The Value of Laser Scanning to Your Food Facility Project
Data captured through laser scanning of your existing food processing facility can help with buildout of a new or customized operation.
For packaged food manufacturers, the sector’s ever-changing market conditions frequently bring about the need to adapt or customize facilities. After a deal closes and the dust settles, manufacturers are often faced with the logistics of moving product lines in or out of their facilities and/or adapting those facilities to meet changing needs. While every project has unique characteristics, 3D laser scanning is a tool that can benefit all stakeholders by enhancing the project’s speed, reducing costs, improving safety, and helping the project run smoother.
What Is Laser Scanning?
Laser scanning, a reality capture method, is extremely useful when the manufacturer has no drawings of the facility or project site, or their drawings are outdated. It’s the most quick, accurate, and efficient way to record the existing conditions of a facility or site.
Rather than manually recording measurements, the engineering team or partnering vendor utilizes laser scanning equipment to obtain 360-degree 3D images of the existing facility. During this process, the scanner gathers data and measurements to create a point cloud, which can then be overlaid into a Building Information Modeling (BIM) or 2D CAD file. The end product is an incredibly realistic and detailed 3D model of the existing facility that serves as a highly accurate as-built drawing.
Using Laser Scanning in a Project’s Early Stages
Using laser scanning at a project’s inception makes full use of its benefits. It’s not unusual for a client to have facility drawings that pre-date plant and maintenance projects that have taken place over the years. These drawings may not reflect the current placement of equipment, ducts, conduits, hoses, or other physical attributes of the space. When this happens — and an engineering team has missing, outdated, or inaccurate facility plans and drawings to work with — the team begins the project at a disadvantage. Clashes are likely to occur during the design process, which, in turn, cause re-work in the design phase or costly field change orders during the construction phase.
Using Laser Scanning During the Design Phase
With a laser scan available, design reviews and coordination meetings will proceed more smoothly. All team members can take a virtual tour through the facility without leaving the conference room. Stakeholders are able to make decisions more quickly and efficiently, as they all have current, accurate information at hand. For example, deciding where to place a piece of equipment is as easy as moving its precisely scaled image around within the model.
The engineering team is also able to more easily produce accurate demo packages. Images from the laser scan can be added into the demo scope of work or placed on drawings to show the contractor exactly which pipe, conduit, or duct needs to be relocated or removed. If done correctly, the contractor should have very few questions as to the scope of the demo package.
Benefits of Laser Scanning
With an accurate 3D model available, the project team has better visibility to avoid collisions with the proposed design. Construction managers have accurate information about the facility to work with from the start. The need for field change orders and costly rework is greatly reduced, as is the amount of time needed to complete the project. This minimizes the need for stoppages and downtime. There will be fewer requests for information (RFIs) on basic items when creating drawings for construction because of the full breadth of information available.
Many of today’s projects are run in multiple construction phases. Project teams utilize any and all downtime windows available for construction. During these downtimes — whether maintenance days, weekend shutdowns, or holiday shutdowns — the project team usually has a list of items to complete in a short window of time. When the contractor and construction manager begin the construction phase with a coordinated point cloud from laser scanning incorporated in the 3D design, they can be confident that the work will proceed smoothly and that clashes or surprises during the construction window are unlikely to occur.
On-site safety also improves with the use of laser scanning. Rather than having a large group of engineers and designers on site to gather information and measurements, a single laser scanning technician can acquire vast amounts of data from the ground in a safe, and much more efficient manner. When needed, the technician can take additional scan positions from platforms, catwalks, or elevated areas. When safety managers have the data, they need in the form of a 3D point cloud, they can more easily read plans, anticipate potential safety issues, and prevent accidents.
Laser scanning can minimize travel costs and related expenses. Instead of using outdated as-builts, or manual updates obtained through field visits, a global team can use laser scanning to capture all needed information during a single trip to a facility. The data can be stored for reuse and made available when the time comes to reassess that site. This minimizes the need to repeatedly visit the site to determine equipment layout, utility connections, or other encumbrances.
Finally, the use of laser scanning enables a client to have accurate, up-to-date “as recorded” drawings on-hand after a project is completed. These drawings can come into play downstream during planning, constructability, asset management, or energy modeling. A topographical model of a site can also enhance the process of planning earthwork, construction stockpile, and staging.
Doing It Right the First Time
Having a poor quality or incomplete laser scan can defeat the purpose of using this advanced technology. It can be worse than having no scan at all. Take care to ensure the scan is performed correctly and completely during the first go-round.
To make the best use of your time and the technology, make sure you have a good scope of the area to be scanned. Ensure that the personnel performing the laser scan understand the level of detail needed for each area. If the area is fairly wide open with good sight lines, then a minimum number of scans of that area should be required. On the other hand, make sure to get additional scans of an area that is dense with existing equipment, pipe racks, steel, etc., or has a lot of project activity taking place (whether in the demo phase or new construction phase). If there is a great deal of existing equipment or pipes in a particular area, take care to have enough scans performed for a complete model from all sides and angles. Doing it right the first time will save you from mobilizing a scan team a second time. Having the definition you require from the first set of scans benefits the project, the budget, and everyone involved.
Michael Vetter, Senior Project Manager and Senior Associate, SSOE Group
Michael Vetter, PE, PMP, is a senior project manager and senior associate at SSOE Group, a global project delivery firm for architecture, engineering, and construction management. He has over 22 years of experience providing engineering and project management services to recognized companies in the food, chemical, biodiesel, and manufacturing sectors. However, the majority of his experience has been earned delivering capital projects for food sector clients.