Brookfield-based consulting engineering firm R.A. Smith National Inc. is the first in Wisconsin to own a major new 3D laser scanning technology for the surveying division of its business, according to the company.
The Leica ScanStation P20 laser scanner, a sophisticated tool produced by Switzerland-based Leica Geosystems for surveying that digitally collects a wealth of data on a given location from a fixed position, was acquired by R.A. Smith in early April.
"It's like taking a picture with a camera and then being able to use that picture to measure exact distances," said Paul Taivalkoski, director of surveying for the firm. "We're still finding out everything we can do with it."
R. A. Smith provides several different services, including civil engineering, construction services, landscape architecture, water resource engineering and others. Surveying and 3D laser scanning has been a growing part of the business that is becoming more and more sophisticated as the company adapts to changing technology.
"Surveying is really being affected by technology," said Taivalkoski. "In the last 30-40 years, it's just exploded."
Laser scanning has been around for roughly the last ten years, said Jon Chapman, 3D project manager, and the newly acquired technology is the next step in the industry's evolution.
What sets the Leica ScanStation P20 laser scanner apart from other scanners being used is how it combines different aspects of two different types of scanners – phase-based scanners and time-of-flight scanners.
"Phase-based scanners collect data really, really quickly – up to 1 million points per second – but it has limited range at about 80 to 90 feet," said Chapman. "Time-of-flight scanners collect data much slower – up to 50,000 points-per-second – but the range is a lot farther, up to almost 900 feet.
"The P20 represents a marriage of those two technologies, in a way. It's technically a time-of-flight scanner, but they've figured out a way to speed it up tremendously so that you can achieve speeds of up to 1 million points-per-second while getting much more range than the average phase-based scanner. This scanner has a range of about 350-400 feet. You're not getting the 900 feet from a typical time-of-flight, but it's a lot more than 80 or 90 feet."
The new scanner will allow for the surveying process to become more efficient, to be done with greater precision and for more detailed data to be collected. Another aspect that scanning is having an impact on is safety, said Taivalkoski.
"With the scanner, we can get a lot more detail without having anyone set foot in a roadway," he said.
Another area where scanners are helping dramatically is in remodeling, where detailed, complex systems such as interior piping and wiring would take a significant amount of time and effort to survey using older technology. With scanning, engineers can use data extracted from these scans to work more efficiently with the many different parts of the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry and do so with greater precision.
"Scanning has had a ripple effect that's changed all types of different industries – architecture, general contracting, engineering – it really has made an impact across all of those industries," said Chapman.
Part of this is the use of new forms of computer-aided design (CAD) software, which is a central component of scanning technology.
"When we scan, all this data we're capturing is called a 'point cloud,'" said Chapman. "It is basically millions of individual points. Each point is created by the scanner itself sending out a pulse of laser light."
R.A. Smith is now making the extraction and analysis of this point cloud imaging data (see photos) more of a priority.
"Conventionally, you'll spend more time in the field and less time in the office to get a job out the door," said Chapman. "With scanning, most of the time, it's the exact opposite. It's less time in the field, and then more time back in the office extracting the data you need."
There is also untapped potential in the point cloud data, said Chapman, as new methods to understand the additional information are being explored.
R.A. Smith's survey division will be putting the new scanner to use in various projects in the coming months, and also training more employees
"What we're trying to do now is train more people within our survey division so we're able to handle a lot more work because we see the need for it," said Taivalkoski. n
Dan Shafer covers innovation and technology for BizTimes Milwaukee. Send news to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, call him at 414-336-7123 or follow him on Twitter @danshaferMKE.