In many industries, 3D modeling is playing an increasingly important role in efficiency, reduced costs, safety and quality in design and construction activities. Early adopters have refined their processes and are now recognizing the long term value of realistic, accurate models before, during and after the construction phase, which includes ongoing facilities management and maintenance. By extending the applications to include more derivative products, the initial cost of scanning and modeling is distributed more widely and the return on investment increases.

Creating 2D as-built plans used to require measuring tapes, a crew of people, and lots of time. Due to the expense, updates may only have been completed on an as-needed basis. Inaccurate out-of-date as-built plans could be inadequate for making decisions about expansions and retrofits. The shift to data collection with digital cameras and LiDAR scanners makes the process faster and more accurate and opens up new opportunities for using 3D models. Design and construction in any industry—including government, energy, transportation, and real estate development—benefits from the improved visualization made possible with an interactive 3D model.

Becoming standard practice

Merrick & Company is an engineering, architecture, design-build, surveying, planning, and geospatial solutions firm at the forefront of developing solutions using LiDAR technology, as well as creating tools for processing and managing LiDAR data, such as the Merrick Advanced Remote Sensing (MARS) software designed to visualize, manage, process and analyze LiDAR point cloud data. The firm has served domestic and international clients in the energy, national security, life sciences, and infrastructure markets for nearly 60 years. Using 3D models to support design-build projects has become standard practice across all of the firm’s markets.
“We find that using realistic 3D models makes it easier for our clients to visualize what needs to be done and really improves the communication process, which cuts down on misunderstandings and reduces the need for rework and multiple visits to the site,” said Tony Wheeler, Corporate BIM Manager at Merrick. “For example, at an oil and gas refinery that has complex steel piping networks and intricate infrastructure, we can verify measurements and pipe clearances and make necessary adjustments to designs in the office. It’s safer for our staff because after the initial data collection they are not exposed to the plant environment. This iterative approach is more efficient than us walking through the facility taking notes.”

Depending on the size of the facility, an entire refinery or substation can usually be scanned with terrestrial scanners in approximately a week at sub-centimeter to 2.5 cm accuracy. “To start the process we scan and collect panoramic imagery of the entire facility inside and out,” said Wheeler. “The Panoramic Visual Database (PVD) helps the client pinpoint the specific area of interest before our team starts modeling. We use Cyclone to extract a comprehensive 3D solid model from the point cloud for use in the CADWorx Plant software solution. One of our goals is to continuously streamline the process by automating as much of the modeling as possible.”

Europe has moved faster than U.S.

There is a clear trend in the United States toward using electronic modeling in design and construction to achieve more efficient construction and building projects. Although there is no comprehensive mandate at this time, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), under the National 3D-4D-BIM Program, does require 3D modeling of public buildings on major projects. The program supports the belief that electronic Building Information Modeling (BIM) data will help save money on future building maintenance. Also, the buildingSMART Alliance, a council within the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), has as one of its goals the development of open BIM standards for adoption by the AEC industry.

Meanwhile Europe has moved more quickly; the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Norway already require the use of BIM for publicly funded building projects. The European Union Public Procurement Directive (EUPPD) addresses the use of BIM for publicly funded construction and building projects for all member states by 2016. The primary motivation behind these actions is the belief that construction project teams with access to electronic plans and 3D models – from pre-planning and design through construction and operation – will be more efficient and result in cost savings over the life of the building. The BSI (British Standards Institute) is also promoting standards for BIM to support the UK Government Construction Strategy, which is supposed to reduce the construction cost of public sector assets.

“Based on what is happening in Europe, we expect there will be continued demand for increasingly sophisticated 3D models to support design-build and BIM,” said Wheeler.
Matt Bethel, Director of Technology at Merrick, said, “Merrick is taking an active role in the future development of 3D modeling as an official distributor of Euclideon’s Geoverse software suite. Geoverse allows instantaneous visualization for unlimited amounts of point cloud data with minimal hardware resources.”

The unique Geoverse software addresses some of the management issues that users have with large cumbersome point cloud files. A more recent Euclideon product called SOLIDSCAN is a software that converts a laser scan and associated photos into a solid photo-realistic point cloud by automatically filling in the data gaps between laser measured points with many additional photogrammetrically derived points. The result is a very accurate, dense and detailed 3D model that literally copies the real world.

SOLIDSCAN is a breakthrough for the industry, as it enables the development of new products and applications based on a simpler, faster modeling tool,” said Bethel. “Now a high resolution, full color, solid 3D model can be quickly created with detail far better than the scan itself.  Using Geoverse in conjunction with SOLIDSCAN, a user can navigate through the data in real-time with no lag or data size limit. We see a lot of potential for this technology with the energy industry and many other markets.”

“Some of our clients are already saying they’ve never had the opportunity to work with anything like these highly detailed 3D models, and they recognize the endless possibilities,” Bethel said. As clients experience the benefits of 3D modeling, the demand for innovative new applications will continue to drive development of this exciting technology.