremely accurate 3D data, and comes at a relatively low price point – under $50K. It seems that PPM isn’t the only customer that has realized this, as GeoSLAM as a company has grown from 7 to 70 employees in just the last 18 months.
Scan-to-BIM Automation – Coming Your Way, Slowly but Surely
As much as 3D laser scanners have changed the way that PPM captures data in the field, there is still a very manual and time-consuming process that takes place after each scan. Our clients don’t want point cloud files – they want AutoCAD drawings or Revit models. One of our primary goals at the SPAR conference was to learn about any new software, “tech stacks,” that help to automate any step in the process of turning point clouds into architectural As-Builts. We saw demos from at least half a dozen middleware vendors including PointCab, PointSense by Faro, Pointfuse, 3DReshaper, and more. While there is still no, “magic bullet,” that will turn our point clouds into Revit models at the click of a button, we are beginning to look into some promising developments happening with point cloud rendering, surface recognition, and object meshes that can potentially save hours of time on each project.
Point Clouds are Awesome – But What Do I Do With All This Data?
As we made the transition to 3D laser scanning at PPM, one challenge that we didn’t properly appreciate in the beginning was the radical change in data storage needs. Prior to laser scans, a typical PPM As-Built project contained a total of about 200–500 MB of data, and most of that was the photos that we take on every job. With all of the data that we get from our scanners, project sizes can get up to as high as 50 GB while they’re in production. Even after using more compressed file formats and other archiving techniques, with 3 laser scanners practically running around the clock, we are adding approximately 500 GB a month to our server. Clearly we aren’t the only ones experiencing this challenge, as there were several data storage services with a presence at the SPAR conference. The trend in the industry is to move this data to the cloud, which allows for more flexibility, scalability, and collaboration across teams in different physical locations. At PPM, we have just started implementing a cloud storage and collaboration tool called Egnyte, which will allow for scalable data storage that can be accessed from all of our locations (currently Long Beach, Oakland, and Salt Lake City).
In summary, the SPAR 3D Conference this year was jam-packed with new high-tech gear, software, processes, and a dizzying array of ideas to explore. Even with 4 people attending the event, we couldn’t cover everything in 3 days. But it definitely sparked a number of new initiatives that we plan to pursue in the months ahead… that is until SPAR 2019 comes around and we start all over again!
Interested in PPM’s 3D Laser Scanning systems and services? Send me an email at [email protected]
Thanks for reading.