As is the case with our aging transportation infrastructure, there is an overabundance of aging buildings across the United States, particularly in large urban areas, which are host to inadequate facilities in need of modernization.
Building owners, with the goal of minimizing the environmental impact of their buildings while providing modern amenities and improved value, are looking to technologies such as Rapid Energy Modeling, BIM and 3D Laser Scanning to analyze and implement smart renovations for the built environment.
Working in the retro-fit realm presents many challenges, particularly when trying to detail what exists on a site. Oftentimes, photos, manual measurements and 2D paper plans are used create the base existing digital model for any analysis or design that is to be considered for a building. Gaps in plan data and human observation are typical with this approach and can lead to an incomplete or inaccurate representation of the site. As the practices of Rapid Energy Modeling (which analyzes the energy efficiency of a building) and offsite building component pre-fabrication (which reduces project cost and schedules) are rapidly adopted, accurate as-built modeling of existing buildings is critical.
Laser scanning is the solution that provides the fastest, most detailed and cost effective method for gathering existing three-dimensional data for the built environment. Using a 3D laser scanner, building interiors and exteriors can be documented in three-dimensions at the rate of more than one million points per second. A setup, which can encompasses an effective spherical range of around 150 meters, is executed in mere minutes resulting in a ‘point cloud’ containing hundreds of millions of points. Each overlapping setup can then be referenced to one another by target elements within the clouds themselves. Spaces that are separated (usually as a result of project scope, i.e., ‘we’re improving that room but not this one’, etc.) can be strung together using conventional surveying traverses and presented as a single cloud. This method of existing data collection is unmatched in field work time, detail and cost effectiveness.
The rapid collection of point data is really only half of the benefit of laser scanning, the downstream use of the data in different design platforms and scenarios is equally if not more advantageous to designers. With the exponentially increasing adaptation of point cloud utilization in AEC design platforms being offered by software providers such as Autodesk and Bentley and the scores of third party software developers, the realization of a new powerful modeling paradigm for the built environment is quickly manifesting.
For example, a recent project required the scanning of four large and highly complex mechanical rooms which were not adjacent to one another and dispersed throughout a three story, 150,000 square foot building. We not only captured a complete and highly accurate representation of all the spaces faster than any other available means, but we were also able to deliver them to the client as BIM models (in this case, solid Revit MEP family objects with data attached to them) that were spatially referenced to, and in the same native format as, the master files that were being employed by the rest of the design team.
This approach to rapid data capture and modeling can lend itself to Rapid Energy Modeling as well. Quickly and completely capturing the exterior (and interior, where applicable) of a building through laser scanning can lead to a quick and accurate model of not only the building in question, but also any neighboring structures or other spatial phenomena that would help make the energy analysis more complete.
Without doubt, innovation in AEC technology is quickly evolving and driving the methods used in analyzing and fabricating improvements for our existing infrastructure and facilities. As the demands of a deteriorating built environment intensify, we’re excited about the opportunities that those challenges present.