3 Ways 3D Scanning Can Cut Costs on Your Next Project
What if you needed to quickly create a 3D model of a project or site, but you did not have accurate, as-built drawings?
LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanners are a great solution. These scanners collect geometric data by hitting a point with a pulsed laser and then measuring the return time and wavelength of the pulse.
Often referred to by the generic term “3D scanners,” they come in a variety of configurations, each of which is applicable to a different type of project.
- Position-based scanners. This configuration requires that the scanner be placed in multiple positions around a site, structure or building to take individual scans from varying viewpoints. The individual scans are then “stitched” together to produce a “point cloud,” which is the resulting usable model. Position-based scanners are widely utilized in architectural, structural, infrastructure and civil applications and projects.
- Hand-held scanners. Hand-held scanners are utilized by moving the scanner around a large piece of equipment or machinery or by walking with the scanner along a path and gathering information. Hand-held scanners are often used for capturing very fine details of a large piece of equipment or accessing small areas where a position-based scanner cannot be placed.
- Stationary scanners. These scanners remain in a constant position and an object is positioned and rotated through the scanning field. Stationary scanners are often used for product design and development and in the medical field.
Position-based scanners are most often the “go-to” option of the A/E/C world due to the size and scope of projects, the required use of the “point cloud” and the practicality of capturing the data.
Most positional scanners utilize a two-part process that includes both a laser scan to capture accurate geometric information and color photography that illustrates the laser scan. The result of this two-step process is a realistic and accurate point cloud model of the scanned area.
The point cloud can be used in many CAD and design software packages to model design scenarios or compare before-and-after engineering activities.
The technology has all types of industrial applications, from power plants and electrical substations to manufacturing facilities. And it can cut project costs.
Here are three ways how:
#1. Site or plant verification
When a site or plant is missing one or more key drawings, a point cloud can be used to quickly verify equipment, structures, piping or field dimensions.
Utility example—A Midwest utility had a substation project that involved the replacement of two transformers and a switchgear building. Unfortunately, the utility only had a basic plot plan. A point cloud was used to safely create an updated plan and section views, as well as a foundation plan for the substation. These drawings were then modified to show the replacement of the transformers and switchgear building.
One visit to the site was all that was needed to update the utility’s drawings and provide it with the documentation needed to proceed with the replacement project.
Manufacturing plant example—A leading U.S. food processor needed to relocate an equipment line. The existing line and its surrounding structures were scanned to provide the designer with an accurate model on which to base the new design.
In both cases, validation of existing conditions helped prevent rework in the design due to incorrect or out-of-date dimensions on drawings of the site.
#2. Before-and-after applications
Want to understand how piping, duct or structural members behave dimensionally under actual operating conditions? Create a point cloud for each state (hot/cold, active/inactive, load/no load). Use the scan to then create an accurate side-by-side geometric comparison.
Upgrade projects provide another application. The existing site can be scanned and modified to show how the project will look after construction. Multiple options/iterations can then be designed to allow owners to choose the best solution.
Power plant example—To help meet its environmental goals, a Southwest power cooperative decided to install a selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR) system on a generating station. Of key concern was making sure all the new equipment had adequate room to be installed and function properly.
By providing an accurate and realistic comparison model before construction, the co-op was able to determine the best way to proceed with the installation. The ability to accurately route piping, place equipment and locate actual tie-in points, flanges, etc., leads to less rework and ultimately, saves project owners time and money.
#3 Creating accurate as-constructed documentation
The traditional process of gathering red-lined changes to design drawings to create as-constructed documentation is time-consuming and can be prone to error. Scanning the completed project provides a very accurate as-built document.
The resulting point cloud assists with the creation or modification of as-built documentation. Dimensional information can be taken directly from the point cloud and can limit costly site visits and manual measurements.
Plus, the process is much safer than manually measuring objects and features at dangerous heights or difficult-to-reach locations. With a point cloud, owners are not endangering field personnel.
University boiler example—A Northeast university needed to install a new boiler in the middle of an existing campus energy plant. Despite major obstacles, the chosen location was the lowest cost and provided the university the highest flexibility. An initial point cloud was created to help plan equipment installation and pipe routing. A final scan was used to provide as-constructed documentation.
Smart planning pays off
As with any technology, certain considerations need to be taken to ensure that 3D scanning can be incorporated into your design processes, including:
- Sufficient computer resources—Can you process/move these enormous pieces of data?
- Back-end software limitations—Very large projects may require more powerful back-end software to manage scans.
- File compatibility—Is your design software compatible with the format of your point cloud?
- Training—Ensure your design team has sufficient training to work with the point cloud.
- Scan planning—Have you taken the time to plan your 3D scan?
A short article on how to best plan for a 3D scan can be found here.
While the final pictures are not pretty, a well-planned 3D scan can quickly provide accurate information that is extremely useful to both project owners and design engineering firms.
William Allyn is a CAE/CAD manager for POWER Engineers and also teaches at a local Kansas City community college.