3 Ways to Use a 3D Scanner on Your Next Construction Project

April 24, 2020 David Burczyk

3D laser scanning is opening doors for many construction companies to improve both their processes and results, saving time, money, and headaches. In fact, 3D scanning is increasingly becoming the go-to tool for many contractors who recognize that embracing technology solutions is necessary to making gains in productivity and earning a competitive edge.

If you previously thought 3D scanning was only for specialized technicians, or could only be used in certain circumstances, think again. The use of 3D scanners can bring greater accuracy and efficiency to your construction teams and workflows, whether you’re a general contractor, designer, engineer, or specialize in steel, concrete, or mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) work. The versatility of today’s 3D scanners make them well suited for collecting precise project data before, during, and even after a build and sharing that data with many different stakeholders—both in the field and the office—to foster better communication, coordinate efforts, and achieve success.

Here are three ways you can use a 3D scanner on your next construction project to better understand existing site conditions, speed up and improve decision making, and ensure accurate construction and installation.  

1. Avoid Clashes in MEP Systems

Incorporating MEP systems accurately into a design can be a tricky job. If you lack information or visibility into existing site conditions, MEP systems may not be adequately accounted for or placed and installed as expected. Even systems that were prefabricated correctly could be subject to problems at installation if site conditions have changed. 

You can use a 3D scanner to collect accurate data about existing site conditions before the build begins. This data can be exported as a point cloud to be used by architects, BIM specialists, and MEP engineers to enable better clash detection and ensure they’re working from a single shared source of truth about the project. Then after construction is underway, 3D scanning can be used to check work in progress against the model to document changes that have been made, as well as identify any discrepancies before they become major problems. Some scanners even include cameras, allowing you to photograph the areas of concern to share with the office and other teams.

When everyone is operating from the same shared understanding of the design, the site, and any limitations, it’s easier to collaborate effectively on the work that must be performed. With accurate scan data in hand, MEP trades are able to confidently fabricate and position HVAC equipment, electrical systems, pipes, and ductwork accurately and in coordination with each other to reduce the incidence of clashes, mistakes, rework, and even contract disputes. 

When you use 3D scanning, you’re able to more accurately design and plan for MEP systems, as well as:

  • Improve communication and collaboration
  • Surface issues faster and solve potential problems upfront
  • Position and integrate equipment and systems accurately 
  • Avoid clashes that can derail schedules, budgets, and relationships

2. Ensure Structural Integrity

Structural work is one of the most critical phases of any construction project. The integrity of the physical building literally hinges upon the accuracy of steel and concrete construction. Yet if you’re a steel or concrete contractor, or a general contractor working with one, you know there are a number of aspects to structural work that can be particularly challenging to get right. These include capturing all necessary measurements, correctly placing steel and concrete elements, building and installing prefabricated elements to the right specifications, and using the right amount of materials to avoid waste.

You can use a 3D scanner before the build begins to capture current site conditions and check the data against the 2D plans or 3D models. If you notice any discrepancies, you can share the information with architects, project engineers and managers, BIM pros, and other stakeholders to quickly resolve any concerns upfront. Scanning fosters effective communication and collaboration since you can bring data from the field back to the office, helping structural teams better understand project details and coordinate and plan their work.

In the same way that scanning before a renovation project can uncover discrepancies early on, scanning during the project allows you to notice and fix mistakes faster before they turn into bigger problems later. If there are errors in the placement of anchor bolts and embeds or if the concrete pour wasn’t level, you can take care of the problem right away instead of ripping and replacing work later on, and incurring the added expense and disruption to the schedule as a result.

A 3D scanner can help you plan and verify steel and concrete work, as well as:

  • Fix and find errors or discrepancies faster
  • Ensure prefabricated elements are built correctly
  • Reduce or avoid wasted materials 
  • Gain greater confidence in the accuracy of your work

3. Successfully Take on Renovations and Retrofits

It’s not unusual for a renovation or retrofit project to lack as-built documentation. This can make it tempting to sidestep these projects given the higher-than-average risk of unexpected challenges and their associated costs. But remodels are on the rise, expected to achieve significant growth in the coming years. You don’t want to miss the opportunity, but you also don’t want to take on more risk than necessary. 

You can use a 3D scanner to gain a complete, accurate, and highly detailed view of the current structure, including where and how critical structural elements and systems are placed. Using the point cloud that the 3D scanner produces, you can plan renovations with greater confidence and precision, uncovering potential issues that need to be addressed before the project kicks off. The information you gather can also be shared with other teams and stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page and can coordinate their work effectively.

As work progresses, you can use a 3D scanner to capture data on an ongoing basis. This helps you track the progress of the project and compare the model or drawings to the work that’s already been completed. As you document the project, you can use the scan data to evaluate the project’s overall performance and find necessary improvements to implement for the next renovation. When the project is finished, you have an invaluable record of as-built information that you can share with the owner, making it far easier for them to conduct building maintenance and to plan future renovations.

If you want to capitalize on the growth of remodeling projects, 3D scanning can help you:

  • Capture as-built conditions before, during, and after construction
  • Track and document your progress
  • Uncover potential issues before they require costly rework
  • Gain an accurate as-built of the work performed for future use
  • Gain Greater Confidence in Your Work with 3D Scanning

Whether you’re an MEP, structural, or general contractor, a 3D scanning solution can help you feel assured of the quality and accuracy of your work. You may already know firsthand the value of 3D scanning. Perhaps you’ve been outsourcing 3D scanning or considering training a specialist on your own team. But you may not know there are new 3D scanners available that are so intuitive and easy to implement you can put them directly into the hands of BIM/VDC managers, BIM coordinators and detailers, field and project engineers, and field layout specialists—with no special training required. 

By providing a 3D scanner to those who need the information most, you’re able to make faster and better decisions and bridge the gaps between the field and office. You’re also able to gain a much-needed boost to productivity, which translates to improved project delivery and performance.

To learn how easy it is to add 3D scanning to your most critical workflows, download the eBook.

About the Author

David Burczyk

David is the Segment Manager for Trimble MEP Field Solutions. Through the use of positioning technology, David is focused on the product management, implementation of layout solutions, and 3D laser scanners to advance the field productivity of the MEP contracting trades.

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