March 8, 2018


The construction industry is getting more and more competitive every day. With evolving technologies and new techniques to complete projects being introduced, we are in an era where even the most complicated of structures, the same ones that took years and years to be completed, are now built within a matter of months.

One of such a groundbreaking technology is 3D laser scanning!

Even though laser scanning has been around since the 60’s, it didn’t break the engineering realm until the late 90’s; engineering and consulting firms have been recognizing the benefits laser scanning can bring to their operations and clients ever since.

For those who are relatively new the concept, 3D laser scanning technology digitally captures the dimensions of objects using a line of laser light and outputs a point cloud image, which accurately replicates the scanned objects. Objects can be scanned from up to several hundred meters, and data points can be collected to the accuracy of less than 5mm at speeds from several thousand to several hundred thousand points per second! For large objects, multiple scans from different angles can be taken and merged to form a complete image.

Once the 3D image is generated, the data can be exported to many common CAD, modeling and BIM programs to generate 2D CAD drawings or a 3D model.

Primary Uses

3D Laser Scanning Technology is used in several ways to help with the design and construction of buildings as well as for gaining survey information about a location. 3D Laser Scanning Technology makes it possible to provide real, life-like images of a piece of land, location, or existing building to make well-informed calculations and designs. Some other areas where 3D scanning is currently in use are discussed further below.

Building/Facility Renovation

It’s common to encounter incomplete or inaccurate as-built drawings for an existing building. 3D scans can be used to develop accurate 3D models of the interior and exterior of existing buildings, which can be used in planning and designing future additions to the structures, or renovation and restoration of old buildings, etc.


Similarly, roads and bridges can be constructed and/or maintained by the use of 3D laser scanning, including road landscape surveying, road surface and pavement profiling, intersection surveys, bridge designs, damage assessments and historical archiving, etc. 3D scanning is also being thoroughly utilized in the construction and maintenance of tunnels, ports, harbors, rail, and airports.

Offshore Oil Production Facilities

Offshore oil production facilities require a high level of dimensional control throughout their lifecycle. The typical modular construction of offshore platforms requires tolerances to be closely managed between topside and underwater structures. Laser scanning can be used to validate the entire job site geometry. And in cases of any natural or abnormal damage, laser scanning can be a quicker and safer method for assessing the damage.

Forensic Evaluation

3D scanning can assist with evidence preservation and forensic evaluation. Instead of relying on photographic evidence and field measurements for forensic evaluations, 3D scanning can assist forensic engineers and legal teams to quickly and accurately preserve an accident scene and its evidence. Once the data is captured, it can be utilized to construct 3D models of the scenes during mediation, arbitration or litigation.

Utilities & Process Plants

3D laser scanning can accurately document existing conditions of facilities to assist with minimizing conflicts between new and existing components during facility upgrade projects. 3D scanning also permits personnel to remotely view and evaluate facilities, limiting the number of personnel exposed to hazardous working conditions.

Reported Benefits

3D scanning might not cost less than traditional surveying methods, but in some cases, the benefits outweigh the costs. “Scanning has been a tremendous addition to our services and allows us to obtain a level of detail that was not possible or feasible with other conventional survey methods,” states Paul LeBaron, Director of Land Surveying at Nitsch Engineering. “When used appropriately it can provide a higher level of detail, safe locations in hazardous areas, and save the team time by reducing the need to send a crew back to a site to obtain more locations. Our investment in the technology has paid off for both our firm and our clients who have taken advantage of its use.”

Cost ReductionCost & Schedule Reduction

It’s been reported that 3D scanning can reduce total project costs by as much as 5 – 7% and the schedule by as much as 10% on industrial projects. The scanning can take as little as a few hours to a few days, depending on the scale of the site, as compared to several weeks using traditional data collection methods. In some cases, the savings in time and in ancillary costs may outweigh the cost of the scanning.

Improved PlanningImproved Planning & Design

Point cloud-based as-built drawings and 3D models can improve the design by analyzing clashes between newly designed elements and existing conditions or by evaluating alternative designs prior to construction. The accurateness of dimensions obtained from laser scans can also help improve planning by providing exact measurements for demolition and removal of components, as well as for prefabricated materials, minimizing waste and changes in the field.

SafetySafety & Regulatory Compliance

Laser scanning methods are often safer than manual data capture methods and are increasingly being used to help comply with health, safety, and environmental imperatives. The remote sensing ability and quick data capture of laser scanners reduce a crew’s exposure to harmful environments. For example, 3D scanning can be used in completing land surveys without the need to stop one car.

While the 3D scanning market has reportedly grown 25 – 30% over the last five years, the technology is still early in the adoption cycle. Because traditional surveying methods are more cost effective on some projects, it may be difficult to determine when to make the leap to laser scanning. If a company has not yet adopted designing and constructing in 3D, it may be difficult to “buy-in” to laser scanning. Lastly, like other 3D technologies in the marketplace, there are integration challenges involved with laser scanning. Some design solutions have embraced point cloud integration, while others have not.


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Imad Farid

Imad is a full-time marketer at Trimble Inc. and a part-time content creator for various digital publications. Over the years, Imad has written articles, blogs as well as created content for various videos, info-graphics, etc. for various industries. Now working for a technology provider for the construction sector, he specializes in writing and creating content for the construction industry,

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