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3D laser scanning is one of the brightest spots in the geospatial technology arena, because it’s a relatively new technology without a great deal of installed base, it  introduces some impressive efficiencies in the surveying process, and it addresses sectors that stand to rebound as things look up.


While it may be a bit premature to pronounce the recovery of the global economy, it’s not too early to start thinking about the technologies that will benefit once things start looking up. 3D laser scanning is one of the brightest spots in the geospatial technology arena, because it’s a relatively new technology without a great deal of installed base, it  introduces some impressive efficiencies in the surveying process, and it addresses sectors that stand to rebound as things look up.

There an increasing interest in 3D visualization, with new software and system capabilities to deal with this data type, and improved hardware to speed its use. 3D brings a lot to the table for quicker communication and improved insight, and it has the potential to dramatically streamline and improve the planning process.

Improved Data Collection

These tools of quick precision can be harnessed to provide a wealth of new details about infrastructure in a relatively short time and at an affordable cost. 3D laser scanners have the promise of largely replacing traditional optical surveying instruments, particularly in urban areas where capturing detailed environments can benefit greatly from the laser point cloud approach.

Laser scanning is a technology that will quickly revolutionize surveying. The ability to take a terrestrial laser scanner to a site to capture the entire area with accurate survey points frees up the surveyor to visit a site once for a specific project, and to take some subsequent measurements from the office, rather than having to know each and every point that will need collecting ahead of time. This provides a huge productivity gain to cut down on repeated visits to the same site. It also improves the safety of the surveyor for they can set up scanner once in a hazardous area rather than having to cover that area on foot several times in the traditional approach.

Digital Planning

The economic stimulus package has placed an emphasis on infrastructure, but the majority of those projects have gone to maintenance rather than new construction. When the intent is quick action, it’s understandable to pick paving projects, but the impact on sustainability is negligible in terms of improving road safety or easing traffic congestion. Planning for new projects is cumbersome and time consuming. What is needed is a whole new digital design process, and 3D scanning is a critical component in all phases of digital project management.

It’s mind boggling that infrastructure planning is largely still a paper-based workflow. Starting each project with a detailed 3D laser scan, and the creation of a 3D collaborative design space makes a great deal of sense to improve project efficiency. Having the designer, engineers and inspectors all working from the same true-to-life  3D environment would greatly streamline the collaborative process. Repeated scans as the work progresses would ensure that the project is progressing as planned, and that it moves forward on time and on budget. Detailed scans of the finished project would be used for ongoing maintenance and as a basis for any future projects in the area.

There’s an increasing need for planning reform in light of the tools and technology that could greatly speed and improve the construction process. If such tools were in place prior to the influx of spending on infrastructure projects, we’d see much greater impact from infrastructure investments. Instead of just a smooth new road surface, we might see the removal of poorly designed road bottlenecks, a direct impact on the efficiency of our transportation networks, and improved lives.

Work Without Workers?

The worldwide construction industry has been  hard hit by the economic downturn, and the resulting fall-off of projects has meant industry layoffs and business consolidation. When construction was booming there was a shortage of available surveyors to meet the demand. Although there are presently fewer jobs available because of the economic climate, when things start to pick up the shortage will not have disappeared and will put greater pressure on surveyors to improve the efficiency of their operations.

The average age of a land surveyor in the United States is mid-fifties, which means that dramatic changes will need to take place in this profession over the next ten years in order to fill the gap as these practitioners retire. The training of new surveyors will be critical, but laser scanning can also have a dramatic impact on efficiency, driving down the time that a surveyor has to be on any one project site, and allowing one surveyor to do the work of an entire crew.

The future of 3D laser scanning stands to improve steadily, with the potential for dramatic gains once construction starts increase. A movement toward a more digital construction process and 4D construction management will spur on the growth of this sector as will the movement to create highly detailed 3D digital city models for the better management of our urban centers. If you’re contemplating business opportunities or a career change within the geospatial space, 3D laser scanning is an area that you must explore.


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