3D Laser Scanning for Architecture, Engineering AND Construction Projects

tall building under construction with flock of birds above

What is a 3d laser scan?

A 3D laser scan is a way of digitally capturing a huge amount of information about a building.

The scanner is a portable and lightweight machine that is highly advanced, but fast to set up. It generates a tremendous amount of data and a 360 degree ‘true reality’ of a site.

The 3D laser scanner fires approximately one million rapidly pulsing laser beams per second. These lasers sweep over a space by automatically rotating while gathering measurements, which include space and dimensional data, as well as capturing high density images with two oscillating cameras.

3D laser scanning and building information modelling technology is where construction and engineering is going.


How does 3d laser scanning work?

The machine works by emitting a continuous or a rapidly pulsing laser beam. The scanner rotates on its vertical axis while firing the lasers and the mirror also spins. When the beam hits the object and bounces back to the scanner, it is detected by the sensor. A built-in timer measures the distances. The horizontal and vertical angles of both the mirror and the scanner are also calculated. The result of all these co-ordinates is a three-dimensional representation, also known as a ‘point cloud’.

Using a built-in camera, high density photographs are merged with the point cloud data to generate 3D data-rich images and video. For large sites, the scanner is moved to different vantage points to capture multiple point clouds. The more point clouds taken, the more accurate the building information model (BIM) will be.  


What is Scan to BIM?

Scan to BIM refers to making a 3D scan of a physical space or site in order to make an accurate representation of it that can be used as the basis for designing, assessing and evaluating work.

The 3D laser scans can be used to feed information directly into the building information model (BIM) where it can be accessed by multiple parties.

The 3D model contains data about a physical space and its functional characteristics. From the data, plans and elevations and detailed sections can be created. It also aids co-ordination across multiple parties such as architects, engineers, and contractors, reduces double-handling of data, which greatly reduce potential human errors.

Engineers at desk on computers in a studio

Who uses 3D laser scans?

Typically, 3D laser scans are used by engineers, architects and construction contractors. This is because they can generate vast amounts of information about an existing building for a refit or renovation, for a construction site, or ‘as-built’ constructions.

Purposes include:

  • Historical and heritage surveys
  • Structural engineering
  • Clash detection
  • Manufacturing
  • Real estate
  • Insurance documentation
  • Documentation of works in progress

3D laser scans are also used by property developers and asset managers, facility managers. It is not only AEC professionals who use 3D laser scans.

Animators, game designers, and artists are also able to utilise the vivid and rich detail for computer and video games, matte painting, and scene building. Forensics experts often use 3D laser scanning after a crime scene before spaces are reopened to the public.

exterior of modern office building

Construction Engineering – When the brief does not match the reality

As most construction engineers know, the actual site for a project can present a very different scenario to the brief you get.

The 3D laser scanning provides a highly accurate true picture of the reality of a site or building, not just what you got in the brief. For construction engineering, the scans are invaluable at providing the opportunity to identify and solve major problems early.

By being able to spot obstacles and challenges to a construction early on, a consulting engineer could save a project hundreds of thousands of dollars by suggesting alternatives and workarounds. The scans can be the difference between a botched job and an amazing success that showcases their creativity and expertise.

Due to the realistic representation of the 3D scan, it is easier for parties to fully comprehend proposed work and potential outcomes. This improves work efficiency and reduces change orders.

From the data, elevation drawings and floor plan drawings can be made. They can also be used for calculating heights, spaces, and floor areas, even internal wall measurements. It is a very powerful survey tool.


Documenting As-Builts

As an accurate, highly detailed record, the 3D laser scan can also be used to document ‘as-builts’. Due to the time and date stamping, they are an irrefutable record of what work was, or was not, undertaken. As such, they could be considered an insurance policy of sorts.


Developers and Facility Managers

The 3D laser scan is a very detailed and highly accurate survey that can be used by developers. The data can be used to measure floor plans, floor areas and ceiling heights, and get an as-built condition of the spaces available. These can be powerful survey in order to set leases and organise facility management.


Advantages of 3D Laser Scan?

There are many significant benefits of performing 3D laser scans.

  1. The volume of data that can be captured and at speed
  2. Reduced human error
  3. Better co-ordination across trades and contractors.
  4. Increased project efficiency and higher Return on investment (ROI)
  5. Ability to see problems early and devise solutions
  6. Ability to translate a vision into a clear, three-dimensional figure. This aids communications and results in fewer change orders, easier comprehension of how a modification will look and function.


Are there any Risks to Historical buildings from 3D Laser scanning?

In itself, there are no known dangers to human or animal health posed by the lasers or the scanner. The particular risk of scanning a site depends on the characteristics of that site. There is also no risk of damage to a building or to a building’s materials, including historical and heritage sites.


What are the risks of not making a 3D scan?

There are so many advantages of performing a 3d laser scan for an AEC project. There are also risks of not performing one. These including:

  • Inability to detect problems early in a project
  • Time blowouts in relaying surveying data
  • Lack of vision and co-ordination across disciplines and contractors
  • Financial blow-outs as a result of human error, data double handling
  • Multiple change orders that compromise a projects integrity and return on investment (ROI).


How long does it take to make a 3D Laser Scan?

This depends on how large the site is, but typically they can be performed in just a couple of hours. A scan requires only one person, although they will likely need to conduct multiple scans to get thorough coverage of a site. The data is stored on a USB drive which is then removed from the machine and processed using calibration software. The survey can then be relayed to all parties on the same day.

We can supply you with a file that can be exported to Autocad, Revit, Autodesk Recap, NavisWorks, and other CAD software. Tell us what you need.


Example Video of a 3D Laser Scan in Sydney


Our scanner

At Drawable, we usFARO focus s70 3d laser scanere the Faro Focus S 70 the world’s most trusted source of 3D imaging and measuring solutions. It unobtrusively capture spaces with a range of 70 metres and up to 1mm accuracy.


How to organise a quote for a 3d laser scan?

We can conduct 3D laser scanning anywhere in Australia. We are based in Sydney. Our expert scanner is Dave Starr who has 20+ years’ experience in the construction and engineering sector.


How can I organise a 3d laser scan?

Call Dave in Sydney on 0412 883 001. 

Or email your enquiry.

3D Laser Scans is a service provided by Drawable. Get in touch with Drawable to discuss your other site and requirements. We will provide you a scope of work and a firm estimate.