The Best Practice of Laser Scanning

September 17, 2020
Front-end Planning
Detail Engineering & Design
Fabrication & Construction
Safety & Quality
published by
Jessica Adams, P.E.
Project Manager

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Laser scanning allows engineering teams to capture the 3D geometry of the existing infrastructure inside industry complexes. This can all be done while spending less overall time on site, making it less disruptive and allowing for limited contact when necessary. The accuracy of the laser scan allows engineering teams to increase efficiency of their design staff while providing clients with more coordinated and smoother running projects.  

Not only does the addition of laser scanning in engineering departments benefit individual projects, entire project teams can go further when they are able to successfully expand this integration across the entire EPC project life cycle. Contractors gain a competitive advantage when they can understand the importance of this technology and how it can benefit their clients in the long run.

Using this type of technology, internal teams can work together to make sure everyone is working off the same data, helping increase accuracy and eliminate possible clashes with existing infrastructure.  When these clashes are identified beforehand, teams can solve these design problems before the project reaches the construction phase, which will reduce construction cost, and mitigate budget and scheduling risks.

Laser scanning is a best practice because the cost is minimal for the value that is added to the project in the form of design efficiency and potential cost savings on rework in the construction phase. Implementing Laser Scanning in-house has allowed the H+M team to scan every job without having to wait for 3rd party availability and coordination. Setting up a scan is easy from the start; you need stable ground and a plan. You essentially decide on your benchmark, setup the scanner, and go. Depending on the type of information needed, you will determine how to set the scan settings.  The scan can be in grey scale or color, and even take photos.

I truly believe laser scanning can be a benefit to most design projects. Particularly when working around existing infrastructure and when needing to locate tie-ins. The three main benefits of implementing Laser Scanning as an Engineering best practice include:

  • Lower Project Risk
  • Capture Existing Plant Conditions
  • Increased Team Efficiency

Lower Project Risk

There are cost savings in construction with regards to fewer field fit welds due to the ability to import the scan into modeling software and pipe up to an existing tie-in. This also reduces the amount of potential rework since the scan brings an improved level of accuracy to the construction drawing. There is also a decrease in project costs from an engineering standpoint by less time spent in the field and less rework. The need for fewer physical site visits benefits the client by causing the least amount of disruption.

Capture Existing Plant Conditions

Once the site work is complete, the scan is uploaded and processed on the proper coordinates into a file that is capable of loading into modeling software. The teams and clients are then provided with an accurate representation of the facility, which can be utilized in a variety of different ways.  This allows tie-ins to be located and design to take place without interference from the existing infrastructure.

Once, we had a case where there were 2 horizontal vessels in a very tight space with multiple interconnecting pipes and a shared platform.  The client procured a new vessel to replace 1 of the 2 vessels but this vessel was slightly different due to changes in the process. The plan was to remove the platform, replace the vessel, re-pipe the vessel, and provide a new platform.  All of this was to be completed during a quick shutdown. We were able to scan the existing vessel before it was removed and scan the new vessel in the lay-down yard.  With this information, we were able to virtually fit the new vessel into the space that the existing vessel was located to determine what modifications needed to be made to the piping. Due to this, we identified the modifications needed and were able to have the pipe spooled and ready to be installed when the shutdown began which saved time. Additionally, we were able to offer a solution that avoided removing and replacing the entire platform.  This was done utilizing the information found in the scan.

Increased Team Efficiency

After the data is processed, it is provided to the design team giving them the existing conditions with the highest accuracy. Having this type of detailed information is crucial for an effective and efficient engineering team. When teams are provided with the best information possible, they can do their best work. The consistent scanning of projects ensures that the team is designing around the existing facility while minimizing cost. It is also important to scan construction only jobs to ensure that the design is going to fit up properly.

Times to Consider Laser Scanning

Other than the benefits listed above, it is essential to implement laser scanning into your process if you have historically experienced a high level of rework. Laser scanning can help get to the bottom of any underlying issues and help alleviate them by using the most accurate data possible.

If you have a project that is in a congested area or with a limited space/layout, laser scanning can provide the detail required to assist with designing the project within the parameters of the existing infrastructure.  

Another time to keep this option in mind is when you are trying to work through a critical fit and everything must fit up without rework to achieve a small construction window, such as preforming an install during a shutdown. Time can not be wasted, because there is rarely any time to spare. Laser scanning can expedite the process, help keep the project on track, and increase the confidence of the future install based on the data that was collected.

I believe laser scanning will eventually be an industry standard because it is faster and more accurate than a tape measure and plumb bob. As technology changes, the skill of tape measure and plumb bob is becoming a lost art. Despite all of its benefits, not every scan is going to be perfect and it is important to understand the limitations of the scan, most of which are dependent on the site. For example, elevated scans need platforms or other stable ground, JLG’s and other lifts tend to sway slightly with the wind.

Bringing this service in-house, if possible, and integrating it into an engineering project team is something that provides high value to the organization. It is important to provide laser scanning as a cost-effective solution for capital projects that contractors can manage and control while using it to provide the best solution for their clients.

About the Author
Jessica has 14+ years of industrial EPC experience in the Refining, Petrochemical and LNG industries. She has worked as a lead mechanical, mechanical supervisor and project engineer on multiple projects. Her experience includes both office and field assignments on multiple stages of a project from FEED estimates through construction. Previous experience includes work at CB&I/McDermott.

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