In the field of digital construction, one of the greatest challenges has been the management and accessibility of the huge amounts of data produced from laser scans and photogrammetry when building up a virtual model.
Converting this data into a form that can be used by designers requires sophisticated and specialized digital construction software, such as that developed by PointFuse.
Point cloud is the key
The amount of data produced when undertaking a full laser scan of a site is enormous—too big for most desktops and hard drives—so it is very difficult, if not impossible to share this information and to work with it collaboratively. The data collected can be represented as points in geometry with X, Y and Z coordinates, and these can be collated on a ‘cloud’ as a data-set. Digital construction software is then used to allow members of the design team to access and analyze the data, create virtual models and to collaborate on design options.
How is the data collected?
Using unmanned aerial vehicles or global navigation satellite systems in conjunction with hand-held or terrestrial scanners, detailed images of the area are produced showing the general topography, heights of trees, buildings and other structures. This produces hundreds of millions of 3D points, which are stored on the cloud with elevational images for future use in modeling, analyzing, optimizing and optioneering.
Point cloud data in use
Points are a great way to define an object in terms of its shape and position in space (X, Y Z coordinates) and to add a fourth dimension, its color and texture. Point cloud surveys are easy to edit, display and filter, and they are a quick, extremely accurate, and often non-intrusive way to measure rooms and spaces. The points stored on the cloud are simply chunks of data and together as a data-set, they represent the object.
The size of the data-set does create a barrier for workflows of digital construction and space management, which is why PointFuse developed a system to interpret the data collected in the point cloud and to convert it into IFC compliant meshes that make the point clouds easier to work with and for the various design disciplines to collaborate.
This is then used to produce models for:
- early clash detection
- effective workflow coordination
- virtual and augmented reality walkthroughs
- planning and mapping 2D and 3D spaces
- creating as-built data for digital twins
- viewing accurate site conditions for coordination and verification
- interactive VR content using game engines
The benefits for the user are:
- relatively small files to work with – up to 90% reduction in size
- fast model creation
- ease of use—low skill factor
- enables quick optioneering for comparative costing
- easy collaboration with other team members – no third party plugin required to work with end 3D modeling software – accepts all formats in and outputs easily.
The meshes created from the point cloud software are used to create a 3D model of the building, which can, in turn, be used to produce 2D floor plans, elevations and sections for use as production information.
With virtual reality, walk-throughs can be created inside the new building, providing a unique look at all aspects from various angles. Through augmented reality, building services and structural elements can be superimposed onto real-life views of the building.
Computer Aided Facility Management (CAFM)
CAFM is an area that has greatly benefitted from point cloud data. Space management software is used in the redesign of internal spaces and room layouts and to provide digital information on attributes of doors, windows, furniture, and spacial aspects such as dimensions and area. This software has greatly increased the speed and accuracy of the design process and in terms of reordering parts and replacements.
Space management software can also be used to support Building Information Modeling (BIM) by providing reports for use in costing exercises, producing seating plans for events and planning office moves. This combined with the services operation and maintenance manuals, provides the basis for all planned maintenance and management of the facility. PointFuse software is also used for this purpose, replacing paper drawings and manuals as a means to plan and communicate.
Point cloud data is an excellent way of storing the vast amounts of data that goes into creating a model of the building or site, but to benefit from that, the designer and other stakeholders need the right digital construction software.
This software enables fast creation of accurate mesh models that can be used for a wide range of purposes such as outputting 2D and 3D floor plans for space management, building interactive virtual and augmented reality walk-throughs, and as-built information for future maintenance, alterations and eventual demolition.
Mark Senior is a managing director of PointFuse specializes in the point cloud to bim software offering AEC software, as build bim and virtual design software. He has been involved with PointFuse since its conception, shaping its development from bleeding-edge technology to the successful commercial solution it is today.