Walking the halls of The Mirage Convention Center in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, you wouldn’t know that companies worldwide are slashing budgets, cutting personnel or strapping on other business constraints. At Trimble Dimensions 2009 held February 23-25, approximately 2,400 registrants from 67 countries (100 more than 2007) gathered to learn technology integration strategies for construction, infrastructure, mobile mapping, utilities, mapping & GIS, survey and mobile resource management applications.
CEO Steve Berglund’s opening message that periods of adversity lend themselves to creative competitiveness and productivity seems to match the business response many companies apply these days—and that many others should. One smart way to respond to today’s rocky conditions is by rethinking old ways and implementing new solutions. Increasingly, 3D imaging and laser scanning solutions are way up on the list, especially in the areas of survey, transportation, civil infrastructure and plant environments.
One example is the use of 3D laser scanning technology in Building Information Modeling (BIM), a topic that gained a lot of attention at the show. Autodesk’s Terry Bennett reported that, with laser scanning data collection, BIM project schedules have been reportedly compressed by more than 60 percent, labor has been reduced by more than 20 hours, and lane closures have been limited or altogether eliminated. These schedule, cost and safety advantages, Bennett says, are helping green projects to get green lights faster compared to projects using more conventional methods and technology. He encouraged his audience to reverse old processes that begin with design to instead begin projects with high-quality documentation that benefits design intent.
The buzz continued in several construction and survey sessions, where scanning technology was credited with providing accurate stockpile inventories for busy construction sites, capturing measurements of multiple points for lock and dam monitoring, determining complex concrete shrinkage on construction sites and improving technical documentation at an oil/gas facility.
One particularly innovative use of scanning in the survey sector was highlighted in a session by Wolfgang Huep of Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences. Huep presented a case study on a crack monitoring evaluation where scanning data from a Trimble GX Scanner, and geo-referencing and rectification from a Trimble VX Spatial Station, captured the locations and measurements of cracks on a damaged building structure to an accuracy of 0.4 millimeters wide. Viewing shrinking concrete as being three-dimensional, the application of long-term, single-point measurement monitoring of conditions using total station and geo-referenced photos was not considered to be accurate enough. Audience member Robert Green, with Vectors, Inc., shared that it is further possible to establish the direct source of some cracks by comparing the as-is plane to a plumb surface during post processing. He says DOTs seeking data on existing retaining walls, as well as new ones being constructed, love this idea. And, with the endless discussion in recent years of reconstructing the surveyor model, Huep pointed out that surveyors can find a niche in this application by offering their expertise as expert witnesses in disputes.
Mobile mapping sessions were hopping at the conference. Stantec’s Charles Larson explained how his team showed its client, the city of Cleveland, that the company’s mobile mapping system (the RT-3000) can assimilate pavement inspection techniques with asset inventory technologies. On 1,250 miles of road (mostly local centerline miles) and per ODOT specs, a Stantec survey team and two contractors captured right-of-way imagery every 2 millimeters using Trimble’s Geo-3D technology (upgraded to a new version of Trident-3D and analyst software 4.4 that will integrate with the 360° Trimble G360 camera, announced at the start of the conference) and combined it with pavement evaluation technologies including laser scanning data collection.
In Orlando, Data Transfer Solutions applied mobile mapping to 25 lane miles in both directions at ~30 mph to support a roadway characteristic inventory for road expansion. Compressing field work from an estimated three months to one day, they captured pavement markings, bridge clearances, road cross-slopes and ditch profiles, and extracted generic road transects. The client received a 150,000-point DTM (reduced from 20 million shots) with 4-foot point spacing as well as 3D breaklines of 15-millimeter relative accuracy. The system hasn’t been tested on unpaved spaces like construction sites, but the idea of such is promising.
In the middle of the Arabian Desert, Limitless LLC, a business unit of Dubai World, has applied mobile scanning solutions to eliminate schedule risk and reduce accuracy risk on a 75-kilometer man-made canal project including terraced landscape and mixed-use real estate. The project is the largest civil engineering project ever conducted in the Middle East. With the help of the Applanix LANDMark System, project data was collected every 25 centimeters (minimum), at depths up to 55 meters and with an RMS error for absolute accuracy of 10 centimeters (minimum). One and a half (1.5) million cubic meters of earth have been moved each day. Credit was also given to Applanix Smart Select, which syncs the best available network of reference receivers. Facing numerous site challenges, including limited work windows and canal-related boundaries, Limitless accurately collected data for progress monitoring and invoicing throughout the project.
Other sessions answered to the bottleneck of processing enormous data sets of point clouds and included a focus on: processing airborne LiDAR data, true orthophoto processing using dense point clouds, combining data from terrestrial-based 3D scanning and aerial LiDAR, and processing imaging data for transportation projects.
On display in the Partner Pavilion was the Trident-3D-based Trimble Mobile Mapping System 300 Series built from the company’s Geo-3D acquisition. The technology-laden minivan held two laser scanners (one Riegl and one SICK), an Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS), a DGPS receiver for positioning, a panoramic high-rez digital camera, and a plethora of mounts, connectors, cables and accessory devices. In the back were a gaggle of high-powered computers on an industrial computer rack, and in the front, automation software for feature extraction and other road geometry. Customers configure systems in a multitude of ways including adding on asset inventory toolkits and optional pavement condition assessment sensors, such as a pavement imaging camera that constantly illuminates the road surface via laser light to disperse any shadows from the sun.
Several of the 300-plus sessions at Trimble Dimensions highlighted the importance of efficient survey control, the benefit of Google Earth laid over models, and the fairly new Trimble Access software that constantly connects field and office teams by data sharing over the Internet. Trimble Access also forecasts GNSS satellites throughout a crew’s day. It was evident from the few sessions I attended that 3D laser scanning is recognized for a growing roster of applications and that smart firms today are no longer doing business as usual.