Architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) professionals working on-site face many challenges in maintaining safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They need to maintain social distancing while performing hands-on work. When those professionals work in active health care facilities, the safety stakes become higher. 

In this article we take a closer look at a project for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center, based in Little Rock. Specifically, how the use of handheld imaging laser scanning technology streamlines the workflow for a hospital expansion while supporting social distancing in a busy setting.

While many hospitals retrofitted their spaces to treat COVID-19 patients, the project at UAMS was planned prior to the pandemic. For many health care facilities, non-COVID-19 related construction projects have been temporarily shelved. However, at UAMS, technology enabled them to continue the project — helping their patients and the building professionals involved in the process.


Scanning Without Interrupting Hospital Business 

UAMS hired design firm Cromwell Architects Engineers, Inc. to undertake an expansion project at the Winthrop J. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. The goal was to increase capacity for patient care.

Typically, a project of this size would require a team of at least three people — responsible for measuring, scanning, and then going back to the office to use the data to collaborate with colleagues and build their deliverables. After spending some time working with the data, it’s not uncommon for one or two people on the team to return to the site a few weeks later to take additional measurements. Accuracy is critical yet elusive to many in AEC.

Along with the health risks and potential disruption to the patients and employees at the hospital, returning to a job site is expensive, time consuming, and can impact the client’s view of the design and engineering firm.

Cromwell’s John Wehmer, a BIM specialist, drone scanning pro, and handheld scanner operator, took the lead on scanning the UAMS space. It spanned three floors and totaled 100,000 square feet.

Based on his experience, Wehmer notes the benefit of working with drones and their ability to provide detailed data. Yet drones are limited to external scanning of buildings. When it comes to interior scanning, that is typically a much slower process, despite having a team on-site. Essentially, the process is slow due to using a combination of tools to measure and scan. 

Oftentimes, it requires staging an area, using a tripod, and capturing the space in parts, then stitching them together. This interrupts the flow and productivity of a business space during a normal time. With the UAMS project, Cromwell needed a more efficient way to scan the space without compromising accuracy, data or quality of the scans.


Getting All the Data In One Visit 

For the UAMS project, Cromwell used a handheld scanner weighing under two pounds. As Wehmer completed the initial walkthrough, the scanner captured the space and objects around it continuously creating 3D digital point clouds as it captured the dimensions and imagery. The size of the handheld scanner enables Cromwell to also scan hard to reach spaces. 

The scanner’s technology consists of a combination of high-speed dual axis LiDAR, a multi-camera vision system, and an inertial measurement unit that makes the scanner able to orient itself in 3D space. A SLAM laser scanner knows where it is and what areas have already been captured, and Wehmer could also capture individual, geotagged detail images while scanning. Using BIM and the data from the scans, Cromwell was able to quickly create 3D models of the hospital space complete with accurate, complex 2D floorplans.

The entire process of scanning the floors and verifying all of the interior scans was completed by a single person within three hours, making the workflow a lot faster and safer and enabling a much faster turnaround time for deliverables. Using traditional scanners or even more traditional measurement tools, a project of this size would have required a team with results available in a few weeks. Additionally, the scanner’s SLAM system eliminates the need for tripods and static scanning locations. 

The speed and accuracy of this approach was critical for the Cromwell team and UAMS during the height of the first wave of the pandemic. Along with increased safety, reduced time on site, and efficiency gains, an additional benefit for Cromwell’s choice of using a handheld scanner was being able to quickly provide UAMS with updates on the progress of the project.  


Scanning Large, Active Health Care Workspaces While Maintaining Social Distancing 

Let’s face it. For those of us who can work from home, we’re able to stay safe and keep our work moving forward through digital collaboration and communication. But for those of us that must get to active job sites for laser scanning, like Wehmer, maintaining social distancing is not always possible. An active hospital during a pandemic is an imposing job site where safety is paramount and social distancing is a must.

Cromwell is using a handheld scanner for healthcare projects because it allows staff to spend as little time as possible in an area with potential exposure to the virus. Wehmer explains that the UAMS project was the job with the least contact, noting that he didn’t come in contact within six feet of anybody, and he was able to work alone and still get the job done quickly.

Based on the initial walkthrough, it was very easy for Wehmer to plan his scan and make sure he knew his route through the hospital ahead of time. He made notes about which spaces are open and easy to scan versus other spaces that are more complicated and required a bit more time.

“I didn’t need to carry a tripod or wait for each individual scan to finish,” says Wehmer said. “Because I was going to spend much less time scanning with the BLK2GO than with a tripod-based scanner, I had time to walk through each floor and plan how I’d walk through it with the BLK2GO.”


Speed of Capture & Data Workflow Helps Communities Build Health Care Infrastructure

It is impossible to understate how important this kind of work is for health care facilities right now. And more health care clients are requested this service from Cromwell.

“Across the board, the top gain is speed. And that’s speed in many forms,” Wehmer says. “Sometimes an architect might come to my desk with a big project and ask if there any way I can get out and scan a project that same week. And it’s no problem for me. I just pick up the bag with the Leica BLK2GO scanner in it, carve out a few hours, and scan the space. Even how easy it is to transport the device, how simple it is to use, delivers more and more speed without sacrificing accuracy.”

And speed has an impact on workflows. “The floorplans are the most important thing for many of our clients. They can plan their spaces easily and quickly, and we can re-scan over time to show them how the spaces have changed,” Wehmer says. “More often than not, I’ll use the TruSlicer tool to slice out a lot of 2D floorplans so that our design teams can hit the ground running.”

Wehmer also performs timeline scans. He’ll scan a space, produce the deliverable floorplan, and then go back later and scan again after his clients have modified their spaces.

“They really like seeing how things change over time, and it helps them to better understand their spaces and structures and how they can better use them,” says Wehmer.

Cromwell provides invaluable services to health care facilities. Using handheld scanner technology allows pros like Wehmer to maintain social distancing while working. The firm’s quick production of floorplans helped UAMS speed up their construction to increase patient care capacity. In challenging times, Cromwell’s work proves to be a valuable contribution to their community.