How 3D Scanning Improves Virtual Design and Construction

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  • February 17, 2020

3D scanning has advanced dramatically in recent years and the breadth of fields where the technology has found an application has grown. Reverse engineering is no longer the only player in the 3D scanning market. Today, museums are using 3D scanning for archiving, and even Hollywood studios are implementing the technology for this purpose. Architects have started to use 3D scanners to capture data for remodels, and the construction industry is leveraging the technology to transform the economics of its field.

But why are so many industries coming around to 3D scanning technology?

The answer is simple. 3D scanning makes it possible to quickly and accurately capture data from the physical world, essentially digitizing reality, so that it can be used as a design datum inside computer-aided design (CAD) software.

In this case study, How 3D Scanning Improves Virtual Design and Constructionengineering.com interviewed Onsite 3D to learn how they used 3D scanning to deliver the redesign of an old oil refinery in record time and under budget.

How 3D Scanners Work

To measure their subjects, 3D scanners use lasers to make millions of distance measurements of an object or space. Once a laser beam leaves the scanner’s housing, it travels some distance, reflects off a target object, and returns to the scanner where it is collected by a sensor. Once collected, the data created by that single beam is processed and added to a “point cloud.” As millions of measurements populate this point cloud, a micrometer-accurate 3D representation of a subject begins to emerge.

With that general definition of 3D scanning in mind, let’s look at a case study where 3D scanners were deployed to radically alter the expectations for an oil refinery redesign.

Redefining Construction Engineering Workflows with 3D Scanning

In the oil and gas industry there’s a term that looms large: “brownfield.”

Brownfields are vintage oil and gas processing facilities built during the 1960s or 70s with technology and infrastructure that doesn’t keep pace with today’s technological and regulatory requirements.

In Alberta, Canada—the heart of the country’s oil and gas sector—brownfields can be found in numerous places, and the need to upgrade these facilities is desperate. With a boom in the oil and gas development happening in Canada, older facilities need to be brought up to modern standards to meet the regulatory and efficiency requirements to keep them open and turning a profit. However, in the past, retrofitting or redesigning brownfield stations was a process that was plagued by errors, some so drastic that plans for retrofits had to be abandoned.

In most cases, these errors could be chocked up to poor measurements of a facility—structural steel clashes would occur and pipes would be cut to improper lengths. If and when these errors could be corrected, the cost of upgrading a brownfield site would rise and the facility’s downtime would be extended.

But today, measurement errors like those described above can be avoided entirely if 3D scanning is employed as the principle measurement tool for a construction project. No company better emphasizes this point than Onsite3D.

Onsite 3D is a unique construction engineering company in that it uses 3D scanning to both map a facility and dictate how it’s prefabricated piping and structural steel elements will be produced.

When first contacted about a brownfield retrofit by Canada’s largest oil and gas company, CNRL, Onsite3D was initially stunned by the complexity of the project. First, CNRL tasked the Onsite3D team with fixing their facility models that were riddled with measurement discrepancies.

“CNRL’s existing plans had components measured from the wrong survey coordinates—some components were hanging five meters in the air. The problems were numerous,” said Wade “Tyler” Eno, CEO of Onsite3D.

A 3D scanner doing its work at the CNRL brownfield site.

A 3D scanner doing its work at the CNRL brownfield site.To correct these errors, Eno and his team headed out to CNRL’s facility to gather scans and build a micrometer-accurate point cloud of the brownfield site. Eno and his team completed their scanning and analysis of the facility within just a few days. Shortly after processing the data, Onsite3D were able to find and correct all the errors that existed in CNRL’s previous models.

With this updated schematic in hand, Onsite3D was able to show CNRL’s project management team exactly how their facility would need to be upgraded to meet new regulatory and efficiency standard. What’s more, Eno’s team could use their point cloud of the CNRL facility to accurately quote the prices for the materials that would be needed for the retrofit and give estimates for the downtime that the facility would see during construction.

According to Eno, thanks to his company’s use of 3D scanning as a measurement and manufacturing datum, Onsite3D saved CNRL “a million dollars and as much as a month of downtime—easy.”

In actuality, CNRL reported that with the planning and manufacturing information that Onsite3D leveraged from their 3D scans, their brownfield retrofit was completed in half the time and for about half the cost of projects done using traditional measuring and manufacturing techniques.

The Future of 3D Scanning

The construction engineering industry is in the middle of a digital transformation that will dramatically improve the quality of services that can be provided to a client. Given that 3D scanning can accurately measure a construction site and inform how materials are fabricated, the prospect of delivering building result in reduced times and for lower rates will likely be a client expectation in the near future.

As Eno put it, “3D scanning’s value is exponential compared to traditional construction engineering methods. Those companies that don’t adopt 3D scanning will die.”

Dramatic and revelatory words, but not a necessary fate provided that construction engineering firms begin adopting the modern technologies and methodologies that can improve their workflow.

Enjoy this article by Kyle Maxey at https://www.engineering.com/BIM/ArticleID/18539/How-3D-Scanning-Improves-Virtual-Design-and-Construction.aspx

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