March 24, 2011

Asset owners, EPCs talk 3D data workflow at SPAR


Who owns the scanner, who owns the data, who wants the data?

HOUSTON—Purchasing 3D laser scanning equipment or contracting with a service provider is only the first step for many users of 3D imaging technology at owner-operator and EPC companies. Next comes the hard part: Convincing others that the technology will make their jobs easier and can save time and money.

At a roundtable discussion on the subject at SPAR International 2011 today here in Houston, SPAR 3D editor Sam Pfeifle quizzed panelists on everything from their first scanner purchases to how to build a business case for integrating 3D imaging into their engineering and management systems.

Chris Zmijewski, principal, 3D digital imaging and mapping with Stantec, was asked about scanner acquisitions at his company. How closely scrutinized is that purchase? He said that as a publicly traded company every major purchase, including scanners, is looked at from a business perspective. The company recently purchased three scanners. “As far as worrying about them becoming obsolete, if you don’t jump in the game you will be left behind,” he said.

David Lafferty, technology consultant for the chief technology office in BP’s information technology and services function, said scanning was initially considered a specialized, technical service. “So we had a mix of in-house and outsourced services,” he said. “Our strategy, whether internal or external, we have strict acquisition rules and standards. Data acquired must have multiple uses and exploit the commodity market for price and service.”

Now, the acquisition itself is being seen as almost a commodity within BP.

Sutter Health in California doesn’t own a scanner. Instead, they rely on outsourcing to access latest 3D imaging technology. “Health care construction in California is very expensive,” said Digby Christian, senior project manager for facility planning and development for the new Sutter Medical Center being built in Castro Valley. “It [laser scanning]could save a fortune if you find a major problem.”

That said, would Christian’s company eventually buy their own scanner? “We would never be in the market for a scanner mainly because of how fast the technology is evolving. We always want the best services from our service providers.”

Jacobs Engineering is in more of a transition phase, said Chad Rabitoy: “For the longest time, we’ve just left it up to the service provider to have them go and capture that data and bring it back to us for us use in our projects internally.” However, Jacobs has recently purchased a company that does some terrestrial scanning and the company is now looking at integrating that into the rest of the organization.

Panelists were asked whether they had to justify the use of 3D imaging at their companies and sell other employees on the technology.

“It seems like every day,” Zmijewski answered. “This is a large company with 10,000-plus employees, and it’s a sales pitch every day. A lot of architects and engineers still work in 2D. They are worried about the project getting out of control [using 3D]because they are scared or not used to the data. Then they are worried that costs may get out of control. It is a huge education [process]every day. I think I work harder selling the technology internally than externally.”

Jason Hosch, facility layout coordinator at Intel, was surprised that more people weren’t knocking on his door to get access to the scanner that Intel purchased to help with its own internal large construction project: “There’s a few of us who know how to use it and that’s pretty much it,” he said.

Dale Stenning, operations manager at Hoffman Construction, has learned to take an approach he’s termed “one superintendent at a time.” Essentially, he said, he sits back and waits until the superintendent realizes just how valuable the scan data can be to a project.

“I give them a print out and put in on their desk and it winds up in the trash,” he chuckled. “Then I put it in their inbox. Then it’s at the top of the inbox. Then all of a sudden it’s tacked to the wall with a bunch of notes on it and they’re referring to it all the time.”

But that’s not to say the 3D data doesn’t come without headaches. “We had to buy some client workstations to work with it,” said Hosch, “and we had to buy some software – the surprising part was how much storage space we were going to need just to house the data.”

Zmijewski agreed: “When the entire company goes 3D? Good luck. They better be prepared. It’s just terabytes and terabytes of data. If you have eight scanners and everyone’s using them at the same time, you can kind of see the dilemma.”

Further, Christian emphasized, and the panel agreed, that there are still major software hurdles that need to be overcome before the process could really be deemed a success.

“Which model do I use for facilities management, which one do I use for construction,” Hosch wondered aloud by way of agreement. “It all needs to work together. Laser scanning should be used to align the model, not create a whole new one.”

In the end, there was large agreement that service providers and manufacturers both need to be listening to the end user much more as product development occurs. Is information being created that no one wants or knows how to use? It maybe not be that dire, but it’s certainly true that there is no standard for deliverables and end users are increasingly frustrated that what they’re getting from service providers doesn’t meet their operations needs.

“In many ways, the manual you get with your car is 100 times better than what we’re giving to end users,” admitted Stenning. “You don’t care what the bore size is for your piston, you just want to know when to change the oil.” 

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