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Project Management

Laser scanning optimizes costs, helps with standards

Stakeholders who use laser scanning can increase project efficiency and speed with lower initial costs.

By Mark LaBell July 7, 2020
Courtesy: SSOE Group

One of the benefits of the technological solutions entering the market today is the accuracy of estimates that include more definitive data developed at early planning stages.

The consistency of those data-driven early estimates continues to benefit leaders as the project moves forward.

Because of this built-in reliability, stakeholders who use laser scanning can increase efficiency and speed, getting more work done than before from an estimating and cost compliance standpoint, with less initial cost.

Decision makers are able to do more with less through the use of laser scanning and related technologies with enhanced communication and streamlined processes such technologies make possible.

Aligning project expectations

One of the most time-consuming challenges on many projects is aligning all team members with the status of the project, its goals and expectations.

Let’s consider a case scenario. If one firm takes over a project that has already started, laser scanning is an invaluable tool to ascertain the status and make a consolidated plan to move forward. In one project, engineering and construction was completed up to a point when the project stopped. Another firm picked up the project, re-engaged, and is attempting to assess the installation against the engineering documents from past efforts.

This type of assessment is challenging in any case, but without laser scanning it would be extremely difficult. The project in the case scenario involved equipment installation in a steel mill and the equipment is from the WWII era, but is still relevant and is being retrofitted to work in 21st century processes.

With large and heavy equipment, the placement and installation of anchor bolts is a major aspect and it is critical the dimensions on the equipment legs line up with bolt holes, otherwise the floor must be redrilled or the legs altered to align them.

A laser scan can overlay upon the documentation from the original project startup to locate any misalignment before the equipment is set up, saving both time and money by avoiding rework.

If measurements and specifications aren’t properly done at the outset, they will have to be redone in the field. More human capital will have to be involved to make that late effort successful.

Reducing the amount of downtime in the field for installation by mitigating risks early keeps the total install cost of the project within the constraints imposed by the budget.

Reducing the amount of downtime in the field for installation by mitigating risks early keeps the total install cost of the project within the constraints imposed by the budget. Courtesy: SSOE Group

Reducing the amount of downtime in the field for installation by mitigating risks early keeps the total install cost of the project within the constraints imposed by the budget. Courtesy: SSOE Group

Laser scanning streamlines the project process

While the accuracy of laser scanning helps streamline the engineering and construction efforts, even more cost is saved in the documentation process.

One major chemical company had rigorous documentation standards consuming significant components of the budget and schedule. Stakeholders required the exact documentation specifications for all their projects regardless of who worked in it, and there was a series of audits to ensure compliance.

It took substantial time to meet the standards and a considerable associated investment, so the company’s leadership decided to re-evaluate those standards. After evaluation, the team found the documentation could be pared down significantly with no detrimental effect.

The solution is a new approach referred to as a “skinny package.” Realizing good quality control is still essential to a successful project, the team can do more with less via laser scanning and solid processes.

Even with a half-day training, an engineer with modeling experience can quickly master the basics needed to utilize laser scanning data successfully. The team can capture a small project or part of a larger project in just one week and have a design ready for owner review, purchasing, and field construction in a much shorter time than was possible with the heavily regulated approaches of the past.

Taking this approach reduced the timeline for the design process and created more transparency with stakeholders and operational personnel through the resulting point cloud, which is a 3D visual representation of the scanned facility. Decision makers get a very realistic and complete view of the final design that’s accurate enough for them to make informed decisions or provide approval immediately in the same meeting.

In the past, the approval process alone could take weeks because it started with a presentation of 2D drawings that had to be reviewed, often through multiple iterations, with comments going back and forth.

Time saved equals funds and the increased efficiency translates into real dollars.

Decision-makers are able to do more with less through the use of laser scanning and related technologies with enhanced communication and streamlined processes such technologies make possible. Courtesy: SSOE Group

Decision-makers are able to do more with less through the use of laser scanning and related technologies with enhanced communication and streamlined processes such technologies make possible. Courtesy: SSOE Group

On one project, the skinny package approach reduced costs by 35-40% from an estimated $1.3 million budget down to less than $700,000 by reducing costs for contractors, materials, and architecture/engineering efforts.

The skinny package approach has become popular and is trickling into other areas of business, as well. A Leaner approach can take the form of small, short-range scanning to eliminate some of the documentation requirements, but in some industries, such as food and healthcare, there will always be a level of jurisdictional compliance, and for good reason.

Even where project leaders can’t go with a totally streamlined skinny package, they can still benefit from trimming down the process. While standards still matter, the way laser scanning works is inherently more efficient than previous methods.

In the past, there were hundreds of pages of drawings, and very specific requirements for the content of CAD drawings — layers, colors, metadata. With BIM tools, there is greater maturity in how the same information is presented. The information is tagged to individual elements in the model so when the user clicks on a part, all the engineering details are provided.

Long-term CAD users are working to unlearn the habits they used to codify information in drawings, which would be overkill in a modern BIM file, essentially making a smart tool less effective.

Over the course of a few projects, stakeholders see simpler is better and the key standard elements, such as title blocks, and other branded elements, still look the same regardless of how the final visualization is produced.

Leaders today are asking for laser scanning, whereas a few years ago, team experts had to persuade stakeholders on the idea. With greater implementation, decision makers can see the benefit, can interact more efficiently and clearly with the team and the design and be more hands-on with the process, enhancing communication, process, and successful results – ultimately through scrutinizing standards, optimizing costs. Courtesy: SSOE Group

Leaders today are asking for laser scanning, whereas a few years ago, team experts had to persuade stakeholders on the idea. With greater implementation, decision makers can see the benefit, can interact more efficiently and clearly with the team and the design and be more hands-on with the process, enhancing communication, process, and successful results – ultimately through scrutinizing standards, optimizing costs. Courtesy: SSOE Group

Laser scanning project benefits

It is important to let the tool do its work, but also to respect the users.

Just as stakeholders would not dictate what tools a contractor can use to do a job, they should let designers use the most efficient tools instead of sticking with what’s comfortable. Instead of trying to manage the evolution of BIM, laser scanning, and other emerging technologies, successful firms are learning to allow technology to change the way they work.

Each emerging technology over the past 30 years has been a slight improvement over the old method, but they didn’t necessarily transform the process in the way that laser scanning and BIM have done.

Laser scanning has not only streamlined the process’ efficiency, but it also has encouraged better communication and a more cohesive team approach to design.

The ability to see so much of the finished design up front, how it will be installed and what the challenges may be, provides opportunities to avoid pitfalls and field rework by gathering input earlier. The industry is taking notice as these changes become more prevalent and as the results of employing these methods show up in one successful project after another.

Leaders today are asking for laser scanning, whereas a few years ago, team experts had to persuade stakeholders on the idea. With greater implementation, decision makers can see the benefit, can interact more efficiently and clearly with the team and the design and be more hands-on with the process, enhancing communication, process, and successful results – by scrutinizing standards, optimizing costs.


Mark LaBell
Author Bio: Mark LaBell is a Senior Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Technical Leader at SSOE Group (www.ssoe.com), a global project delivery firm for architecture, engineering, and construction management. He has served as a user and customization expert in BIM / CAD software for over 15 years, and he provides support and training for users to educate them on how to maintain a sound and practical user environment. Mark has presented at numerous conferences, including Advancing Construction Technology 2018, Autodesk University 2018, BIMForum, SPAR International, PSMJ AEC Thrive Summit, BIM Integration Congress, and Midwest University. He can be reached at Mark.LaBell@ssoe.com.