As the coronavirus pandemic changes the way people around the world live and work, the need for functioning critical infrastructure only becomes more imperative — to maintain public health, safety and community well-being. Those rising to meet the moment must do so amid travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, which have left a major gap in standard operations.

Critical infrastructure industries confronted by this unprecedented challenge are turning to technology to bridge that gap. With limited personnel on job sites, the right technologies and tools can help maintain safe, efficient and effective teams to move projects forward today and optimize project workflows in the long term.

Powerful scanners that create 3D models of project sites help teams remain agile in today’s quickly evolving world. Using 3D scanning to create a realistic walk-through model, teams can simulate the site’s real-world counterpart in an interactive and collaborative setting, creating an evolving digital profile of the physical asset’s historical and current behavior.

Many 3D scanning technologies — including Matterport, a software Burns & McDonnell uses — allow teams to immerse themselves in an accurate depiction of the project site from the initial documentation of existing conditions all the way through to a documented finished project.

Whether scanning a factory or a substation, this technology can drive safety, efficiency and effectiveness because each team member can explore the space and establish the individual’s own perspective on the existing site from the safety of home.


With social distancing guidelines and travel restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, these 3D scanners only require one team member to be on-site to quickly capture the model that can be shared with the rest of the project team. Even with limited on-site personnel, teams do not have to compromise the quality of services delivered. It also provides accurate and thorough documentation and measurements, as well as a platform for team collaboration. Site walk-throughs can still be a reality with a 3D model that allows the team to explore and discuss the space during an online meeting. This also helps teams keep a pulse on any challenges that may arise on-site when a full team is not there in person.


A 3D model also helps reduce engineering time because it gives teams a complete perspective of the space that personnel can explore virtually, from anywhere. Team members customize the 3D model and collaborate by creating tags and notes directly within the model of the site. With streamlined documentation, secure cloud-based file sharing and collaboration, Matterport’s all-in-one 3D platform can work to fulfill the project scope without interruption. With these capabilities, one person can scan up to 5,000 square feet in one hour to then share quickly and easily with anyone, anywhere and at any time. Teams have even found that this allows design and reviews to be finished faster. These models also serve as the base structure to add in new 3D designs, real-time operational data and other augmented reality details to create a digital twin.


In one trip alone, 3D scanning technologies can simultaneously collect depth data and HDR panoramic imagery of the project space, reducing repeat site visits for documentation and measurements. The synthesis is automatic — software stitches together spatial data and visual imagery into an accurate 3D model with realistic visuals. The platform can also export point cloud data to modeling programs, allowing detailed measurements to be taken and complex details such as existing dimensions and alignments to be coordinated, making collaboration seamless.


Integrating a variety of 3D and augmented and virtual reality applications throughout the life cycle of a project can offer significant advantages in accuracy, safety and efficiency.

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Teddy Menke works in telecommunications at Burns & McDonnell. His experience includes consulting on 3D scanning, automation engineering, information technology, telecommunications and network engineering for utilities and corporations.