Laser Scanning: Surging Demand, Opportunity & Fresh Product at SPAR 2005

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Demand for 3D laser scanning and related dimensional control tools and services was hotter than ever at S PAR 2005. Civil infrastructure, transportation, architecture, mining, geosciences–presenters and attendees from these industries and more came together in an intense exchange of best practices and success cases May 23-24 in Houston, TX.

The conference numbers point to surging demand for these technologies and the services around them. Attendance was up 76% to 367 registrations, from more than 20 countries. Nearly 70% of the total were end users– asset owner/operators, EPC firms, surveyors and service providers. Vendors accounted for 23%. Press, academics, and others made up the rest.

Spar Point’s updated market forecasts tell the same story. Back in October 2003 we projected the market for terrestrial 3D laser scanning hardware, software and services would grow 20% in 2004 and 31% in 2005. But it turns out the industry is growing faster than we predicted. Our preliminary analysis indicates the market grew roughly 38% in 2004, and is on track for 43% growth this year. The hardware (scanner) segment of the market grew even more sharply last year, up some 47%.

What’s driving this demand? There’s a crushing weight of evidence that this technology is replacing existing tools and work processes because it’s faster, safer, cheaper and, most important, delivers better results when executed properly.

Laser scanning for everyday survey work–a lot of people listened closely when Martin Dunn, vice president of METCO Services, Inc. (Warren, MI), detailed how his firm achieved this. Instead of looking for "scan jobs," M ETCO trains its field technicians in laser scanning, then lets them decide whether laser scanning or some other data collection tool is right for a particular job. He described how the firm developed workflows for processing laser scan data that mirror conventional data collection techniques, and other work processes that help laser scanning fit smoothly into existing surveying and engineering methods. (See Dunn’s article "Laser Scanning for Everyday Survey Work" in the Jan/Feb 2005 issue of The American Surveyor.)

Tom Mochty, PS, senior vice president and director of survey services at Woolpert, Inc. (Dayton, OH), asked: why invest in laser scanning for civil engineering? "I see myself surrounded by a room full of risk-takers," he said, not people fixated on the past. He explained why Woolpert invested in laser scanning–to meet the urgent need for accurate as-built data, and to leverage technology to "close the gap between design and construction" in order to rein in cost overruns and litigation caused by breakdowns between the planning, design and construction processes. After setting this challenge, Mochty advised attendees how to seek out clients and other team partners who are open-minded and want to work together to solve these problems, and how to overcome resistance to change.

Jim Flint, PE, vice president of Bohannan Huston, Inc. and head of its Laser Geomatics division (Albuquerque, N M), described the firm’s use of laser scanning in transportation projects ranging from small jobs to Texas DOT’s Project Pegasus. Flint illustrated how the technology keeps surveyors out of harm’s way, and lets engineers revisit a site "virtually" instead of physically if the need for additional data is discovered post-survey. Especially powerful were examples of how laser scan data is used in visualizations to show clients and the public what a proposed modification will look like.

Parsons Brinckerhoff (New York, NY) presented a wealth of cases showing how it uses laser scan data to inform civil infrastructure projects. GIS specialist Dr. Rachel Arulraj and vice president George Moglia, Jr., PE, demonstrated how laser scanning greatly enhances the utility of 3D/4D visualization for planning, design and construction of civil infrastructure rehabilitation, both above and below ground.

Mike Miller, vice president of survey at RB F Consulting (Irvine, CA), told how his firm uses laser scanning as a more efficient way to accomplish many traditional tasks in transportation and civil infrastructure–topographic design surveys, capturing existing roadway conditions, detailed as-constructed surveys, line and grade surveys, architectural surveys. Miller pointed out that the ability to obtain detailed, geometrically accurate, photorealistic documentation of complex existing conditions for use in civil, structural and architectural design is especially valuable for ALTA-type surveys–work that often involves "small fees but huge amounts of liability." Miller described the value of using laser scanning in "high-liability situations to document what the site was like when we certified it." In Miller’s view, this in itself may justify investing in the technology.

A well-received new feature of SPAR 2005 was a series of Technical Seminars. Packed to overflowing, these 50-minute presentations by sponsors’ key technologists informed attendees about the latest technical developments, and the newest and best ways to specify, plan and execute projects.

Announcements at SPAR 2005
Attendees met with a bounty of fresh hardware and software product, plus a spate of new industry alliances aimed at better integrating point cloud data with CAD and design review tools. For practitioners who rely on circuitous workarounds to get laser scan data into their design environments, this is a boon. Too, the value of laser scanning for revamp and modification work is huge when clash detection and viewing of both point cloud data and CAD geometry is practical in review environments–this kind of functionality points the way to getting operations and maintenance value for asset owners too.

AVEVA Group plc (Cambridge, U K) demonstrated PDMS integration with point-cloud software from both Leica Geosystems HDS and Quantapoint at SPAR 2005. The result of alliances first announced at SPAR 2004, both integrations are enabled by AVEVA’s new VANTAGE Laser Model Interface. Leica Geosystems HDS and AVEVA jointly demonstrated Leica CloudWorx for AVEVA PDMS, which will let PDMS users access CloudWorx laser scan data directly. Quantapoint and AVEVA jointly demonstrated P RI S M 3D point-cloud data integration with PDMS, which will let PDMS users access PRISM 3D laser scan data directly. According to Dan Stephenson, vice president, business development, AVEVA, Inc., the new Laser Model Interface will be included in the next release of PDMS, expected in the third or fourth quarter of calendar 2005. Upon shipment the interface will also enable PDMS integration of Z+F LFM data, which was announced and demonstrated earlier.

Bentley Systems Incorporated’s (Exton, PA) long standing in the industry was apparent in the extensive list of B E Award winning-customers who used 3D laser scanning in conjunction with Bentley design tools–the projects showcased by Bentley ranged from offshore construction to transit tunnel inspection, steelworks maintenance, a power plant upgrade and more.

BitWyse Solutions, Inc. (Salem, MA) announced and demonstrated LAS E RGen for AutoCAD. Previously available for MicroStation, LASERGen was the first software product to let users work directly with point clouds in CAD. The new version supports AutoCAD 2002 though 2006, plus Rebis AutoPlant data in both design sessions and interference and masking functionality. It will ship late this month, according to vice president Brian Ahern. Also new was SceneManager Version 2, which provides 40% smaller file sizes, 6x faster rendering, filtering and im
port/export tools using industry-standard file formats, and a new Quality Control toolkit; an Enterprise Server edition of LASERGen Interference Manager for global work sharing; and LASERGen for SmartPlant Review V2.0, which lets users load larger datasets, perform interactive dimensioning using SmartPlant Review commands, and load two or more database volumes at the same time.

FARO Technologies, Inc. (Lake Mary, FL), which recently acquired iQvolution, demonstrated the iQsun terrestrial scanner, now badged LS 880, and also exhibited a laser tracker in its booth–a first for SPAR and, judging from some of the comments we heard, a technology of high interest to a number of terrestrial laser scanning customers.

Hi-CAD Limited (Dingwall, Scotland) demonstrated the integration of its D.I.M.E.S dimensional control technology with its high-resolution 3D laser scanning process, to integrate accurate tie-in planning with design routing of pipes and equipment throughout FEED, detailed design and construction. Also, the company was appointed sole distributor of Z+F’s LFM software products for the process industries in the U.S. and Brazil.

InnovMetric Software Inc. (St. Foy, Quebec) presented PolyWorks Version 9, the newest release of its point cloud software solution, and highlighted three key capabilities: its "marker-free" alignment techniques, including best-fit alignment constrainable to known scanner positions and/or known control points; accuracy of its generated polygonal models; and NURBS surfacing as a new tool to communicate topographical surface information. The company demonstrated PolyWorks’ effectiveness in extracting elements from large point cloud datasets for export to downstream applications such as AutoCAD and MicroStation.

INOVx Solutions (Irvine, CA), a pioneer in the application of laser scanning to asset management, was showcasing its 3-D PlantLINx and related products for integrating 3D asset models with various plant-wide engineering, operation, inspection, maintenance, and other asset management systems. This is a vector pointing the way to extracting operations and maintenance value from 3D laser scanning–the technology is becoming more widespread in design, and just starting to show up in construction. However, there’s no doubt the future of this industry lies in owner/operator-realized value.

Intergraph Corporation (Huntsville, AL) announced that Quantapoint and Z+F joined BitWyse and Leica Geosystems HDS in enabling point-cloud data integration within SmartPlant Review 5.1, Intergraph’s 3D visualization and design review software. The integrations, which take advantage of Intergraph’s Point Cloud Integrator module for SmartPlant Review, let users review a proposed retrofit 3D CAD model in the context of existing conditions as defined by the point cloud. Quantapoint and Intergraph jointly announced PRISM 3D data integration within SmartPlant Review 5.1 and demonstrated a prototype; this capability is expected to ship in the third or fourth quarter of calendar 2005, according to Quantapoint marketing vice president James McGill. At the same time Z+F and Intergraph jointly announced LFM Server for SmartPlant Review and demonstrated a prototype; this software allows SmartPlant Review users to access 3D laser scan data from Z+F’s LFM Server, which can manage point-cloud data sets as large as 12 Gb, and will ship this month, according to Dirk Langer, CEO of Z+F USA, Inc.

Leica Geosystems HDS, LLC (San Ramon, CA), in addition to its AVEVA PDMS integration, also demonstrated its newly released CloudWorx 1.0 for Intergraph SmartPlant Review, which was also shown by Intergraph. A prototype of the product was first seen at SPAR 2004. Under the hood is Leica’s Cyclone 5.2 point cloud engine which works with the company’s timeof-flight and phase-based scanners. On the Intergraph side, the Point Cloud Integrator module for SmartPlant Review is required.

MDL (Measurement Devices Ltd., Aberdeen, Scotland), the hardware price leader in this space, showed its LaserAce Scanner, a combined reflectorless total station and 3D scanner, and its C-ALS borehole deployable 3D laser scanning system. The company highlighted mining and geoscientific applications of laser scanning–slope stability measurement, landslide prediction, earthwork volume calculations.

METCO Services, Inc. (Warren, MI) showcased its work processes for using "laser scanning for everyday survey work"–pointing the way to move laser scanning-based work processes into the mainstream for civil and transportation infrastructure projects. The firm showed how it uses laser scanning to prepare topographic, boundary and existing-condition surveys, and to create 3D models with information systems of the interior of municipal water pumping stations.

Optech Incorporated (Toronto, Ontario) announced the commencement of production shipments of its modular ILRIS-36D scanner. The company also announced the release of an open data format, IXF (ILRIS eXchange Format), along the same lines as the ALS airborne LIDAR data standard now being established.

Quantapoint, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA), in addition to its PRISM 3D software alliances with AVEVA and Intergraph, showcased its laser scanning service capabilities for process/power and architecture, and demonstrated its new Mark VI scanner.

Riegl USA, Inc. (Orlando, FL) highlighted its recently announced hybrid sensor system based on its long-range scanner combined with high-resolution digital photography, and showed the results of processing its data using collateral orthorectification software from several partners.

Trimble (Sunnyvale, CA) introduced RealWorks Survey 5.0, with new features and enhancements for viewing, editing and managing 3D scan data. A new "EasyProfile" function uses a pre-positioned profile (fitted to a cross-section of the point cloud) to track through the cloud; feature lines are then automatically extracted according to break-points in the guide profile–especially useful for automatic recognition of sidewalks, rail tracks, handrails, tunnels and other continuous shapes. Also new is large-database management capability for subdividing a large project into data subsets that can be more easily edited in a computer-memory-optimized environment.

Visi Image, Inc. (Houston, TX) demonstrated its 3Dguru phase-based laser scanner, and showcased new integration of 3Dguru data with LAS E RGen and other BitWyse software solutions.

Z+F (Wangen, Germany), in addition to its LFM Server alliance with Intergraph, announced it appointed HiCAD Ltd. as sole distributor of its LFM software products for the process industries in the U.S. and Brazil, building on an existing informal relationship between the two companies. Also, HiCAD service teams worldwide will use core Z+F technologies in their services business: scanning will be done using Z+F’s Imager 5003 system, and data processing with Z+F LFM Viewer and LF M Server Software.

Bruce Jenkins is a senior analyst with Spar Point Research LLC in Danvers, Massachusetts. Spar Point Research is a technology business research firm focused on terrestrial 3D laser scanning and related dimensional control technologies.

A 1.939Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE