Professional Engineering Consultants (PEC) began offering laser scanning services two years ago with a Leica ScanStation C10 and Cyclonesoftware. As a surveyor with more than 16 years of experience at that time working in both the field and the office, I immediately saw the benefits of this solution. Laser scanning increases efficiency, provides a faster turnaround on projects and reduces labor costs, while also enabling us to add value to our deliverables. It takes one person to go out and scan most projects. A five-day project with conventional work can be done in two days with scanning, and it produces a point cloud that the client can use to do all the work they want just from their own computer without sending people back out to the field. Many clients appreciate having the rich dataset and being able to go back into it when they need to.

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However, not everyone sees the value of working in 3D. Sometimes, clients are concerned about cost, and other times they just aren’t sure what to do with the data.

Understanding these concerns and knowing how to address them has been key to growing our laser scanning services. Following are some of the most frequently asked questions we encounter from project teams that aren’t familiar with 3D workflows.

How Much Will It Cost?

Clients know how much a conventional survey will cost, and they’ve probably already included that cost in their project budget. Will they have to rework the numbers if they decide to move forward with laser scanning? And how much extra will they have to pay for the software to take advantage of the point cloud?

We spend a lot of time working with clients to help them understand what’s involved with laser scanning. For example, because of our reduced labor expenses, we’re able to keep our costs competitive while providing substantially more information about the structure or jobsite because of the amount of data captured by the laser scanner. Additionally, the combination of the Leica ScanStation with Cyclone software gives us a highly efficient workflow that allows us to turn projects around quickly.

Importantly, our clients don’t have to buy new software to make use of the point cloud data. The Cyclone software allows us to publish our data online for web-based sharing and viewing, and clients can use the free Leica TruView panoramic point cloud viewer to zoom into the point clouds and move around the project as if they were standing onsite. They can also extract real 3D coordinates and accurately measure distances using this free software tool. We provide TruView with all of our projects and show our clients how to use it. They appreciate the ability to walk around the whole project without actually being there.

Clients that want to do more with the data or plan to use 3D laser scanning on additional projects in the future may want to purchase their own copies of Leica Cyclone software. It’s easy to learn and use, and it’s the most efficient way to manage point cloud data. However, if they don’t have someone on staff who can manipulate and manage the data, we can manage it for them and provide them with the 3D model or line topo, depending on the needs of the project.

The ability to capture all the information for a project up front and avoid having to return to the field for additional data as the project progresses provides significant savings for our clients. It also helps them stay on schedule and avoid rework. The benefits are substantial.

How Much Time Will It Save?

For most laser scanning projects, the time required to capture the data onsite is reduced by at least 50 to 70 percent compared to traditional survey methods. The laser scanner captures so much more information in so much less time that it’s just amazing. In addition to saving on labor costs, the speed of data capture also makes it easier to schedule the survey work around other work taking place on the project or during times when fewer people are onsite.

Although some additional time is required in the office to process the data compared to traditional surveys, the latest version of Cyclone software substantially streamlines registration and processing so we can produce the deliverables quickly. On most of our projects, we’re able to reduce our complete turnaround time by about 50 percent while providing more valuable data.

How Accurate Is the Data?

Accuracy is important to our clients. Having exact dimensional as-built models aids in new or retrofit design projects, and reduces the time and costs associated with return site visits and rework due to dimensional errors.

When we made the decision to invest in 3D laser scanning, accuracy was a key consideration. The Leica ScanStation C10 allows us to quickly capture 360-degree full dome scans as well as targeted scans at a range of almost 1,000 feet with uncompromising accuracy. The scanner’s survey-grade tilt compensation provides tight registration, which allows us to use a minimum number of targets (think: time savings onsite), while substantially reducing the risk of error compared to laser scanners without this function. Additionally, because we’re able to handle all of the registration and processing in Leica Cyclone rather than importing and exporting between multiple software packages, we’re able to maintain the integrity of the data. This enables our clients to use the data with confidence as the basis for their models and field work.

What If the Weather Doesn’t Cooperate?

Time savings gained on a project through the innovative application of technology can easily be lost if we don’t take into account the impact of factors beyond our control. On projects that require us to work outdoors, weather is a consideration — but not as much as some clients might think.

Over the course of my surveying career, I’ve spent many hours working in the rain, sleet, snow and wind with total stations and GPS equipment. You do what you have to do to keep the project on schedule, and well-designed survey instruments are made to withstand the elements.

Laser scanners require additional deliberation. Scanners with an exposed mirror and gaskets can allow water into the system, and small, lightweight instruments can be blown over in a wind gust. We didn’t want to take any chances. Our decision to invest in a Leica ScanStation was partially due to its heavy-duty construction and IP54 rating, which protects it against dust and moisture. Although heavy rain or snow will be captured by the scanner and require substantially more processing time to remove from the data, a bad-weather day won’t bring projects to a halt. On projects with tight schedules, the ability to continue working regardless of weather conditions can make all the difference in keeping a project on track.

How Many Setups Are Needed?

The amount of time we spend onsite to capture the scan data is influenced by the needs of the project as well as the site conditions. It’s important to understand that a 3D laser scanner can only capture what the operator can see. If a jobsite is surrounded by shrubs or trees, or other immovable objects, we will need to use multiple setups to scan around these items and fill in any shadows with additional data. The goal is to minimize the number of setups while capturing all of the data required for the project.

Will the Scanner Capture Everything?

The ability to quickly capture millions or even billions of highly accurate data points on a construction project can vastly improve productivity and reduce rework by identifying any deviations from design before they impact the schedule and budget. However, it is not practical or cost-effective to conduct a complete site scan on every project. Understanding the client’s needs and correctly identifying the scope of services at the outset is imperative to a successful outcome.

Laser scanning is invaluable on many projects. On older buildings that are failing, we can show how the walls are skewed and whether they are sagging. We can scan for concrete flatness and quality assurance in new construction, and we can quickly and accurately document as-is conditions for rebuilds and retrofits.

Architects, engineers and other project stakeholders are increasingly beginning to see the value of 3D. With every successful project, we’re helping to move the industry forward.

Keith Jones is HDS scan technician and project manager at Professional Engineering Consultants (PEC), P.A., where he oversees all laser scanning projects. The multidisciplinary firm provides laser scanning services for Building Information Modeling (BIM), engineering projects, energy and industrial as-builts, and any other application where it adds value. As a land surveyor who understands both field and office workflows and enjoys pushing the envelope to help his clients succeed, Jones has been instrumental in the growth of laser scanning within the firm. He can be reached at

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