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5 reasons your renovation team needs to understand reality capture technology

By David Gray

In the U.S., 80% of non-residential buildings are more than 20 years old, and much of the infrastructure is currently over 50 years old. While there aren’t similar figures for the UK and EU countries, this points to a large and growing need for renovating assets.

In the past, expensive equipment operated by highly trained staff was required to scan and survey these buildings to get accurate 3D data. Now, reality capture, as it is known, can be completed in a fraction of the time, using technology that is readily accessible and relatively affordable.

Digital technology is central to modern construction. BIM (Building Information Modelling) is now the norm. 3D printing, computer-aided and prefabricated manufacturing are all becoming commonplace on construction projects.

Renovation teams, however, can struggle to keep up, especially when having to deal with their own unique problems. Denied the digital foundations that new projects take for granted, digital precision in planning and project guidance might deliver greater value in renovations than new projects.       

Particularly where historical and important sites are concerned, the capacity to map 3D space in precise digital detail delivers an ability to operate with confidence, to protect and understand the intricacies of existing structures while speeding up the process. Better results are delivered more efficiently.

Point clouds are the key to capturing modern construction techniques in a renovation setting. This is our list of the 5 reasons why.

1. Point clouds are the middle-man between 3D reality capture surveys and BIM

Reality capture is no longer a process reserved only for specialists. Laser scanning hardware now offers “push-button” simplicity and UAV (Unmanned aerial vehicle) flights can be automated via mobile devices in the field. Aligning 3D laser scans and stitching photos is becoming an evermore automated process.

It’s increasingly common for surveyors to own a drone or two and to perform “reality capture” in the form of photos, video, and even infrared images to share with owners and stakeholders and subcontractors. But, the true power of reality capture is unleashed when these technologies are integrated into design software and construction workflows.

Scan-to-BIM, as a process, is becoming widespread. In the most commonly used two-step process, Scan-to-BIM begins with capturing potentially millions of points with XYZ coordinates — a point cloud. This collection of points can be easily converted into a BIM model with the help of state-of-the-art processing software. Regions of points can be labelled as components or features, like “window” or “piping.”

Going from site to a digital model is becoming more straightforward and a faster process.  By making use of more advanced software tools, reality capture, point clouds and photos become meaningful data. This data can be stored, indexed, analysed, and used as a reference point to ensure the accuracy in CAD and BIM modelling tools used for further design — it becomes single-source-of-truth on the building and how it evolves.

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2. Point clouds and 3D models drive efficiency, flexibility and quality

A true scan-to-BIM workflow can take reality capture from data to a deployable BIM model in a few hours. Workflows are intuitive and easy. Because this data can also integrate directly with key CAD and BIM design tools, designers and builders can integrate captured data into the entire process from design and validation to construction, sign-off and to ongoing management and maintenance.

The ability to scan a space simultaneously with data capture provides a complete record of the building. When further restoration is needed, the model can also be kept up to date to reduce re-scanning and remedial work. Verification of existing building data can be both time-consuming and potentially inaccurate. By maintaining all of the data in a BIM, time is saved while maintaining the intricacies and details of older buildings. In other words, point clouds and 3D models help ensure that the resulting construction is an accurate execution of the design vision.

The simplicity of the scanning process also significantly reduces the labour costs spent on surveying and documentation.  Point clouds are the ideal basis to document the whole-life construction process. Using up-to-date scan data of a site ensures that you can go back during installation and know the exact dimensions of a space at any point in time as the project progresses. By taking progress scans for comparison and logs, regular progress checkpoints can be set up with the wider restoration team. By comparing the intended design with the up-to-date progress scan, discrepancies can be flagged and actioned as early as possible. Ensuring a “no surprises” hand over to the next stage in the process.

3. Point cloud data improves communication and prevents confusion

Modern restoration teams are now more likely to be geographically spread and like all projects, there are always many stakeholders involved: consultants, engineers, the owner, and the surveying and architecture team,  Communication, design reviews, file sharing, version history tracking and model coordination can now all be distributed, eliminating the need to physically co-locate offices and coordinate site visits.

By removing segregated datasets, BIM becomes a collaborative process, not just a simple documentation process. When informed by point cloud data, these BIM data sets effectively allow an entire distributed team to operate as if they are all on-site.

In a digital environment, point cloud data becomes immediately usable — you can take notes, capture stakeholder feedback, measure existing site conditions, and more. With BIM management tools — many of them cloud-connected — the process becomes interactive and collaborative. When the data is uploaded to the cloud, it becomes ready to manipulate in real time, enabling immediate stakeholder interaction, which in turn speeds decision-making and reduces errors.

4. Point clouds enable the use of modern, prefabricated manufacturing

Prefabricated components can also be used with confidence when reviewed with scan-to-BIM. It is even enabling the wider adoption of experimental production techniques like 3D printing. The use of prefabricated materials can dramatically decrease construction costs and time, delivering a significant competitive advantage for teams with access to this type of technology. It allows smaller teams to do more while spending less time on location by using simpler manufacturing processes and the fit of new parts will be within mm tolerance — very important when restoration projects are usually time-constrained for access.

Although 3D printing is well established, the main pitfall for many projects in restoration has been perception of cost. However, the technology can be used creatively. For example, New York engineering firm EDG produced 3D printed moulds of building facades. Laser scanning software allows the company to recreate scans of colonnades and cornices to a whole building, and their digital catalogue of parts means architects anywhere could reprint the same mould.

5. 3D survey technology is increasingly accessible

In order to deliver on the potential of 3D scans and BIM, there needs to be a seamless way of moving from scan to point cloud registration to CAD and BIM with no delaying processes and as little human intervention as possible. The registration process of turning multiple scans into a finished point cloud has historically slowed down the process and driven up costs. But, this is changing.

Multi-stage, vector-based point cloud processing software delivers both speed and accuracy without the need to compromise on either. New techniques have reduced the amount of time needed to align scans and by combining automated processes can complete the point cloud registration stage 40%-80% more quickly. By accessing survey partners who use this type of technology, construction and design teams can exploit scan-to-BIM technology at much lower costs, enabling its deployment in a broad range of projects, delivering efficiency and quality control improvements.

Finding the right partners, however, is critical. Just how scan-to-BIM is a new function within construction teams, the multi-stage, vector-based processing software that is enabling surveys to be done more efficiently is only just starting to make waves in the survey community. But, the price variations within scan-to-BIM technology and the potential of creative and cost-effective restorations accelerates the competitive advantage that can be gained by those who understand its potential and can access the right partners.

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