Industry Scan

June 1, 2006
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Trimble demonstrated its GX scanner, which is designed to operate like a total station.


Boasting increased attendance and more sponsors, SPAR 2006, the third annual conference for the laser scanning industry, showcased the latest technology in this field and provided a robust forum for learning about its applications. The conference, organized by Spar Point Research of Danvers, Mass., was held March 27-28 in Sugar Land, Texas. Four hundred and twenty-seven people registered for this year's event, raising attendance 16 percent from last year.

According to Bruce Jenkins, senior analyst and managing partner of Spar Point, "This industry showed a newfound confidence in itself at SPAR 2006. Practitioners are only beginning to discover all the diverse applications where the technology can deliver value-from oil and gas, petrochemical, civil, transportation and building infrastructure to law enforcement, urban modeling, film and videogames, mining and resource management, and others. Reflecting this, the conference expanded from one main track in 2005 to four parallel industry-specific tracks this year: process/power, civil/transportation/buildings, forensic and geotechnical." Attendees and speakers at SPAR 2006, ranging from manufacturers to academics to service providers, represented all these facets of the industry. Many of the attendees were delegates from surveying firms sent to learn about the business possibilities and opportunities available in the 3D laser scanning arena. Thirty-two presentation sessions and seven technical seminars were offered in the four tracks during the two days of the conference.

Leica Geosystems HDS showcased its broad product line.

Exploring Scanning Applications

To open the conference, Tom Greaves, senior analyst and managing partner of Spar Point, shared some of his firm's research with the attendees. He estimates that the 3D laser scanning market grew 45 percent in 2005, and predicts the market will grow at least that much in 2006. Greaves also said that approximately 2,000 laser scanning units have been sold worldwide.

Each of the three keynote speakers at the conference represented a different facet of laser scanning use. Bryan Wallace, a project engineering manager with Marathon Petroleum Company of Norway, detailed his company's experiences on the plant/process side of the industry. He described how Marathon used 3D laser scanning to modify a multipurpose storage tanker into a vessel capable of floating production, storage and offloading of oil.

Brian Collins, PhD, PE, reported on his work as a research civil engineer for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in which he scanned each of the major levee breaks in New Orleans as part of a project to determine why the levees failed following Hurricane Katrina.

Dietrich Evans, director of business operations for 3D Laser Imaging of Gilbert, Ariz., spoke about why 3D laser scanning's fast and efficient capture methods work well for construction applications. He showed how his scanning services on high-profile construction projects (including the Arizona Cardinals Stadium and Phoenix Symphony Hall) were invaluable for interference checking of design proposals. Evans urged attendees to "educate as many people as you can about this technology. It's all about education." Later, Evans said he hopes surveyors specifically don't ignore laser scanning technology. "It's growing," he said, "and I hope they don't treat it like the GIS industry-or it will bypass them."

kubit GmbH, a new conference sponsor based in Germany, exhibited PointCloud and TachyCAD, its AutoCAD-based software solutions.

Exhibiting Technology

In a bustling exhibit area, the manufacturers who sponsored SPAR 2006 demonstrated their latest technology offerings to show attendees.

Bentley (Exton, Pa.) emphasized its software offerings for the plant/process industry, but also demonstrated its civil design applications, PowerCIVIL and PowerSURVEY, which run on both Microstation and AutoCAD.

BitWyse Solutions (Salem, Mass.) exhibited its LASERGen 2006 software, which provides the ability to work with scanning data directly inside Microstation. Bitwyse also hinted that something big was in the works, and a month after the show, Trimble announced that it acquired Bitwyse in an all-cash transaction.

FARO Technologies (Lake Mary, Fla.) introduced its modular LS 420 high-speed, phase-shift based laser scanner, which has a range of 20 meters and captures 120,000 points per second.

I-SiTE (Denver, Colo.) exhibited its long-range, time-of-flight scanners, which have only recently been made available to the North American market. The company's 4400LR scanner has a 700-meter range in perfect conditions. John Dolan, I-SiTE business unit manager for North America, emphasized the ease-of-use of the company's products.

Matthias Koksch, managing director of kubit GmbH (Dresden, Germany), promoted his company's slogan "Get the reality into CAD" and passed out CDs containing demos of its AutoCAD-based software solutions, including PointCloud and TachyCAD. PointCloud supports point cloud processing in an AutoCAD environment; TachyCAD allows a total station to capture data from inside AutoCAD.

Leica Geosystems HDS (San Ramon, Calif.) stressed its broad product line. As part of this focus, the company demonstrated its newly acquired fieldDesigner solution. This CAD-based software solution for field data acquisition allows users with a portable PC to record, visualize, analyze and insert data on sophisticated drawings while on the jobsite.

Riegl USA (Orlando, Fla.) introduced the Riegl LMS Z390 terrestrial laser scanning system, which consists of a 3D scanner, RiScan Pro software and a calibrated high-resolution digital camera. According to Jim van Rens, vice president of Riegl, "The introduction of our latest 3D scanner system was positively received. Orders from the conference exceeded our projections." He added, "The reaction of the conference attendees to dynamic terrestrial 3D scanning was incredible. "¦ Overall, the SPAR conference is the place to be to see all the latest hardware, software and processing developments for the 3D market."

The author learns about FARO's LS 420 scanner.
Zoller + Fröhlich (Z+F, Duquesne, Pa.) demonstrated the digital camera mount for its Imager 5003 scanner. Now that this option is available to the North American market, Markus Ehm, product manager, explained that it offers users "one more step of information in their point cloud," indicating the new ability to match each point in a point cloud with a color from the picture taken by the camera.

A few manufacturers also hosted technical sessions, which were jam-packed with attendees eager to learn the latest. Optech Incorporated (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and InnovMetric Software (Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Canada) hosted a joint presentation detailing how the Optech ILRIS scanner can be used with InnovMetric's Polyworks software for real-time integration of scanning and post-processing. In addition, Optech has opened its application programming interface (API) so that customers with specific needs can tailor the scanner's workflow and output to their applications. "We're giving users the keys to the engine," said Albert Iavarone, product manager in Optech's laser imaging division. "The users now have full access to control the scanner and stream the data into their own application environments-all in near real-time. This functionality is important because custom workflows can be developed to maximize the efficiency of the scanner in any environment."

Trimble (Sunnyvale, Calif.) presented on the capabilities of its GX scanner, which is designed to operate similarly to a total station and be "surveyor-friendly." Paul Biddiscombe, a senior product manager in Trimble's 3D scanning division, said that the conference provided his company an excellent opportunity to initiate contacts with customers. "SPAR is a very focused conference," he said. "It was initially a technology-based conference, but now organizations are broadening the scope and bringing in a wider range of market segments."

Also sponsoring SPAR 2006 were a few of the larger scanning service providers, including Hi-CAD (Houston), Metco Services Inc. (Warren, Mich.) and S&C Technologies (Coral Gables, Fla.). Stephen Jacobi, PS, a project manager with Metco, said his firm comes to SPAR not only to network with potential clients but also to promote its belief that "surveyors need to do scanning for control." Jacobi added that his firm's laser scanning business is growing; Metco worked on more scanning contracts in the first three months of 2006 than all of 2005.

Metco Services Inc. reported its scanning business has expanded this year.

Learning and Looking Ahead

Attendees crowded into the sessions offered in the civil/transportation/building track on both days of the conference. They heard from a range of technology users, including mapping and surveying professionals, and were encouraged to participate in Q&A sessions after every presentation.

Michael Arsitz, LS, with Fisher Associates of Rochester, N.Y., came to the SPAR conference because he believes there are a few "hot-button selling points" for 3D laser scanning services, including safety, the high level of detail and convenience. He is considering hardware leasing options because, in his opinion, "There's no one-box solution." Arsitz said that he'd like to see next year's SPAR conference offer a track devoted solely to the business side of laser scanning.

Bill Cox, PLS, a senior associate in surveying with RBF Consulting of Irvine, Calif., attended SPAR 2006 because his company is researching the software options available for processing scan data before investing in hardware. In the future, he said, "I'd like to see [software manufacturers] be able to bring AutoCAD and Microstation capabilities into their own software environments and adapt up instead of back." Cox noted that SPAR is the right place to meet product developers and innovators in the industry. "All of the right companies and people are here," he said. "There's good accessibility to top-notch people, and it's not a circus."

Greaves and Jenkins report that some of the most innovative solutions presented at their conference were capabilities to scan from moving platforms and to integrate or fuse data from multiple sensor platforms. They also noted that many challenges lie ahead for the industry. According to the SPAR partners, some of these include making scanner hardware smaller, faster and cheaper; convincing project managers and IT departments to embrace new methods; expanding the pool of skilled service providers; and winning over CAD vendors that remain unconvinced of the value of integrating point-cloud data with design.

Conference attendees discussed additional challenges in the industry. Bruce Strack, PLS, survey implementation manager of The Schneider Corporation of Indianapolis, Ind., said, "The technology is amazing, and if you were to give me a laser scanner and the software for each of our 28 field crews, I would take it and run with it." But, he continued, "We won't add it to our budget at this time. "¦Any organization looking to invest in the technology would require a distinct business model in which to utilize the technology." Strack said his firm "will wait for a while to let costs come down and assure that the technology curve levels off enough that a laser scanner bought today will not be a "˜dinosaur' in one year."

Mitchell Wimbush, PS, of Midwestern Consulting LLC in Ann Arbor, Mich., a featured speaker at SPAR 2006, expressed his concern about the future of laser scanning-namely, the lack of surveyors involved in this segment of the industry. "Almost anyone can go out and scan from one setup, but once you start registering multiple setups together, you are surveying," Wimbush said. "And a service provider should have an understanding of measurement theory and error propagation."

Despite the challenges that lie ahead, there is a lot of excitement and energy in the growing field of 3D laser scanning for surveyors and mappers. This was evident at SPAR 2006. Manufacturers and service providers are optimistic about the possibilities for future applications and technology development, and many attendees said they would return to SPAR in 2007.

Sidebar: Laser Safety and Standards

SPAR 2006 emphasized safety and standards in a special track. Rockwell Laser Industries (Cinncinnati, Ohio) served as the laser safety officer for the conference. In a presentation on laser safety, one of Rockwell's consultants, Tim Hitchcock, asked attendees, "Do you understand the safety hazards associated with the laser devices you are using?" Hitchcock urged attendees to enroll in a basic laser safety class to become educated on the regulation compliance. He also recommended that laser users access the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Eye and Face Protection eTool at: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/eyeandface/ppe/light_radiation.html.

Speakers from the National Institute for Standards Technology (NIST) and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) presented on the development of standards for the laser scanning industry. Alan Lytle, the leader of the construction metrology and automation group within NIST, explained that a general consensus exists in the industry requesting standard terminology and standard evaluation protocols. The ASTM (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) has been selected as the organization that will develop these standards.

Lewis Graham of Geocue Corporation (Madison, Ala.), principal architect of the .LAS file format (the ASPRS standard file format for airborne LiDAR data) encouraged "the terrestrial scanning folks" to participate in the development of version 2.0 of the LAS format. The new version will provide support for terrestrial scanners and seamless fusion of airborne and terrestrial LiDAR data. Graham invited audience members to participate in the development of version 2.0 by sending E-mails with suggestions and input to him at lgraham@geocue.com with "LAS Standard" in the subject line.

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