Geo Week News

May 11, 2004

Laser Scanning Workflow Evolution: Behind the Scenes with KBR’s Matt Craig

For nine years Matt Craig has focused on implementing field data acquisition technologies including laser scanning and photogrammetry in the engineering and construction business. Having executed and managed over 35 such projects to date, Craig is currently a project engineer in KBR’s Operational Excellence group, where he helps project teams establish best practices and develop work processes to apply and implement field data acquisition technologies on project work. We interviewed Craig to learn what role he played
in the industry’s evolution, particularly the move to work with point clouds directly in CAD, and what he considers key to successful projects.

How did you first get involved in laser scanning?

Before my involvement with laser scanning, I was involved with photogrammetry. I began my career at M.W. Kellogg, a subsidiary of Dresser Industries, in 1980. In early 1995, I was asked to transfer to a sister company within the Dresser organization called Subsea International, and help them establish an as-built data collection service organization named Camera Alive. As part of a small team of talented individuals, we developed an effective workflow, which established the
presence of Camera Alive as a prominent as-built data collection service company utilizing close-range photogrammetry technology. In late 1996 Camera Alive was sold to
CSA, Inc., and as the CSA – As-Built Division, the team continued to execute project work primarily using close-range
photogrammetry. Although photogrammetry was the primary tool to execute work, we had been monitoring and evaluating laser scanning technology, knowing full well that it showed significant potential as a tool to replace photogrammetry. In 1998, we had the opportunity to execute a
project using laser scanning on a project with mixed results.

I worked with CSA, Inc. through mid-1999, then started an as-built data collection service company called Visual Precision, Inc. with the intent of using laser scanning technology as the primary tool to document existing conditions. Visual Precision executed several projects using a variety of different laser scanning technologies. The first scanner that we used was the MENSI S-series laser scanner.

What were the workflow issues that initially limited the value of laser scanning?

Both photogrammetry and laser scanning have proved to be effective and accurate technologies to use to gather existing condition information. However, both technologies were originally used as a basis to develop a workflow that would generate the as-built 3D model. Most technology companies at the time believed the value of the service and tools was in the 3D model, not fully understanding what the 3D model is used for on project work. As a result, both technologies in the beginning
had difficulty in being adopted by engineering companies and owner/operators within the various industry sectors, because the extensive time to generate an accurate as-built 3D model diminished the value of its use on revamp or retrofit work, which provided little return on the investment in the service. The other limiting factor was that the 3D modeling tools used to generate the as-built 3D model did not accommodate the real-world conditions of an existing facility, which resulted in compromising of the 3D information collected to fit a modeling solution.

How were you involved in helping to change that?

After discussions with several of my engineering customers, we all came to the conclusion that laser scanning technology was the appropriate technology to collect existing conditions, but that the
workflow and implementation of the technology had to change before it could be applied on engineering project work. In early 2000, I met Mark Klusza of
BitWyse Solutions, Inc. It was then that I, Klusza, and several of my engineering customers started discussing the idea of using the raw
collected data from the laser scanner directly in the CAD environment, but at that time the CAD companies weren’t interested – they didn’t see the value. However, Klusza was willing to start a development activity to better integrate raw laser data into the 3D CAD design environment.

Within three months Klusza and his team were able to prove and demonstrate the concept of integrating laser data within the 3D CAD environment, which is known today as the LASERGen application. This concept provided us with the ability to collect and process laser scan data within a relative short amount of time, and be able to turn around a deliverable in less time with more accurate information, and manage the information within the 3D CAD design environment that users were familiar with. The creation of the LASERGen product also provided the ability to work with dense laser point data, known today as point clouds. As a result, we were able to look at phased-based laser scanning technology, which collected massive amounts of information within a few minutes.

My early involvement with investigating laser scanning technology led me to Eric Hoffman of Quantapoint, Inc. Hoffman had developed a service company focusing in the architectural market using phase-based laser scanners. Visual Precision, Inc. subcontracted Quantapoint, Inc. services on several process projects to utilize their scanning technology. The results proved to compliment the new workflow of using point cloud information within the 3D CAD environment through the use of
LASERGen. I eventually went to work for Quantapoint, Inc. as an account manager for their process industry division, and stayed with them until early 2003. I returned to KBR shortly thereafter to work within the Operational Excellence group assisting Ross Porter in emerging technologies, of which laser scanning is one.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in your career as a service provider?

My biggest challenge as a service company was having to overcome the poor execution of other service providers that did not apply the technology (laser scanning and photogrammetry) correctly. There were many times that a service company would perform poorly, and as a result the whole service industry suffered. Many customers blamed the technology, but in reality the service company failed to execute the project correctly, and failed to educate the client. There was a huge distrust of
the service industry, and that was difficult to overcome.

The service industry has the responsibility to properly educate their customer, and be honest with the expectations and limitations of the technology they are using. They are also responsible for communicating and defining their requirements to execute a job correctly. Most customers are expecting the service companies to tell them what they need to get the job done right.

What should customers look for in a laser scanning service provider?

First and foremost, service providers need to have a good understanding of what the client wants. But we have to look at this from the standpoint of work process. We can’t just say, “Here’s the scope, go execute it.” Often a service provider will work in many different industries, but won’t be expert in the terminology and requirements of any one of them. They may not know the way of capturing information that will be most beneficial to the engineering disciplines in a particular industry. So first, we look for service organizations that understand our industry, and have the technical wherewithal to take instruction from our project people in the field in order to understand what they need to capture. Second, they need to have good quality control procedures, so we know the deliverable will be sound. Third, they need to follow good safety practices, because contractors are sensitive to HSE (health, safety and environment) issues.
Where do you stand in the debate over phase-based vs. time-of-flight scanning technology?

Each technology has its own applications. It depends on what the project requirements are. Phased-based scanners give you the information you need at short range distances, collect the information very fast, and generate photographic quality images from the scan data. The data sets that are created are very compute-intensive from the standpoint of both storage and manipulation, but the deliverable that is generated is very valuable in areas that are heavily congested. Time-of-flight technologies provide advantages in longer-range applications, even though scan rates are slower.

Both technologies are very effective as long as they are being used for the right application. As a customer, I should not be concerned about which technology is being used as long as the information is accurate, the information that I need to execute my work is captured, and a well
defined plan was used prior to capturing the information. The service provider should not depend on just one tool to execute their work.

Has laser scanning crossed from a market for the technologically curious, to one where customers are driven by the business benefits?

Absolutely. Just the fact that Trimble and Leica, the top two manufacturers of survey devices, have actually invested in laser scanning validates the commercial viability of the technology. On the other hand, I would still consider it to be an emerging technology in some applications. Even though the technology is available and works, most companies won’t get the benefits until they’ve adopted and
implemented work processes that let them utilize it efficiently and cost-effectively.

What’s still needed in the technology?

One great benefit of scanner technology is that it’s based on optics and electronics – the systems will inevitably become faster, smaller, more efficient and effective. What still needs to happen is for both engineering companies and owners to be able to use the technology well enough to make it part of their overall internal work process. When projects have failed, it hasn’t been because of the technology, but how and when it was applied. Unfortunately, the technology has tended to get the blame. CAD went through this evolution – laser scanning is confronting some of the same workflow issues we saw with 3D CAD. Why does one project succeed while another one doesn’t? The challenge ahead is to make sure companies are implementing and applying the technology properly.

What job are you most proud of – where you had the biggest impact?

The biggest impact was in a job that changed everyone’s opinion of how laser scanning was actually going to be used. That was a project that Visual Precision executed for a major engineering contractor in a refinery. It was probably the second job where we used target registration of point clouds, and took the point cloud into BitWyse’s LASERGen software. We executed that job in October 2000. The data was captured in a relatively short time, and the client was pleased with the results. We later put together a presentation for a major industry conference in early 2001, which resulted in everyone taking a different look at how laser scan data was being presented and used.

What about a job that went wrong – what did you learn from it?

There are always learning experiences. The very first job where we used phase-based scanning technology was in a chemical plant. At that time we were just beginning to develop a workflow using the phased-based technology. It was a very large project that probably should not have been done at the time, but what we learned was that target registration was the best method to register scan data versus surveying in the scanner position, which in retrospect seems obvious since it is a similar work process to the survey work process. The target registration process was to identify targets within scans, and integrate that with survey data to tie it back to the plant coordinate system.

Even though that particular project may have been considered a failure in execution, the lessons learned from the project helped develop a workflow that has been proven to be very effective in the field execution process to this day.Today raw laser scan data is much more generally accepted as a deliverable from the service provider than in the past, when models were often expected. To what do you attribute this change?

No one thing can be singled out as the key contributor to the general acceptance of laser scan data as an end deliverable from the service provider to the customer. It was a combination of ideas, software enablers, hardware tools, and a true determination to make this an acceptable work process. This process was a true collaborative effort, and involved many individuals and companies coming together to develop a solution that made sense. However, this is not to say that this is the only acceptable deliverable for all industry sectors. The requirements of a project should be the determining factor of what the end deliverable should be.

What’s your greatest frustration today?

The biggest frustration is being able to see the potential of this technology when it seems other people don’t yet see it. Some are willing to change the way they work to get the benefits, but others are apprehensive to change the way they work. I’ve had this frustration in the past when CAD was introduced as a tool to do design work.

The frustration I’ve had specifically is getting people to implement this technology on project work. The customer and the project management team see it as added cost — it was never included in the proposal phase or the overall cost, so as a result it’s a line item. They see that big-ticket cost, and don’t realize that without it, they are still spending the same amount of money, if not more, to execute the same work traditionally. They are also exposing personnel to more risk in the field, and acquiring
less accurate information.

Implementing change always means taking a risk, and as an industry we seek to avoid what is perceived to be a risk. Unfortunately we’re looking at it the wrong way. Laser scanning is an enabler that helps reduce and eliminate risk.

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