3D Laser Scanning in Construction Complete Guide

What Is 3D Laser Scanning?

3D Laser scanning also known as high-definition surveying (HDS) or reality capture, is a non-destructive technology that is used to capture the spatial geometry of the structure in the form of a point cloud in order to develop accurate multi-dimensional digital representations of the built asset. 

It captures the finest geographical details with the precision of the targeted points of the structure regardless of its surface features or dimensions. 3D laser scanning also facilitates the construction industry with accurate topographical data of the land/contour as it is used as a method for surveying. 

The 3D laser scanning technology works on LiDAR technology (Light Detection and Ranging) ; hence it is also referred to as LiDAR scanning. The high-definition LiDAR scanner, targeted to a point, throws out laser rays in order to capture the structure’s geometry. The rays emitted from the 3D scanner reflects back to the scanner after a collision with the surface. 

Also Read: Differences between LiDAR and Laser

The distance travelled by the laser rays is known as the time of flight. The reflected rays come back to the scanner, loaded with accurate information of the physical geometry. The BIM engineers use the point cloud data for the development of a detailed three-dimensional model of the facility. 

How Is Laser Scanning Performed On-site? 

Let’s check out the detailed step-wise procedure of 3D laser scanning given below but before that let us understand the fundamentals first –  

Laser scanning involves a vertically rotating mirror emitting short bursts of laser beams, which are then reflected back to the scanner. The laser scanner measures key attributes of the surface, such as azimuth, altitude, and distance.  

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This data is combined to create a 3D point cloud, a detailed representation of the scene. To add texture or color, matching photos can be taken using either a built-in camera or an external camera. The scans can also be geo-referenced to local coordinate systems, ensuring precise location in space. 

Step 1: Plan the scan

3D Laser Scanning Process for Buildings

The first step is to plan the scan. This includes determining the scope of the scan, the type of laser scanner to use, and the data processing and visualization software to use. 

The scope of the scan will determine the amount of data that needs to be collected. For example, if you are scanning a small room, you will need less data than if you are scanning an entire building. 

The type of laser scanner to use will depend on the scope of the scan and the desired accuracy. There are a variety of laser scanners available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. 

A variety of point cloud data processing and visualization software, like Autodesk ReCap, can be used. 

Step 2: Set Up the Scanner

The next step is to set up the scanner. This includes placing the scanner in a stable location and calibrating the scanner. 

The scanner should be placed in a stable location so that the data collected is accurate. The scanner should also be calibrated so that the measurements are accurate. 

If it is a terrestrial scanner, it should be deployed in several areas to obtain precise point cloud data. However, if it is a mobile scanner, the point cloud will be collected as it moves around the building. 

Step 3: Scan the building

How To 3D Laser Scan Building

The next step is to collect the data. This is done by moving the laser scanner around the object or space to be scanned. The laser scanner emits a beam of laser light and measures the time it takes for the light to return. The scanner then creates a point cloud, which is a collection of millions of points that represent the shape and size of the object or space. 

If you need to capture an entire scene where some views may be obstructed or if a site is so big that the scanner can’t reach all of it with one stand, the scanner can be moved to different vantage points for more scans. The best vantage points will be based on on-site logistics and scanning capabilities. Multiple scans can then be automatically aligned with each other to create a complete 3D model of the scene. 

After the scan, point cloud data is being generated. However, for greater architecture and construction purposes, point cloud data would not be that comprehensible to all the stakeholders. Therefore, it requires a whole set of point cloud to BIM conversion processes for the utilization of the data captured. 

Point cloud to BIM model

Point cloud to BIM model

Subsequently, the point cloud conversion process involves several steps to improve the quality of raw point cloud data. These steps include data pre-processing, point cloud registration, decimation, surface reconstruction, and format conversion.  

  • Data pre-processing involves cleaning and filtering to remove noise, outliers, and inaccuracies.  
  • Point cloud registration ensures that points from different scans are accurately transformed into a common coordinate system.  
  • Decimation reduces the size of large datasets while preserving essential features.  
  • Surface reconstruction converts the point cloud into a solid surface representation, such as a mesh or 3D model. 
  • Format conversion may be necessary for BIM software compatibility.  

BIM modeling from point cloud data involves importing the processed data into BIM software, georeferencing it to real-world coordinates, creating a base model, and then refining the model to add more detail and accuracy. 

LiDAR 3D scanning technology offers numerous benefits for the construction industry, including accurate spatial data capture, enhanced planning and design, safe point cloud scanning, and efficient maintenance and facility management operations. It also aids in the renovation and retrofitting of structures, provides faster scan results, and helps construction owners save costs.

However, one has to keep in mind that it is more expensive than traditional survey instruments, requires proper training, and cannot capture hidden geometries. The recent trend shows the construction engineering industry is increasingly adopting digital technologies like digital twinning and 3D laser scanning for cost-efficiency, accuracy, and precision.

The point cloud scanning technology has proven beneficial in the architecture, engineering, and construction sectors, enhancing quality-assured outcomes. 

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Benefits of 3d laser scanning

The LiDAR 3D scanning technology has several benefits over the traditional methods, that the construction industry can leverage. Let’s explore the benefits of 3D laser scanning for construction.

  • The 3D scanners capture accurate spatial data of the scanned structure with utmost precision.
  • It facilitates the architects and engineers with enhanced planning and design of the construction project.
  • The point cloud scanning process allows the professionals to perform scans and capture geometries from a safe spot, eliminating the need to access the risky areas for taking measurements.
  • The point cloud data provides the as-is information of the construction project for hassle-free maintenance and facility management operations of the project.
  • 3D laser scanning and as-builts drawings in construction helps civil engineers and architects with required data for renovation and retrofitting of the structures.
  • The reality capture technology can perform the scans usually faster than the traditional methods, with utmost accuracy, providing the scan results at a faster rate.
  • It assists construction owners to save the overall cost of the construction project.
  • The detailed 3D model of the structure developed using the point cloud scanning facilitates a well-optimized workflow for construction activities.
  • Disadvantages of LiDAR Technology

Let’s check out the disadvantages of 3D LiDAR scanning technology for the construction, below: –

  • It is way more expensive than the traditional survey instruments, resulting in an increased budget.
  • Reality capture requires proper training to operate and scan the objects.
  • The scanners cannot capture the data of hidden geometries as the laser cannot go through the surface for acquiring spatial data.

Applications of Laser Scanning

Laser scanning is widely used in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. It has several applications that highly benefit the building industry. Architectural engineers and construction professionals are incorporating Building Information Modeling and drone technologies to capture the real-world environment.

Let us explore the applications of laser scanning technology.

  • 3D Modeling and construction designing
  • Reverse Engineering
  • Planning and construction management
  • Accurate surveying of various types of topography
  • Maintenance and facility management of the buildings
  • Retrofitting and renovation of the heritage sites

Types of 3D Scanning Techniques & Laser Scanners

AEC industry demands precision and detail. That’s where 3D laser scanning comes in, capturing environments with accuracy. Let’s look at the different scanning techniques and types of scanners. 

Types of Scanning Techniques: 

Technique  Pros  Cons  Best Use Cases 
Terrestrial   High accuracy   Slower data acquisition   Large-scale, outdoor projects 
Mobile   Faster than terrestrial, covers large areas   Moderate accuracy   Roadway mapping, pipeline inspections 
Drone   Covers vast areas quickly   Limited accuracy at high altitudes   Large-scale topography mapping 
Indoor   Designed for indoor environments   Limited range and coverage   Building interiors, facility management 

Types of Laser Scanners

The following table provides an overview of the different types of laser scanners, their principles of operation, precision levels, common applications, and notable products in each category. 

Type of Laser Scanner  Principle  Operation  Precision  Applications  Notable Products 
Time of Flight Laser Scanners  Measure distance based on time taken for laser signal to return  Distance = (Speed of Light x Time-of-flight)/2  Moderate to High  Scanning large areas like mines, tunnels, and caves  Leica RTC360, Optech Polaris Laser Scanner, Riegl VZ-2000i, Trimble X7 3D Scanner, Topcon GLS-1500 
Phase Based Laser Scanners  Calculate distance based on phase shift between incoming and departing signals  Time-of-Flight (TOF) = Phase Shift / (2π x Modulation Frequency)  High  Various projects including heritage preservation, archaeology, and civil engineering  ARTEC Ray, FARO Focus M 70, Leica RTC360, Leica BLK360, Zoller + Fröhlich Imager 5016 
Laser Triangulation Scanners  Use trigonometric calculations to determine distance  Typically involves a laser scanner, camera, and rotating platform  Very High  Capturing micron-level detail  Matter Form, MakerBot Digitizer, Faro’s Focus3D, BQ Ciclop 

Best Laser Scanners used in AEC Industry

Here’s a comparison of the best laser scanners used in the AEC industry. The table provides an overview of the key features and specifications of each laser scanner. 

 Laser Scanner   Features   Ideal For   Range   Accuracy   Scan   Speed 
Leica RTC360 

– Scans at up to 2 million points per second

– Built-in camera captures color information for realistic 3D models

– Automatic scan registration in the field for time saving 


 Comprehensive 3D   model creation   Upto 130   meter    – 2 mm at 50  meters   – 2 million   points per   second 
Leica ScanStation P40  – High accuracy scanner with a range of up to 1,200 meters  Large-scale projects like building surveys  Up to 1,200m  0.005 mm  Up to 1M points/s 
Trimble X7  – Handheld scanner suitable for  smaller projects   Interior surveys and   product design   Up to 100m  0.02 mm   Up to 200K   points/s 
Faro Focus 3D X130  – Versatile scanner for architectural documentation, facility management, and reverse engineering  Various applications  Up to 200m  0.003 mm  Up to 1M points/s 
Zeiss T-Scan Hawk 2  – High-end scanner with exceptional accuracy  Precision manufacturing and quality control  Up to 200m  0.002 mm  Up to 1M points/s 

 Future of 3D Laser Scanning for Building Design and Construction

3D laser scanning is evolving with innovative technologies and new applications. It is poised to change building design and its interaction with built environment. 

  • New Technologies and Applications: High-definition scanning, real-time processing and multi-sensor integration are pushing the boundaries. They capture microscopic cracks in real-time, combining laser scanning with thermal imaging for a practical understanding of structures. AI integration further elevates this technology, enabling automated analysis, optimized designs, and even autonomous data collection through AI-powered drones. 
  • Impact on Society: The ramifications of 3D laser scanning extend far beyond individual projects. From smart cities boasting optimized infrastructure and improved public safety to the preservation of cultural heritage for future generations, this technology promises to reshape diverse aspects of society.  
  • Digital Twin: These are the virtual replicas of physical assets with real-time data integration. These buildings can monitor themselves, predict issues, and optimize performance. This promotes remote monitoring, practical maintenance, and data-driven decision-making, leading to increased efficiency and cost savings. 
  • BIM and GIS Integration: BIM streamlines building design, construction, and facility management with data-rich 3D models. On the other hand, GIS overlays spatial data for site planning and environmental assessments. Integrating these tools creates an inclusive toolkit for AEC projects, optimizing project workflows and collaboration. 
  • Infrastructure Planning with AI and 3D Laser Scanning: Think about analyzing 3D scan data of bridges and pipelines, detecting potential problems before they become critical failures. This is a reality, with AI and 3D laser scanning joining hands to modernize infrastructure planning and maintenance. By optimizing design, predicting issues, and enabling practical interventions, the technology ensures enhanced infrastructural lifespan and safety. 
  • AI and LiDAR for Robotic Infrastructure Inspection: Robot prepared with LiDAR and AI is transforming infrastructure inspection. These mechanical marvels navigate dangerous environments, collect high-resolution data without human risk, and use AI to identify cracks, deformation, and other issues. This reduces inspection costs and improves safety, and leads the way for predictive maintenance strategies, ensuring the durability and resilience of our infrastructure. 
  • USIBD to Compare Mobile Mapping Systems: Standardization has a significant role to play in ensuring reliable data and promoting innovation in the mobile mapping industry. The United States Institute for Building Documentation plays a vital role by comparing and evaluating mobile mapping systems through standardized testing procedures. This helps organizations choose the best system for their requirements, eventually benefiting users and driving the future of 3D scanning applications. 

As technology continues to evolve and new applications emerge, its impact on various sectors promises to be profound, shaping a sustainable, efficient, and interconnected future for us all. 


The construction engineering business has been shifting towards digitization in order to harness the benefits of digital technologies such as digital twinning and 3D laser scanning.

The point cloud scanning technology has been a true saviour for the architecture, engineering and construction business. Though digital scanning technology has some demerits, the benefits of the technology outweigh the negatives.

Along with several benefits such as cost-efficacy, time-efficacy, accuracy and precision, 3D scanning has a suite of applications for the construction and architecture business. The AEC industry has started adopting digital technologies and leveraging their benefits for the betterment and quality-assured outcomes

Further Reading

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