Surveying the whole scene14 October 2021

Laser scanning technology has evolved beyond its original use as a high-end surveying tool and is now being used for various jobs in industrial settings. Tom Austin-Morgan reports

Safety is a core concern in industry. Safeguarding workers is a major part of corporate social responsibility and every opportunity to mitigate risk and error has an impact. Many companies are now adopting 3D laser scanning to improve safety and reduce shut down time while carrying out maintenance and expansion or decommissioning activities.

One frequent problem in this area is being able to get large equipment into an existing plant to carry out this work. Often, the original drawings of the facility don’t show changes or upgrades that have happened to the building over time. With laser scanning, a point cloud can be collected and an animation can be generated which can show possible clashes, to make sure the equipment will fit before it is deployed to the site.


Depending on the type of scanner being used, datasets accurate to between 1 and 6mm can be generated depending on the scanner type, distance and environment. Because scanners are so accurate, workers can deploy straight to the location of an issue rather than manually inspecting the entire facility, and they rarely have to return to the sites to check their work multiple times.

Two of the biggest suppliers of 3D laser scanning systems and software are FARO Technologies and Hexagon’s Leica Geosystems. Both offer handheld 3D laser scanners – the FARO Freestyle 2 Handheld Scanner and Leica BLK2GO (the world’s smallest, lightest handheld SLAM-based mobile-mapping solution). They also sell powerful tripod mounted devices with increased range and applications – for example the FARO Focus range and the Leica ScanStation P-Series, RTC360 and BLK260 – as well as software and apps which are compatible with a large range of CAD and BIM systems.

FARO’s global corporate communications director, Mark Benhard says: “With their intuitive touchscreen and compact design, 3D scanners are as easy to operate as a digital camera – with built-in protection from dirt, dust, fog, rain and heat/cold, creating totally accurate, complete and photorealistic 3D images of any environment or object in just a few minutes.”


3D laser scanning allows quick and accurate modelling, which is important when carrying out conversions. It also boosts safety compared to manual measurement by involving less scaffolding and fewer ladders, reducing the need for workers to climb or squeeze into confined hazardous spaces.

Keeping personnel on the ground also reduces the risk of falls, which is the leading cause of workplace injury or even death in industries like oil and gas production. According to a 2019 survey of lost work day cases by cause from the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), 23% of lost days in the sector are because of slips and trips and 9.5% are due to falls.

3D laser scanning also lowers risk by limiting workers’ exposure to toxic or potentially explosive environments and dangerous weather, such as in environments with exhaust fumes and extreme cold and heat, as fewer workers are required to gather the data and the process is completed more quickly.

Additionally, 3D laser scanning can be used in safety training for new operators or crews. The scans can be converted into simulations or virtual reality replicas of entire sites to produce effective, virtual instructions for safe operations and maintenance and can reduce disorientation in an emergency.

These simulations allow operators or crews to study issues in classrooms or remotely rather than on site – another way in which safety is increased.


Another recent way 3D laser scanning is being used to speed up the planning process for changing manufacturing shopfloors, increasing safety standards for production and employees and improving workforce productivity, is by creating a virtual twin of the facility.

Several firms in Europe and the US have manufacturing facilities in buildings constructed in the 1950s and 60s. When a new product line is added, assembly lines usually have to be rearranged and the spaces repurposed.

“Many of these have outdated infrastructure and need to be upgraded to comply with the latest building codes and manufacturing regulations,” says Fabio Ponzio, vice president, building solutions, at Hexagon’s Geosystems Division. “Limited space conditions in these facilities make it difficult to do so to guarantee safe production and working conditions and keep operational down time as low as possible.”

Hexagon helped Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) with just such a project. Historically JLR had clashes when renovations were taking place; it was looking for a solution to help understand existing buildings in the UK and Slovakia to perform basic clash detection. This process would help the team identify, inspect and report interference in the construction project model. Ponzio says: “With a drive to do more work in-house, rely less on external providers, and facilitate business processes, JLR invested in the Leica RTC360 laser scanner, a reality capture solution that enables users to capture and document their environments in 3D and Leica Cyclone point cloud processing software.

“The RTC360 allowed them to capture the physical world and create a digital 3D point cloud of their facilities. This 3D digital twin helped the team to analyse and modify different elements of the existing facility directly in 3D,” concludes the Hexagon vice president.

The digital twin was used for clash detection, but also for rapidly confirming what is physically in the facility when looking at designing elements in the digital space. It was used during the pre-design phase for site analysis, review of existing structures, construction cost analysis and engineering budget evaluation.

JLR used the RTC360 to build a 3D CAD model which helped precisely record and compare the as-built condition against the design to establish whether it met the project’s requirements. This process also ensured that equipment was installed in the correct location according to the CAD model.


In June, FARO spent $34 million acquiring HoloBuilder, which provides general contractors a solution to efficiently capture and virtually manage construction progress using inexpensive off-the-shelf 360° cameras.

HoloBuilder’s SaaS (Software as a Service) platform adds fast and easy reality-capture photo documentation and remote access capability to FARO’s 3D point cloud-based laser scanning to create what the companies say is the industry’s first end-to-end digital twin solution – all without leaving the FARO ecosystem. The combined solution can be used to create digital twins in markets including robotic assembly 3D simulation, construction management, facilities operations and management, and incident pre-planning.

Benhard adds: “This combined solution also provides comprehensive scanning and image management capabilities for the facilities operations and management (O&M) industry, whereby facilities can be virtually managed from anywhere with real-time data and very accurate visibility. This results in significant economies of scale across operations, leading to increased efficiencies and cost savings.”

Tom Austin-Morgan

Related Companies
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