Case study of a 3D scanning project completed by Direct Dimensions. Visit www.directdimensions.com to see more.
Editor’s Note: The 2017 APDSP convention in New Orleans on October 11-12 focuses on Job Site University, a program designed to help reprographics shop owners sell high-tech job site products and services to AEC clients. Laser scanning is one of those services, and in this Q&A Michael Raphael explains the market. Raphael is the founder and CEO of Direct Dimensions, a company that provides a variety of laser scanning solutions to the AEC community.
APDSP: What does the AEC community use laser scanning for?
Raphael: There are basically two applications for scanning. The first, and the largest at the moment, is to create “as-built” CAD models. When an architect is tasked with redeveloping an existing facility, you need the exact measurements of that facility. You can’t get them from older blueprints – they are probably outdated and don’t contain any of the changes to the facility over the years. And the blueprints aren’t likely in the computer, much less in 3D – they’re just a pile of drawings.
So what laser scanning does is capture the measurements of a facility accurately and comprehensively, inside and out. The measurements are accurate to within 1/8 of an inch. The “point cloud” that is created from the scanning can be converted relatively quickly into an Autodesk Revit file. Having the as-built CAD model of an existing facility from which to base future designs is a huge advantage for an architect.
The other application, and I think this will actually be bigger in the long run, is to monitor quality control during construction of a new building. The same scanning technology that creates the as-builts can help ensure that everything in a new building is where it’s supposed to be. You can save tremendous amounts of money if you can eliminate mistakes and change-orders throughout the construction process. The nice thing about this application is that it could go on for a couple of years with one project, whereas as-builts are completed in just a couple of days.
APDSP: What hardware is involved in laser scanning?
Raphael: It’s called a spherical laser scanner, or sometimes a terrestrial laser scanner. It’s about the size and shape of a basketball and it sits on a tripod like a camera. You put in your settings and it scans. What typically goes on is the head is turning slowly, and while it’s turning, there’s a mirror inside that’s spinning vertically. While it’s spinning it’s shooting a laser beam that goes out and hits a surface and comes back, and we calculate that XYZ position of that indication, which gives us its coordinates, which is its position. And we’re doing this up to a million times a second. The scanner needs line-of-sight, so it has to be moved around to different positions in and around the building.
APDSP: What software does it require?
Raphael: In almost all cases the scanners come with their own operating software. However, other companies are in the market with software to handle the post-processing of the data. Autodesk, for example, is playing in this space in a big way. The software takes all the data from the scans and creates a single, giant cloud of all the points. These are huge files – gigabit files – which then can be imported into Revit. However, converting the point clouds to Revit files is by no means automatic – it requires a person sitting at the computer recreating the features in the building using the point cloud as the basis.
APDSP: So how does a reprographics shop get involved?
Raphael: Reprographic firms have been selling to the AEC community forever, and it’s the AEC community that needs these tools. So it’s natural that reprographics get involved one way or another. They could do any part of the projects, from running the scanners to converting the data to point clouds to turning the point clouds into Revit files. We can help them – we can quote the jobs with them, run the projects, and they earn commissions while they learn how to do it themselves.
APDSP: What is the window of opportunity here?
Raphael: Reprographics firms should get involved now while the fees are still relatively high and they can make a solid profit. The growth is there – we’re just scratching the surface. The reprographics firms have those deep relationships in AEC – they already are the ‘go-to solution’ houses for the AEC community. A new scanner from Leica will be introduced next month that will cut in half of the cost of the current market leading scanner, and I think that’s going to change this space significantly. On one hand the lower priced scanner will prompt more people to buy their own, but on the other hand this may wake them up and prompt them to talk to their reprographics firm and say, “Can you sell me this? Or can you do this type of work for me? Or can you recommend somebody?”
Learn more about Job Site University and the technologies behind in coming issues of APDSP Today, and stay tuned for more information about the 2017 APDSP Convention.