Capturing reality with 3D scanners is becoming increasingly common across a range of industries, typically used to support design workflows and prefabrication processes, documenting and assessing as-built construction, or reverse engineering mechanical components.
When the first commercial 3D laser scanning systems were introduced (about 20 years ago), they were expensive and difficult to use. Even today, industry-grade mid-range 3D scanners can cost upwards of $40K and into 6 digits for long-range scanners. And just as the terms suggest, these scanners provide extremely accurate results when scanning objects or terrain that are in mid- to long-range view—in the range of several yards to 5 or 6 miles.
But there are many instances where an object or space can be scanned at close range. That’s when the use of range sensing 3D scanners that are lower in cost, more portable, and easier to use can come into play. They can be used on their own for short-range scanning within a limited budget, or used to supplement large scanning efforts—scanning tight areas without the need for an additional setup by the larger, more expensive equipment and crew.
Below are a few examples based on new scanning technology from two companies: Matterport and DotProduct. Both of these companies have developed end-to-end 3D reality capture systems. Their 3D scanners are suited for interior spaces or individual components, with good close range accuracy (see the fine print on their websites).
The Matterport Media Platform includes 3D camera mounted on a tri-pod, a dedicated cloud for point cloud processing and hosting, and an iPad app to control the capture process. DotProduct’s system is a handheld 3D scanner integrated with an Android tablet for capture and processing. Both systems are in the $5,000 range. And both systems are tightly integrated with ReCap and other Autodesk software solutions.
Real estate and properties—from residential homes and commercial space to rental properties and hotels—are usually marketed using static photographs or more recently panoramic photos and maybe a walkthrough video. But with 3D scanners, companies can now capture color point clouds providing an online experience that allows potential customers to virtually move through and explore a property.
Matterport’s system enables users from non-technical backgrounds to learn how to use the camera in just a few minutes, then cost-effectively scan a property and upload it to the cloud in a few hours. The scanned data is automatically processed in the cloud with no manual intervention. The point cloud model can be used as a virtual tour of the property, and can also be brought into Autodesk design solutions like Revit or AutoCAD to represent existing conditions.
To get the feel for the selling potential of a virtual walkthough, check out this sample real estate listing on Matterport’s website.
Infrastructure monitoring and maintenance
Mid to long-range 3D scanners are already used on many new infrastructure projects to capture the existing conditions of the surrounding terrain and manmade features (on new road or bridge construction projects for example) and monitor earthworks progress. With the advent of less-expensive handheld or portable scanners, reality capture is now being put to use for new applications and to supplement larger scanning efforts.
For example, Anchorage Municipal Light & Power (ML&P) is using DotProduct’s scanners to document all of its underground vaults. An electrical vault is basically an underground concrete box that provides access to subterranean electrical utility equipment, such as transformers or switches. Traditionally, information about the equipment and cables inside a vault is stored in 2D diagrams, which are often incomplete or inaccurate or sometimes completely missing—requiring costly and potentially dangerous manual field verification of vault conditions for maintenance or repair.
ML&P began documenting its vaults using photogrammetry and has now streamlined the workflow by using DotProduct’s 3D scanners to quickly and reliably capture existing conditions in the tight vault spaces. Once the vault is scanned, ML&P moves the data to ReCap using DotProduct’s plugin, and the data is then used in other Autodesk software programs to help improve the quality, accuracy, and safety of the utility’s engineering design and maintenance. Check out this case study about ML&Ps scanning efforts.
Another example of the use of portable scanning for infrastructure comes from construction company Skanska, who is using DotProduct scanners to capture geometry for Boston’s historic Longfellow Bridge. Skanska is part of a design/build joint venture that is upgrading the bridge’s structural capacity. Steel plates dating to the original construction (1906) are being replaced, but each one has a unique set of rivet holes that need to be accurately measured to fabricate replacement plates.
Initially, Skanksa teams were using hand measurements. But now they’re using 3D scanners mounted to range poles, enabling each plate to be safely scanned without any climbing or hand measurements—reducing a 20-minute process to about 2 minutes. Each scan is transferred into ReCap for cropping and cleaning, and then moved to AutoCAD to create a fabrication model. Click here for more info about this project.
Building design and construction
3D scanning is often used by design firms and contractors to capture existing conditions. For building design renovations, point clouds can be used to verify or supplement documentation for the existing structure and brought into design tools to guide the design effort. For construction, scanned point clouds are used to document and assess ongoing construction progress, record as-built conditions, or for off-site fabrication strategies. Easy-to-use, affordable scanning systems can also be used by on-site construction personnel without specialized training to capture construction conditions.
For example, Pepper Construction recently renovated the restrooms in an 8-floor dormitory at Purdue University. The work had to be performed during the summer, when the dorm is not in use. To meet this demanding schedule, Pepper needed to use prefabricated assemblies for each bathroom. To help ensure proper coordination and fit-up with the rest of the building renovation, Pepper used a DotProduct scanner to capture the prefabricated assemblies. In just minutes, Pepper scanned the assemblies to generate3D point cloud models that were then moved to ReCap for cleanup and transferred to Navisworks to make sure that the prefabricated assemblies would fit as planned. For more information, click here to read the DotProduct case study.
Expanding the reach 3D scanning
These examples point to how easy-to-use, low cost range sensors 3D scanners is extending the benefits of reality capture to a wider audience. Certainly this type of scanning will expand its use in industries where it’s already common, such as construction industry. And as 3D scanning technologies become more accessible—and more closely integrated with tools such as ReCap, AutoCAD, Revit, etc—it will no doubt lead to reality capture being used in new ways and by new industries.