Taken broadly, the 3D laser scanning market is large and growing quickly. One forecast by Global Market Insights calls for the 3D scanning market to reach $10 billion by 2024. Growing from $3 billion in 2016, that’s a compound annual growth rate of around 15 percent. Having said that, a number of industries or applications account for that growth. This includes everything from metrology to autonomous vehicles.

Global Market Insights explains that there is widespread and growing use of laser scanning for precision measurement under 1-meter in industrial and manufacturing applications as well as healthcare. Scaling up, architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) accounts for a number of applicatons. On top of that is the use of technologies such as LiDAR for guidance in autonomous vehicles. All of this interest in laser scanning and laser imaging is pushing research and development in the direction many technologies have followed: smaller, faster, cheaper.

Demand for Laser Scanning
  2018 2017 2016
Construction 57% 22% 20%
Architectual/BIM 44% 13% 46%
Topographic Mapping 44% 58% 44%

Among the top uses for laser scanning among respondents to the 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport Deep Dive - Laser Scanning and GIS, construction and architectural/BIM saw dramatic increases, while the core survey function of topographic mapping remained fairly steady.
Source: 2019 Survey & Mapping Deep Dive Laser Scanning and GIS CLEAReport

In the summary of its forecast report, Global Marketing Insights suggested advances in the technology and “increasing affordability of the potential of enhancing building information modeling (BIM) processes with precise on-field data is providing realism on construction sites, thereby boosting the market growth.” In other words, faster, cheaper collection of accurate field data at construction sites using laser scanners is driving growth of BIM. They add, “Many firms have realized the significant value from the technology, which is anticipated to drive the growth.”

Infrastructure projects are contributing to regional growth, with the Asia Pacific region showing strong growth from higher market penetration of 3D scanning. While the dramatic numbers may be associated with growth in the Asia market, 3D laser scanning applications for infrastructure projects in the U.S. is an established market. Any increase in infrastructure projects should have a positive impact on 3D laser scanning.

Looking at the Future

To understand why the current state of the 3D laser market — and specifically geospatial applications — is important, it is necessary to step back and take in the big picture.

Speaking in Denver at the International LiDAR Mapping Forum (ILMF), Paul Doherty, CEO of The Digit Group, which designs, builds, and manufactures holistic smart cities, commented, “The world is looking at our industry for the first time, for good reason. They have some critical infrastructure and some critical needs to start allowing the urban environments to start absorbing people.” He describes a world that is moving from static data to kinetic data. “One of the things that we’ve been exploring is trying to find the proper data so that we can do our work, which is to plan, build and manage brand new cities from scratch, but not like the way that we’ve done it over the past two centuries.” 

Before what Doherty describes as the pop-up cities of the last two centuries, cities typically grew out of trading ports and growth was organic. “We’re putting velocity behind that,” he notes. On the projects his group has been asked to undertake, he explains, the number one need is authenticating data. “The level of quality of the data is all over the place,” he observes. That issue is not limited to projects in Asia.

“What we’re doing is taking a look at a truly data-driven, human-centric alignment that we can take bits and pieces of innovations, and then bring them back to existing cities … especially when you’re talking about public transportation, housing, education and healthcare, the stuff that really matters inside urban environments,” he says. “I have to qualify and quantify [the data] in order to make tools that make precision decisions.” 

He adds, “This idea of authenticating and trusting data is the cornerstone of how what we’re developing is going to work in this new type of living.” 

Data Accuracy and Standards

Geospatial professions are in the spotlight in part because of the perception this is where accurate data are being collected. “If we fail to standardize, we will never have the power and the value will diminish over time because it means that I have to spend more resources to make this data accurate,” Doherty cautions. This is something that we have to start to agree to as a community, at least “big buckets” of information that we can all agree with, he continues. 

Doherty offers the example of the Construction Specifications Institute. Prior to D-Day during World War II, they realized they had to create a classification system for the French Resistance and the allied armies for the invasion. “Once they invaded and got onto French land, they were a moving city,” Doherty says. “They had to understand and communicate on a taxonomy that made sense.” Parts of that taxonomy still exist and, “for anyone that’s an old-school specifier in the world of architectural engineering, if I say Division 8, they think windows. Division 3 is concrete. It’s ingrained in us. It’s a taxonomy that allows us to talk to the general contractor, the subcontractors and we’re all talking the same language – that we need concrete. And there’s that supply chain of data.”

He poses the challenge that the taxonomy for geospatial practice is limited. “Try doing that with LiDAR. Where’s the supply chain of data?” He suggests a different view of the developing role of the geospatial profession. “Your most important value is not the capturing of it. Of course, you’re supposed to do that. [The value is in] what does that data want to become afterwards? Data is an element, it’s not a bit of information color coded. That’s a pixel.” 

Doherty talks about kinetic data and likens data to an element like water, which can have various forms and can move, shift and change. “Kinetic data comes from LiDAR and will actually work inside these geospatial models we’re calling the digital twin and will interface with live data so that we’re creating a better informed decision process. Rather than just relying on the technology itself, you actually put human beings into the process, which then enhances the entire process.”

A Different View

In his conclusion, Doherty notes, “We’re in a data-driven, human-centric world today. The world of automobiles and cars and self-driving cars is gone. We’re more into public transportation and understanding human needs and building wellness into the designs of what we do.” He offers the suggestion, “To get to a mode of transportation, I should have people walk. Instead of driving their car and getting out of their car in a parking lot to take a train.” While that view may be more of a leap forward than a step, Doherty advises, “Always keep the bigger story in focus about what you do. You have a compelling story that is just emerging.”

3D Laser Study

Addressing the issue of how Doherty and others will get the accurate and consistent data they need, POB examined the 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport and the earlier report Survey and Mapping Deep Dive – GIS and Laser Scanning.

Respondents to both studies were screened for familiarity and involvement with 3D laser scanning. Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport were from companies that described their principal business as surveying or surveying and civil engineering. One-fifth of the respondents were from companies primarily engaged in construction, and another 10 percent were from government agencies. This ties in well with the global trend of increased growth for construction and infrastructure applications of 3D laser scanning and imaging.

Company Type
  2019 2018 2017 2016
Surveying 22% 27% 30% 39%
Civil Engineering 4% 3% 3% 1%
Surveying & Civil Engineering 37% 38% 41% 43%
Photogrammetry/Mapping 1% 2% 1% 0%
GIS 2% 3% 3% 3%
DOT 1% 3% 4% 4%
Construction 20% 13% 12% 5%
Government Agency 10% 8% 0% 0%

Roughly 80 percent of respondents indicated their companies were primarily engaged in surveying, mapping or construction.
Source: 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport

Lasers are used for a variety of applications in surveying and geospatial data collection. On the simpler side, laser levels are relatively common. At the upper end, 3D scanners are currently in use amongst a third of respondents in the CLEAReport study. This number has increased in the last few years, perhaps as some basic total stations have been replaced. An interesting indication in the most recent study was the rise in the number of respondents reporting use of handlheld lasers. New offerings in this product category have demonstrated increased capabilities.

3D Scanner Current Use
  2019 2018 2017 2016
3D Laser Scanner 31% 30% 25% 19%
Data Collector/Controller 69% 76% 82% 88%
Data Collector-Onboard 22% 26% 24% 28%
Digital Level 37% 34% 40% 35%
Laser Handheld 32% 19% 21% 15%
Laser Rotating Level 27% 19% 15% 16%
Total Station Basic 41% 47% 49% 57%
Total Station Motorized 19% 22% 15% 19%
Total Station Robotic 46% 49% 54% 56%
UAVs 26% 22% 17% 11%

Looking at other related equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a rising platform for imaging, including LiDAR. Following implementation of new regulations in 2016, the number of geospatial professionals using UAVs has increased. While this study does not specifically tie UAV use to 3D laser scanning, as manufacturers have continued to evolve their tools to fit this platform, the number of users of 3D laser scanners and the number of users of UAVs are experiencing similar growth.

Planned purchases are interesting because they may represent adoption of new technologies or they could simply be the addition of new equipment. Lower percentages may be replacement units, while higher numbers could be the result of replacement, additional gear or a step into a newer technology. Looking at 3D laser scanners, data collectors/controllers, and UAVs, which represent the higher percentages, it would seem reasonable to expect some companies are acquiring additional units, while many are entering into the technology perhaps for the first time.

Planned Purchase Next 12 Months
3D Laser Scanner 27%
Data Collector/Controller 31%
Data Collector-Onboard 8%
Digital Level 15%
Laser Handheld 10%
Laser Rotating Level 16%
Total Station Basic 13%
Total Station Motorized 9%
Total Station Robotic 8%
UAVs 28%

Respondents were asked what triggers their purchasing decision when it comes to technology. They were permitted to give multiple responses, and it is interesting to note the top two responses. Increased productivity or efficiency is a major driver. So too is the need to replace current equipment that has become outdated or has been damaged. With the exception of damaged equipment, it could be argued that improved productivity can be one outcome of moving away from older, outdated equipment or technologies. Lower numbers for expanding the business or entering new markets might indicate most respondents are not looking for new directions as much as they are improvements in their core business. Achieving higher levels of productivity would arguably help improve returns and also permit some growth before new staff and equipment might be needed.

Reasons Triggering Purchase Decision

When it would increase productivity or efficiency 46%

When the current equipment/technology becomes outdated or damaged

When it is in the budget to purchase 40%
When it is needed to expand or increase business 36%

When there are significant advancements or features compared to current equipment/technology


When the cost to maintain current equipment/technology becomes prohibitive

In order to enter new market/type of surveying 18%

Respondents are interested in improving productivity and upgrading or replacing older technologies.
Source: 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport

When it comes time to buy, respondents overwhelming said that product quality is the most important factor. Based on combining the top two responses in a least-important-to-most-important ranking, 96 percent of respondents cited product quality. To avoid a false bias, the question of price was phrased as price fairness. On such high-ticket items such as 3D laser scanners and other surveying technology, respondents aren’t expecting bargain basement prices for quality equipment, but they also aren’t willing to overpay for technology leadership.

What's Important in Selection/Purchasing?
Product Quality 96%
Product Support 89%
Price Fairness 81%
Technology Leadership 78%
How Likely to Switch Brands
Likely to switch brands 55%

The quality of the product and service are very important to surveyors and geospatial professionals. They are also willing to switch brands. (Percentages represent totals of the top two responses in a 1-to-5 ranking with 5 being “extremely important.”)
Source: 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport

Quality and support are the most important factors in a purchase decision, according to the responses. What happens if the perception is that one or both of these are lacking? Though the question of how likely respondents were to switch brands was not directly tied to a reason, it is striking that over half said they were very likely to switch on their next purchase of a 3D laser scanner. (The top responses on a 1-to-5 scale were combined.) 

There can be other factors besides quality and service when it comes to switching brands of laser scanners. Though there is a high degree of interoperability, related equipment from the same manufacturer typically provides a higher degree of functionality and easier interface and integration. That simply means that decisions to switch brands are likely not taken lightly.

Another trend, when it comes to interoperability, is the rise of the use of tablets and smartphones as components of the surveyor’s field kit. Ruggedized controllers — typically purpose-built units provided by the manufacturer — are still the most common tool for controlling GPS and other optical devices, according to respondents. Android devices appear to have a slight lead over Apple when it comes to smartphones and tablets. But perhaps the important takeaway here is the move away from proprietary controllers.

Trends – Bring Your Own Device
  2019 2018
Use of ruggedized controllers for GPS and other optical devices 68% 71%
Use of Apple iPhones to control GPS and other optical devices 35% 35%
Use of Android phones to control GPS and other optical devices 45% 43%
Use of Apple tablets to control GPS or other optical devices 37% 35%
Use of Android tablets to control GPS and other optical devices 46% 41%

There’s a mix of devices in the field, but smartphones and tablets are definitely on the rise.
Source: 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport

While use of 3D laser scanners shows a steady rise, handheld lasers experienced some significant growth, according to the 2019 study. Another newer tool, and increasingly a platform for LiDAR, UAVs are also growing in use among surveyors and geospatial professionals.
Source: 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport



For the full 2019 Survey & Mapping CLEAReport, please visit: https://clearseasresearch.com/product/2018-surveying-mapping-industry-equipment-study/

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