Translating design intent is a worthy goal with today's 3D modeling tools, but that vision does not have full control over the reality of put-in-place construction. So, 3D design model tools are heading into the field. The idea is to bring the model closer to the action to help achieve the design's true intent. But the delta between what is placed and what was planned continues to bedevil builders at a time when precision construction is seen as a key to increasing productivity and profit in the industry.

Precise construction is especially important in the health-care sector. Leading owners identify markets and needs and then commission new facilities with the full realization that changing medical equipment and health-care requirements will race ahead of design and construction and that change orders to adapt to the requirements current at the time of commissioning are inevitable—and acceptable—as long as their contractors manage the changes well. But that doesn't make it easy for the contractors that have to rip out months-old work in yet-to-be-completed buildings to accommodate the latest design changes ahead of opening day.

McCarthy is incorporating laser scanning as a key component of its workflow to build with precision—as per the model—to document the work and know exactly what has been accomplished. The firm sees it as a tool to enhance its ability to adapt to change orders and to protect itself as it navigates the shoals of late-morphing designs and ever-evolving risk.

Applied Technology

Forward-thinking contractors are using a robust tool-box of technology to merge records of the design intent with the accomplished reality in the field, particularly by embracing frequent laser scanning of as-built work and registering scans on design models for access in the field. They document their work, look for discrepancies and defects, and then adjust or correct next-step plans accordingly.

Prices for entry-level laser-scanning equipment for day-to-day construction have dropped by half in recent years, to about $50,000, and scanners have become more user-friendly. Software and systems for scan-data processing and management also have moved from esoteric to mainstream as big software vendors serving the market, including Autodesk and Bentley, roll out major new products, such as Bentley Pointools V8i and Autodesk 360, to support the processing of point-cloud data and its integration into the workflow.

Some contractors are seizing the business opportunity to look for new efficiencies and a competitive edge. And software developers and inventors are busily springing up to support them with exciting new products of user-friendly point-cloud-capture devices and cloud-processing and management tools.

Two notable entries emerging in June are a handheld scanner with onboard scan-processing software from start-up DotProduct Technologies LLC, whose first production units are to start shipping within weeks. Another is a new 3D-model and scan-navigation and delivery service for field devices called BIManywhere from another start-up, Zimfly, whose app interface was certified and made available on Apple's app distribution store on May 23.

On the Job

"The owners' programing changes, depending on their staff or the medical innovations that are coming out—and those are changing rapidly," says Chris Pechacek, director of virtual design and construction for the McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., St. Louis. The firm is testing new design processes and hardware and software technologies on a hospital project in Oakland, Calif., and finding real benefits in executing laser-scan-assisted precision construction.