Geo Week News

June 1, 2004

Unlocking Laser Scanning’s Ultimate Potential: BE&K’s Shaffer at SPAR 2004

Derrel Shaffer, P.E., has managed and executed some 40 laser scanning projects since 1996 in a wide range of industries including architectural, automotive, chemical, foods, government, power, pulp and paper, and nuclear. He currently manages BE&K’s As-built Services Group, which provides as-built laser scanning, photogrammetry, intelligent and non-intelligent 3D modeling services, high-accuracy surveying, and spherical photography for both internal and external clients. Previously involved with laser scanning at Washington
Group as well as Raytheon Engineers & Constructors, Shaffer has 22 years’ experience in industrial engineering and has worked in a variety of disciplines including construction, vessel design, structural, process piping, and mechanical. In a keynote presentation at
SPAR 2004, Shaffer shared his professional observations and lessons of experience on what he called the ultimate potential of laser scanning, and how practitioners can optimize work processes to unlock still more of that potential. This week’s SparView features some highlights of his remarks.“I am generally excessively euphoric about laser scanning when I give presentations,” Shaffer began. “I’ve 26 years’ experience of doing it the old way. This technology helps remediate the risk and assure that the design is everything we hoped it would be, and that the process is as smooth and low-cost as possible.” Work process is the key to laser scanning project success, Shaffer believes. “Looking at the overall market for laser scanning, the sky’s the limit – we’re nowhere near its ultimate potential,” he told SPAR 2004 attendees. “The engineering work process will be critical to realizing that potential.”

Noting at the outset that contractors have two choices for employing laser scanning – outsource to service providers, or maintain an in-house capability – Shaffer reported, “At BE&K we elected to have an internal service to provide this technology and data.” There were three principal advantages the company saw in this: “One, we can assure the quality and accuracy of the laser data. Two, we can respond very quickly. And finally, we feel this is a differentiator. When we’re developing proposals and talking to clients, it helps to be able to take ownership of this entire process from beginning to end.” [Current practice among leading contractors is divided over the issue of in-house vs. outsource. The pros and cons of each model will be explored in a future SparView – Ed.]

Critical execution phases: optimal work processes

One valuable portion of Shaffer’s presentation identified optimal work processes for each execution phase of a laser scanning project.

Scope Calling this vitally important, Shaffer noted, “So many times people block out areas and say, ‘Go scan that,’ and this is the extent of information you’re given. This is not a very good way to do things. You have to work hand in hand with the service provider and the engineers, offering advice. For example, on one job I did – an $80 million retrofit project – one segment was scanned, then turned into a full-blown 3D CAD model. In four other segments, 2D drawings were generated – laser scanning was used as a measuring tool. In yet another segment, laser scanning was used as a general arrangement tool.” In addition, critical piping was scanned at a fabrication shop. In this project, Shaffers group worked with the fabricator to determine what mix of approaches would provide the greatest value. Overall, “what we try to do is take ownership from beginning to end, and not just pass the data over the fence. We try to play an integral role in selecting the best technology,
scoping the job, and determining which work processes will best utilize the data.”

Scanning and registration Shaffer advises that clients do a background check of prospective service providers “to be sure they’ve been in your industry and understand your needs, to make sure you’ll receive quality data.”

Data utilization in engineering and design Pointing to this as the area where most laser scanning failures occur, Shaffer noted, “If you have laser scan data, yet you continue to go to the job site like you’ve done in the past, collecting dimensions the old way, you’ve got a couple of problems.” One is running the budget up. “You haven’t adjusted to the fact that you have data in the office that you could be using.” Another is that “you’re using imperfect, inaccurate dimensioning off poor benchmarks – sloped floors or irregular columns.” As a result, “You’re running the hours up, and you’re going to end up with the same interferences you had before.”

Construction utilization A major untapped market for laser scanning is how Shaffer views construction. “I’ve executed a few construction jobs, and the ones I’ve done have been home runs,” he reported. “But there are so many construction sites that could use this for removal studies and other decisions – expensive decisions. For constructability, laser scanning offers incredible value – we do that all the time internally, but I think externally it’s an untapped market which could be tremendous.”Value, applicability, adoption strategies

Shaffer addressed some common misconceptions about the value and applicability of laser scanning, and offered strategies to further accelerate its adoption.

Opportunity far beyond large 3D projects Shaffer believes there exists a “tremendous market for using laser scanning across the board.” It’s not just for the major contractors, he says, but also “mom-and-pop engineering firms doing 2D jobs.” The technology “can be used on jobs below $1 million TIC, providing you have cost-effective data collection and effective work processes. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve executed large projects up to $100 million TIC with laser scanning.” What’s critical to recognize is that “you can do both low-budget and high-budget jobs. You can do 2D and 3D. And it doesn’t matter if you’re using a plant design system, simplistic 3D primitives in raw CAD, or 2D measuring” – laser scanning can pay back in all these cases.

Cost advantage over traditional methods In cases where laser scanning is perceived as high-cost compared with traditional methods, Shaffer believes this is because the client or project manager is “looking at the bottom line up front, and not recognizing the big potential at the end. And that’s where the big savings are. If you consider everything, this isn’t a high-cost item; it’s extremely cost-effective.”

New-technology adoption benefits Practitioners’ instincts are often to stick with what’s been done before. Says Shaffer, “We know the existing evils, and we think we know how to avoid them – of course failing to remember that never worked in the past. If you do today what you did yesterday, you’re going to get what you got yesterday. Project managers really need to understand this.”

Getting the scope right Shaffer recounted one job where he scanned an entire building, and the scans weren’t used. “We got value of out it because a lot of other buildings were scanned at the same time. Knowing the scope up front will help make sure you optimize the use of laser scanning. Plan so you scan only what you need.”

Setting realistic expectations Noting that point clouds often look like photographs, Shaffer reports that many clients “think we go in there, go ‘click,’ and move to the next one. That’s an unrealistic expectation.” Clients need to recognize the labor and time involved in executing a scan. Moreover, “they need to understand this isn’t just a photograph; this is 3D digital data.” Too, clients need to realize “you can’t scan what you can’t see. If it’s covered with insulation or behind something, they need to recognize you’re not going to be able to see that valve or flange because of insulation, and you’ll have to set up at different locations to see behind things. They need to understand that laser scanners don’t have x-ray vision.” Equally important is for clients to understand “they’re not going to have 100% of the area covered. So many times the expectation is that the service provider completely covered the area, and we got every bit of information, so now we don’t need to go to the site.” Clients should expect site trips, but with laser scanning they will be
fewer and of shorter duration.

Work process is key to success Calling flawed work processes the number one cause of laser scanning project failures, Shaffer reports the key to success is “how you work with the data. So many service providers hand over the data to the client and basically say, ‘Go to town with it, figure it out,’ and they’re gone. Well, I promise that you won’t get repeat business that way. You will not have a success until the project ends and the client has gotten value out of it. It’s to your advantage to invest time and energy to see that they use the data correctly.”

Work as a team “We’re a team,” Shaffer says. “Service providers – whether or not they’re part of the same company as their client – need to have a team mentality to ensure success. Even if the client resists your involvement, it’s to your advantage to be proactive and step in to save them from themselves.”

How project managers can promote success When problems arise, project managers too often simply ignore the problem, Shaffer believes. “They almost seem to say to themselves, ‘We’re not getting all eventually. I have other things to worry about right now.’” The likelihood, he reports, is that “people are reverting to their old ways of doing things.” By being proactive and involved, project managers can avoid this.

Justifying laser scanning and maximizing its value

Shaffer had recommendations for how each constituency involved in laser scanning can broaden its use and maximize its value.

Project managers Project managers need to “take a realistic inventory of risk if the project is executed with traditional methods compared with laser scanning,” Shaffer advised. On some jobs, the risk is minor – working in open areas, jobs that involve just a few pipes to be routed – and laser scanning is not needed. But where laser scanning is justified, project managers “need to understand the risks they’re assuming by not using it.” He added, “Some probably think they have all the information they need, but in fact they don’t.” Meanwhile, the information they do have may be the most dangerous of all, because of inaccuracies – and without laser scanning, these errors may not come to light until late in the project. “In one instance, I saved $1 million from detecting an error in one dimension on an existing machine drawing” using laser scanning. Project managers also “need to understand this is an investment, not an added cost.” Indeed, the cost savings from
reduced site visits alone may offset the cost of laser scanning. Of course, this is dwarfed by “the big payback at the end.”

Service providers One opportunity for service providers is to become more efficient, Shaffer believes. “If you’re going to start executing 2D low-budget projects, you’ll have to be lean and mean to get the job done.” He also advises service providers not to overlook technical consulting opportunities. “Don’t pass this over the fence. If you have any control over this, you need to become integrated with the client’s design team to ensure they get the most value from the data.”

Engineering Contractors without an in-house laser scanning capability “need an expert on board to assure the most effective technologies and work processes are specified and applied. For example, that individual needs to be involved in determining  what areas need to be scanned, and in scoping the project generally.”

Laser scanning technology providers One opportunity for software vendors, Shaffer believes, is better and faster point-cloud registration. Besides promoting greater accuracy and consistency of data, this would also allow service providers to be more efficient. He also called for more efficient tools for managing the very large volumes of data generated by phase-based scanners. For all project stakeholders, Shaffer identified one best practice as being proactive in whatever facet of the actual project we’re involved in. I believe in going out and finding the problems before they become big problems. That’s just legwork, phone calls and communication, and taking the initiative to do something about it.” He urged listeners, “Don’t pass it over the fence. So many times in the past, we’ve handed data over the fence, when failures could have been avoided by being involved from beginning to end.”

In closing, Shaffer pointed out the value of greater openness about project performance data. “We need metrics to be able to win jobs,” he declared. “Many companies have a problem in trying to determine the rework on a project. Those numbers are key in showing the value you delivered to a project.” Exhorting project managers to pass that data back down the line, so everyone is aware of the performance on a project, Shaffer noted, “If nothing else, it can be a critiquing tool that will
help everyone improve and do a better job next time – a lessons-learned.”

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