What is the best use of laser scanning and point cloud technology?

Laser scanning technology is revolutionary in its accuracy and efficiency, but before you decide on a laser scan for your next job, there are several things you should consider.

Before each project, we ask every client the same question: “How do you plan to use the data?” Generally speaking, the more valuable and complex the project, the greater the need for precision data, and the greater likelihood of multiple trips to the jobsite, the more value laser scanning will provide.

For example, laser scans become very cost effective when you are documenting a complex environment such as complex piping, above ceiling elements, complicated architecture, or something you cannot physically touch like a tower, structural beams or tall buildings.

It is also ideal when you are documenting a pipe room, conveyor system or manufacturing process that is extremely complex or when updating interior architectural detail. Or, if you are testing a new design against existing conditions scientifically, empirically and visually.

Laser scanning also enables you to return to the jobsite to measure areas that you didn’t think you would need initially, but that are now critical to the project.

These are just a few examples, but you get the point. As a rule, laser scanning should always pay for itself! There are some instances when laser scan data is of lesser value. This is typically the case with less detailed projects where there is less likelihood that a small mis-measurement will cause a major problem.

Examples of when laser scanning is of lesser value include simple earthwork projects, wooded landscapes, and multi-room facilities with the same floor plan.

Other examples of situations in which you probably do not need a laser scan:

  • If you need to run a topographic survey of a wooded lot
  • If you are planning a building that is 100% greenfield
  • If two men can draw and measure it in one day
  • If the structure is very basic (ex: 10 identical hotel rooms, elevations view of a four-sided, two-story structure, or a basic small room)

There are also some extenuating circumstances where laser scanning could add great value. For example:

  • Construction before a concrete pour to document the sub-concrete elements (vents, pipes, conduit).
  • Documentation of an existing condition that could change after construction begins or documenting a historic facility that may be subject to change. (This could include settlement or vibration cracks.)
  • High value projects where the value of future construction is high, the project moderately complicated, and the cost of return trips is expensive. (For oil and gas projects, for example, the price of laser scanning is almost insignificant.)
  • Liability reduction by being able to definitively show flaws in existing conditions were not caused by the new construction. (This could include walls, scientific labs and cracks.)
  • Travel expenses that could be saved by permanently bringing a faraway facility to the designer’s desktop. (Some of our clients work on and in the same point clouds for years from facilities in China, Alaska and Haiti.)

Is a laser scan right for your next project? Contact us today and we’ll help you with everything you need to get started.


Tate Jones has over 40 years of experience in land and aerial surveying and was one of the country’s earliest adopters of 3D laser scanning technology. A nationally recognized expert in the field of 3D data capture, he has worked with hundreds of clients in the forensic engineering, law enforcement, criminal defense, architectural and construction industries. Contact him at tjones@3DForensicScans.com, a division of the LandAir Surveying company.

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