Updated: Apr 9, 2019
I told my team scanning was easy. After a week in the field, I realized I was wrong. Last week I had hands-on experience performing reality capture on a variety of projects, from small single-family homes to acres of commercial real estate. Over the week, I had to learn three different tools to capture the data we needed, multiple software programs, and the ins and outs of scanning. Here's what I learned that you should know before starting your first project:
1. It's not just the press of a button
My teammates made reality capture look easy. That's because I saw them press a button and I assumed that was it. I didn't know they were strategic and had techniques depending on the tool they were using. It didn't matter what device I was using. Eventually, I ran into issues with each type of scanner I tried, especially on residential projects that had quirky doors and a maze of rooms. So, plan your path out ahead of time and know some areas are going to take multiple tries. Some locations require patience and strategy, much like a puzzle. Unless you're a seasoned pro, expect an extra few hours to complete the job.
2. Know your equipment, understand its capabilities.
One scanner doesn't fit every job, so it's important to understand what your end goal is before picking the tool (or you can leave that up to us). I knew this, so it wasn't new to me. But once I was in the field scanning, I better understood the importance of this. Some scanners work really well inside but have significant issues outside. The same is true with long hallways or repetitive areas of a building. You can waste plenty of time using the wrong equipment, as much as an entire day. Every tool works differently, so it's important to get comfortable with that gear well ahead of time. Otherwise, you cost yourself time.
Each tool has different outputs, which will determine your post-processing workflow. Choosing a scanner with limited output types can hinder you or throw off a project altogether. Have a clear idea of what the end goal is so you can plan the entire project accordingly.
3. It's labor intensive
If you're used to an office job and spend eight hours a day in front of a computer and decide to break away from the office to scan a project, you're going to find out it's more moving and lifting than your day job. In my case, it was a nice break from reality. But it didn't matter what method of reality capture I used. It was more physical than my regular day job. With some scanner types, handheld in particular, you must always be moving. With others, you'll find yourself picking up and moving the scanner every few minutes and moving back and forth all day long. If you thought you were going to have time to check your email and play Words with Friends, you are wrong. Some tools and software products even make you register each scan, so good luck on multitasking!
4. If you're scanning in public, you're going to get stopped or slowed down
"Is this for Google Earth?" and "Are you working for Ghostbusters?" are two questions I heard countless times last week. I even had a woman stop walking her dogs and stare at me for several minutes as if I were performing witchcraft in a client’s front yard. I always try to plan scans when the building isn't in use. But when you're scanning the exterior, you still might have some issues with the general public. The worst part is some scanners can't handle movement, so you'll have to rescan. The embarrassment (or awesomeness!) of looking like Ghostbusters is something you're just going to have to deal with. But hey, the conversations are fun!
5. Scan-to-BIM is more than two steps
I think there's an illusion scanning-to-BIM is a simple process. While it's not brain surgery, it's going to take practice and patience before you're good at it. Any scanner is going to have a workflow that doesn't go directly into Revit, so there's going to be multiple steps. In some cases, numerous software programs or apps are needed before it's even dropped into Revit. You'll have to understand all of them to be successful. If you're using multiple types of scanners to complete a job, you're more than likely going to have to understand a variety of software programs. Our team has experience and training with a variety of these tools and the corresponding software programs, saving you a headache and time on your projects.
6. Scanning is so much better than hand-measuring
A coworker and I measured a small interior commercial space with a hand laser and measuring tape to test this out ourselves. It took us hours to measure the basic area with traditional methods, even though it wasn't complicated. It was painful to hand measure and model. We had to assume angles, which resulted in a less than accurate as-built. We used three different devices and captured the building three more times. Each reality capture method was just a fraction of the time and each output is accurate enough to model, making scanning a no-brainer decision for even the smallest of projects. Why spend hours hand-measuring when you can have more accurate results in minutes?