Geo Week News

October 21, 2013

Blurred Lines

As 3D printing and visualization technologies gain a greater mindshare in the collective consciousness of the general public, I find myself fielding more unsolicited calls and emails from potential clients looking for 3D imaging services.

While I welcome the calls, it turns out that a lot of them do not actually need (or want) the services or products that we offer. Typically, these prospects hear about laser scanning, or 3D imaging, or 3D printing, as an offshoot of whatever industry they are in. They Google one of those terms and, as a result, get a company like ours. That’s great if they need a standard scanner… I mean, a terrestrial scanner… Well, a mid-range…

See, there really isn’t a specific term for the subdivisions in 3D imaging, is there?! Therein lies the problem.

Someone looking to have a 3D model of something created for them is as likely to need it of an object for a medical device as they are for an offshore oil platform. And, unless the potential client knows what type of collection device they need, it can be difficult to distinguish one company that can help you from another that cannot (even if it performs all of the same services by “name”).

There was a time when we had professional affiliations such as “Metrologist” or “Surveyor” that helped one ascertain the scale or accuracy or application of a technology, but those are falling away as well. Besides, I am constantly looking to other disciplines – as disparate as medical device manufacturers and robotics labs! – to lift ideas and methods for processing 3D data. The beauty (from the inside perspective) is that it’s all data that can be traded, so all of the tools are interoperable. However, it would seem that this “benefit” simply confuses the marketplace for a lot of end users.

I have tried to develop some lines of division but with the constant evolution of hardware and software, the lines are remaining blurry at best. I do not think that we can divide along disciplines any longer. As a matter of business practicality, I am going to pursue any and every vertical for which my hardware, software, and skill set are applicable. Take a single piece of equipment like the Z+F 5010C, for example. The data from that unit are applicable to engineers, architects, the security industry, the mining industry, the heritage market, and the list goes on. It’s the same way for any one piece of tech.

My latest thought has been to divide along accuracy deviations. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to put into Google AdWords that you worked with equipment up to 300m in range with an accuracy of 4mm! If someone is rapid prototyping and needs an accuracy of 0.005mm then we all know right away that you are not the person to contact, regardless of the fact that you are in their hometown providing “3D imaging services” (the only term they knew to use in their Google search). I do use this on occasion, but there is one drawback. Ask the normal layperson to point out something 300m away, or even show you 1cm or 1 inch using their fingers. Most people have no real frame of reference when it comes to these numbers.

I’ve landed jobs by continuing to ask questions after someone told me they needed an accuracy standard that I knew I could not meet. You end up asking something like, “How are you meeting that accuracy standard now?” and they explain a method that is way more inaccurate than their standard and insist that it’s working fine, “we just need it done faster.” Right, I’m sure your tape measure is getting 0.05mm all day every day.

So, I’m leaning toward some more malleable lines and using terms like “Micro, Meso, Macro, and Meta,” as in:

  • Micro = sub-millimeter or typical metrology and medical scanning.
  • Meso = Engineering to Architectural grade scanning using equipment like a Faro Focus or a Leica C10. Typically accurate to better than 1cm.
  • Macro = Longer range terrestrial like a Maptek I-Site 8800, vehicle- or drone- operated mobile data. Maybe in the 1-10 cm range.
  • Meta = Large scale as in traditional airborne or satellite mapping. Lower density and accuracy but larger ranges and coverage areas.

My track record with getting these types of ideas rooted is spotty at best, so let me know what you think. We are the first one’s here, so it’s up to us to name everything! Let’s get to it.

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