3 Misconceptions of 3d Scanning in Architecture

  • August 20, 2021

Architects are increasingly adopting 3d scanning technology to create as-builts and existing conditions models, and we certainly saw an uptick of its use in 2020 that has carried forward to the present. Still, despite the benefits 3d scanning has demonstrated, particularly as the need to conduct business virtually has increased, there remains some hesitation within the architecture industry at large to adopt the technology.

And it isn’t any wonder why. There are a number of deep-seated misconceptions about 3d scanning and the scan-to-BIM (building information model) process that continue to contribute to architects using traditional methods for data gathering of existing site conditions.

In part two of this three-part series on scan-to-BIM in architecture, we’re addressing some of those misconceptions. In the previous post, we covered the benefits of 3d existing conditions models for architects, and in the final, we’ll provide tips for aligning with the right VDC (virtual design and construction) and BIM partner.

Myth 1: Scan-to-BIM is expensive

There’s a common misconception that 3d scanning or scan-to-BIM is too expensive. It’s considered a “nice-to-have” and there’s simply no room in the budget for it. And while there may not be a line item dedicated for scan-to-BIM, it’s likely there is a budget to account for design changes or inevitable errors and rework that happen during the construction process. This is where 3d scanning actually saves budget expenses in the long run, as it gives all stakeholders involved visibility into potential errors, omissions, and clash detection before the design and construction process begins. This can help inform design decisions and enable the team to create solutions to potential problems before they become an issue. It also allows the team to design to a high degree of accuracy, which also mitigates rework down the line.

Additionally, 3d scanning often ends up costing less than manual methods and as it cuts down on labor expenses, multiple site visits and time spent on site. With 3d scanning, site data can be captured in a fraction of the time it takes to use a tape measure, laser DISTO or mobile 3d scanning app.

Myth 2: It’s too time-intensive and involved

At one time, this may have been true. But technology and software have advanced to the point where scan-to-BIM can actually be completed in a matter of hours where it may take days with traditional methods. With connected devices and cloud computing, scanning technicians can actually process scans from the field. When needed, this allows those drafting the model to begin work as the scan team is out in the field collecting the data. It also eliminates the need for multiple site visits, which adds valuable time to the project.

Also consider, without scan-to-BIM, when a set of plans need to be revised, it tends to create a lot of back-and-forth, and those changes are often not visible to all collaborators on the project. This creates the risk of one of the parties operating from an old version of the plans. With BIM, because models exist in the cloud, project collaborators can be privy to those changes in real time and it ensures everyone is operating from the most current and accurate information. This saves time and money.

Along the same vein of the misconception that it costs too much is that it’s overkill for most projects. This can be true on smaller residential and commercial projects, but now that the technology has become so lightweight, agile and cost effective, it can be used for relatively anything. This is especially true when the building is occupied, has a complex infrastructure that involves a lot of smart technology, or when there are very specific requirements.

For instance, we completed a scan of a 747 aircraft so a custom shipping container could be created for it. The same data could then also be used by the design team who was turning the aircraft into a restaurant. In another smaller project, our team scanned the iconic Friends fountain so an exact replica could be created at a theme park in Abu Dhabi.

The applications are endless, and there really is no project too small for scan-to-BIM. It’s more of a matter of the project requirements.

Myth 3: It’s too risky

Finally, there’s some trepidation in the architect community that owning the scan-to-BIM model somehow makes them liable for its accuracy. If the scanning is outsourced to a VDC/BIM partner, they would be accountable for accuracy. Considering the alternative –– collecting site data using one of the other traditional methods –– a 3d scan can actually lift liability as it reduces the risk of inaccuracies. Additionally, with data-rich scan-to-BIM models, you can also reduce the number of RFIs and have the data as recourse should future claims ensue.

Many firms also believe it’s too risky to invest in the technology and training necessary to bring BIM capabilities in-house. This can be true in some cases, however, now there are viable partners that can be outsourced to, alleviating firms from having to invest in the technology and the talent. It is a skill that many will need in the very near future though, and investing the resourcing in upskilling the staff has the potential to produce dividends over the long term.

The reality is, it’s too risky not to adopt this technology. BIM is increasingly becoming a requirement in project bids, and more owners are requesting it as it gives them visibility into their assets that they never had before. Adopting BIM will also help future proof your firm and give you a competitive advantage that is still considered relatively rare.

In the next post, we’ll outline ways to vet and align with the right VDC/BIM partner.