Laser scanning at job sites using lidar technology is certainly nothing new. Building point clouds from data collected in this way has long been helping engineers, designers and project managers create efficiencies for project delivery. But in the current climate, faced with the rising need to reduce the number of workers on a job site and to complete work on projects, lidar scanning is fast becoming an even more useful tool.

An Uninterrupted Process

Scanning is the first stage and involves only limited time in the field. Fortunately, new COVID-19 social distancing measures change very little about the lidar scanning process. Typically, crews consist of only two people, which works well in times of social distancing. In certain situations, or locations where safety risk is higher, more people may be required, but the reality is that the vast majority of jobs can be completed with two people. Coordination for access to sites may require more communication with site operators during staffing disruptions, but this causes little interruption to the process.

The following stages, that of registering or stitching together the data to lock in the information and build a clear picture of the project, can be done remotely from workstations in an office or home. Cleanup follows this to remove any issues in the images to create a usable 3D model from the point cloud.

This end product built from the collected data can be shared virtually throughout a project team across networks, no matter where team members are located. Because these files can range anywhere from a gigabyte to 30 gigabytes, breaking the files into smaller working files allows for clean sharing among team members, especially where home network Wi-Fi speeds may not be as robust.

A Beneficial Tool

Project site scans offer enormous value to a project. By performing a scan at the beginning of a project timeline, owners can gain a clearer understanding of the overall project scope. The current state of a site can be determined from a scan as well, then used to update as-built drawings when the project is completed to more accurately represent the systems and assets on-site.

Finally, having a point cloud model for a project prevents crews from having to travel back to a site to gather more data, saving time and money in scheduling. And while there is an upfront cost to the service, the cost-saving benefits to the project overall make lidar scanning an effective tool both during and outside of disruptions to normal project processes.

A Way Forward

Today’s main goal for projects, especially those in the critical infrastructure industries, is keeping things moving forward and progressing toward project completion. And while there are a variety of tools available to project teams, the existing benefits of lidar scanning technology are now proving to be particularly beneficial for teams now required to work remotely.

Continuing to look for opportunities to make use of existing technology — while still finding news to solve emerging challenges — will be key to getting projects done during current and future disruptions.

Paul Gregory is a senior architectural designer at Burns & McDonnell. His experience includes conducting on-site scans, registering data, building point clouds, modeling, and developing construction documents. He has performed 3D laser scanning efforts for numerous government and commercial clients, developing point clouds totaling billions of points.