Truescan3D at GeoDataPoint

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Laser scanning is hot. In trade magazines and at user conferences, success stories abound. So why aren’t your clients buying into it?

According to Brian Elbe, PS, HDS team leader at Truescan3D based in West Chester, Ohio, the design and construction industry has increasingly begun requesting laser scanning and modeling services, and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the dominant practice. 


New York Skylight

This summer we were fortunate enough to work in the Big Apple, right in the heart of it all, at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We were commissioned to scan the base structural components of a large skylight on one of the buildings that houses an Asian cultural exhibit.  The scan was to be completed in a very tight window of time due to service providers are only permitted on site during specific hours on a single day of the week.

Maneuvering through TSA and flying into LaGuardia airport with all of that scan equipment was a challenge, but not nearly as challenging as driving to the site through mid-town Manhattan during morning rush hour traffic in a rental car – that is an experience I’ll not soon forget (at least the rental was a Chevy Impala SS which made me suitably equipped for competition).  Note to self: New York does have a few taxis available, if needed.  Lesson learned.

Every job provides its own unique challenges and this was no exception.  The skylight to be scanned was seated on a 5 foot base of concrete block which meant that its base was high compared to the surrounding vertical surfaces – this made it difficult to set targets dispersed in a manner the would yield good geometric control for the subject.

Also, the entire roof area surrounding the structure was blanketed in a temporary 2×4 plank catwalk-type floor that, although well constructed, had suffered from the elements and would shift under any weight.  This made it difficult to ensure the instrument was level and while scanning we needed to stand very still to not disturb the scan head.

To address both of these challenges, we used a set of lightweight carbon-graphite camera legs (that’s survey talk for tripod) that allows for some unique setup configurations.  Using them, we were able to set up on the structure itself with just about an 18 inch ledge to support two of the legs with the third resting on the skylight itself.

Another approach used to guarantee we were scanning everything needed by the client was to set the scanner up on parts of the building adjacent to our subject with higher elevations.  There is a certain sense of unease that accompanies the action of porting a 50 pound box filled with what is the equivalent of a few years salary up and down a shaky ladder on the roof of a building.

All joking aside, the most important aspect of this project was to capture the steel structural components that the skylight was seated on; the original glass and its frame is to be removed from the structural steel and a new frame will be pre-fabricated to precisely fit the structural steel that is to remain.

As there was a masterfully crafted replica of an ancient Asian village courtyard inside the building just beneath our work area, workers had to carefully remove corner sections of glass as well as a section between two opposite corners to expose the steel.  This was slow and tedious work, but once the glass panels were removed the structural components to be scanned were adequately revealed.

After the scanning was completed for the day, the raw scan data was reviewed on site with the client to make sure we were capturing everything to their satisfaction – returning to this job site to pick up something missed would be an expensive error.

After returning to Truescan3D Headquarters in West Chester, Ohio, the raw data was post processed and the scans were combined into a singular point cloud.

After delivering the data to our cleint and their intial review of it in Autodesk Inventor, they requested to have the structural components modeled in 3D so that they could use the models to design the new skylight frame without needing to interpret the cloud data on their own.  Having trained eyes for these things, this was something we were able to provide for them with relative ease.  In the end, they were able to complete their work with the models provided and we look forward to working with them on future projects.

This was an interesting and fun job, and a challenge not only technically, but also in that it was a ‘quick hitter’; although we had been discussing the possibility with the client for months, it came to life very quickly, over a couple of days, and suddenly we were on a plane and off to the most incredible city in the world – New York, the ‘Big Apple’, or after my dinner that evening after the scan I now like to affectionately refer to it as the ‘Big Slice’ (link).


Change is Constant

In the LiDAR realm, we have seen the application of terrestrial laser scanning go from being initially perceived as an interesting novelty of sorts to a practical data capture method whose demand is increasing faster than the industry can produce providers. As this new paradigm quickens, fresh applications and methods of capturing data are emerging. This further expandsthe possibilities of LiDAR while challenging those who provide it as a service to be ever-mindful in keeping up with, while pushing the limits of what is possible.

New innovations are being deployed at a rapid pace such as merging point clouds with thermal images, faster and lighter interior mobile and roadway mobile solutions, more efficient and sleeker scan to BIM solutions, real-time field measurement to BIM platforms, 3D digital cameras, 2D digital photos to point cloud technology, and generating massive ‘gigapixel’ panoramic images. All these applications are driven by the persistent energy and enthusiasm of creators and consumers of all things ‘3D’. This desire to explore new opportunities hastens the forward momentum of change.

Technology often seems like a football that is in a state of a perpetual fumble. Just when you think you have landed on and secured the ball, the mass of the other players lands on you and pops it from your grasp. This, in turn, sends it tumbling down field with all active participants picking themselves up and scrambling off across the field in pursuit.

Staying with this analogy, being an active and competitive participant in the game can be a challenge. Chasing after the football requires a lot of energy, focus, vigilance, and a drive for success – and possessing a love for the game notwithstanding. These virtues, however noble, do not change the fact that the state of the game is in constant flux, and maintaining persistent direction and focus, while not to getting blindsided by the moving mass of other players, challenges active participants to put forth their best efforts.

It is an exciting time in the AEC industry as architects, surveyors, engineers and construction professionals explore, employ and influence the ever shifting wave of new technology. I am constantly challenged and enthused by the seemingly daily innovations and opportunities that result from the one thing that I know to be an absolute as we move forward:

Change is constant.


Modernizing Aging Facilities

As is the case with our aging transportation infrastructure, there is an overabundance of aging buildings across the United States, particularly in large urban areas, which are host to inadequate facilities in need of modernization.

Building owners, with the goal of minimizing the environmental impact of their buildings while providing modern amenities and improved value, are looking to technologies such as Rapid Energy Modeling, BIM and 3D Laser Scanning to analyze and implement smart renovations for the built environment.

Working in the retro-fit realm presents many challenges, particularly when trying to detail what exists on a site.  Oftentimes, photos, manual measurements and 2D paper plans are used create the base existing digital model for any analysis or design that is to be considered for a building.  Gaps in plan data and human observation are typical with this approach and can lead to an incomplete or inaccurate representation of the site.  As the practices of Rapid Energy Modeling (which analyzes the energy consumption of a building) and offsite building component pre-fabrication (which reduces project cost and schedules) are rapidly adopted, accurate as-built modeling of existing buildings is critical.

Laser scanning is the solution that provides the fastest, most detailed and cost effective method for gathering existing three-dimensional data for the built environment.

Using a phase-based laser scanner, building interiors and exteriors can be documented in three-dimensions at the rate of more than one million points per second and on a three dimensional grid of less than 2 millimeters.  A setup, which can encompasses an effective spherical range of around 150 meters, can be executed in mere minutes resulting in a ‘point cloud’ containing hundreds of millions of points.

Each overlapping setup can then be referenced to one another by target elements within the clouds themselves. Spaces that are separated (usually as a result of project scope, i.e., ‘we’re improving that room but not this one’, etc.) can be strung together using conventional surveying traverses and presented as a single cloud.

This method of existing data collection is unmatched in field work time, detail and cost effectiveness.

The rapid collection of point data is really only half of the benefit of laser scanning, the downstream use of the data in different design platforms and scenarios is equally if not more advantageous to designers.  With the exponentially increasing adaptation of point cloud utilization in AEC design platforms being offered by software providers such as Autodesk and Bentley and the scores of third party software developers, the realization of a new powerful modeling paradigm for the built environment is quickly manifesting.

For example, a recent project required the scanning of four large and highly complex mechanical rooms which were not adjacent to one another and dispersed throughout a three story, 150,000 square foot building.  We not only captured a complete and highly accurate representation of all the spaces faster than any other available means, but we were also able to deliver them to the client as BIM models (in this case, solid Revit MEP family objects with data attached to them) that were spatially referenced to, and in the same native format as, the master files that were being employed by the rest of the design team.

This approach to rapid data capture and modeling can lend itself to Rapid Energy Modeling as well.  Quickly and completely capturing the exterior (and interior, where applicable) of a building through laser scanning can lead to a quick and accurate model of not only the building in question, but also any neighboring structures or other spatial phenomena that would help make the energy analysis more complete.

Without doubt, innovation in AEC technology is quickly evolving and driving the methods used in analyzing and fabricating improvements for our existing infrastructure and facilities.  As the demands of a deteriorating built environment intensify, we’re excited about the opportunities that those challenges present.


Scanning and Elevation Analysis

A client approached us about helping them to determine whether or not their gym floor was uneven, and to what extent; they have noticed slight depressions in the floor and ‘spongy’ footing in certain areas.

As you might guess, a gym floor should be consistently smooth with very little grade change to it so that athletes can enjoy a generally flat playing surface; the game is tough enough without unsure footing.

An acceptable tolerance of slope on the gym floor is 1/8 inch vertical change over ten feet.  To determine if the floor was built to this standard, we performed a 3D laser scan of the floor and then imported the point cloud into Autodesk Civil 3D to build a TIN surface.   We then colorized the surface to represent slope ranges: yellow representing value ranges that are built to specification, orange as just slightly outside specification, and red areas as absolutely out of tolerance.

Within Civil 3D, we were also able to further demonstrate the undulation in the gym floor topography by comparing the section view of the floor to a flat plane.

Finally, we displayed contours at an interval of 1/8 inch to help illustrate the problem areas as they relate to the color-gradient slopes and to display general fluctuation in the topography.  With the contours, it was easy to corroborate the colorized slope areas; any two 1/8 inch contours within less than 10 feet of each other indicate a grade out of tolerance.

In the end, we confirmed that the client did in fact have a gym floor that is mostly out of tolerance (the red areas in the image below) and we were able to precisely map the problem areas.

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