Not long ago, I was talking to a VP at a 30-person surveying firm that had just purchased its first laser scanner. They had done their due diligence, piled up hours of training and were fairly confident it would create efficiencies in the work they already had on the books.

“But do you know a good place to find some resources on marketing scanning services?” he asked.

As the editor of, I spend all day talking and writing about the business of 3D imaging. We’ve got eight years of presentations from our SPAR conferences stockpiled on our site, covering topics from the popular “3D as a Marketing Tool” to “3D Imaging as a Risk Management Tool.” But there’s no substitute for being there in person.

I’ve seen first-hand the conversations surveyors have with one another over lunch at theSPAR International conference, debating whether it’s better to market the scanner itself, or to simply use the scanner where it’s appropriate and leave it back at the office when it’s not. What percentage of time does the scanner need to be in the field to make it worth the investment? How do you figure an hourly rate? Or do you even bill out that way in the first place?

Already we’ve got speakers lined up from the likes of HNTB, Woolpert, SarPoint Engineering, Clough Harbour & Associates, and other firms that can help you come to the right answers to these questions for your organization. That’s where my job gets interesting. Writing about technology isn’t half as interesting as writing about the way people are using technology.

The great thing about laser scanners for surveyors is that they offer the opportunity for entering new business arenas entirely. Maybe you’ve done some building documentation and structural survey work, but have you created a digital replica of a historic site so that it could be preserved for posterity before meeting the wrecking ball? You’ve probably done countless as-built surveys, but have you become an integral step in creating as-built BIM?

Deformation surveying? Let’s just say a laser scanner opens up a whole new world of deformation documentation. Industrial work? Have you created a 3D model of an existing pipe run so the asset owner could figure out the best way to install a new furnace? Sometimes I sit in these presentations and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Applications for laser scanning (and 3D imaging with advanced photogrammetry and other techniques) are still being discovered by creative types just about every day. SPAR International is the type of conference where partnerships are created because of a great question during a seminar; where the exhibit hall has technology that stops people in their tracks; and where business models are hashed out on the napkins at the reception.

Oh, and did I mention there’s going to be a great, down-home Texas roots band playing the reception?

In the end, a laser scanner is just another tool, but it’s a tool you can get pretty creative with. I’ve heard success stories, and tales of woe and disaster. People come to SPAR ready to share their frustrations and excitement with other people who “get it.” Why not come to Houston this April and do some brainstorming with us? I’m pretty confident you’ll go home with more than one great idea.