Reality Capture Software: Is It Worth It JP Global Digital

July 25, 2023

The Importance of As-Built 3D Models and Reality Capture for AEC

In the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry, reality capture and as-built 3D models are game changers. It’s great to work from blueprints, renderings, and 3D models to create new structures. But what about when we are working with existing structures? Can we be certain that the completed project exactly matches the original plan? 

This is where as-built 3D models come in. Using a process called reality capture, it is now easier than ever to create accurate, and highly detailed, 3D models of structures. Once created, these models can be used to drive renovations, retrofits, re-engineering projects, and more. 

To help us better understand the benefits of 3D reality capture, let’s look more closely at the process of creating an as-built 3D model, and some potential applications.

Reality Capture and As-Built 3D Models for AEC
H2: What is 3D reality capture?

Reality capture involves using data capturing technology tools to scan a structure, and then utilizing that captured data to create a virtual version of the structure. As explains it:

Laser scanners collect surface data about an object or structure by beaming a laser repeatedly off its surface and plotting points (equivalent to each beam that is fired) into what’s known as a point cloud. Once this surface topology data is collected, it is formatted in the native file type of the laser scanner being used.
Essentially, 3D Reality Capture tools document a physical object’s size and shape in the computer world as a 3D digital representation. That 3D model is called an “As-built 3D model” because it has recreated the structure precisely as it was built (as opposed to how it was designed or conceived).
The Importance of As-Built 3D Models and Reality Capture for AEC
How is reality capture changing the design and construction industry? 

Prior to the invention of reality capture technology, a renovation or infrastructure project would require extensive labor hours simply to generate a reliable and accurate set of plans. That work may start with transferring original blueprints to CAD drawings and then move into site visits to hand-measure key components to verify that the project was built as spec’d. 

Once every detail was manually recorded, those data points would need to be hand-entered into the CAD software, just so a 2D plan of the construction project would be built. From those plans, if the budget allowed, a 3D modeler could render a 3D model that was only as accurate as the measurements gathered on-site. 

As you might expect, this process was very costly and time-consuming. And all of this would need to be done before any shop drawings could really begin.

But with reality capture, as-built 3D models can be created in a single site visit. They are accurate right out of the gate. And with the right software, the model can be available in minutes instead of weeks. 

As-built 3D models are changing AEC because they are:
  • Fast: Reality capture can deliver results immediately after the scan is complete and the data is processed.
  • Accurate: With LiDAR technology, the measurements from a reality capture scan can be accurate to the millimeter. This means that your as-built model will be more accurate than a human could create by hand.
  • Safe: because the laser is doing the measuring, hard-to-reach areas and hazardous locations can be captured quickly, minimizing risk exposure.
Just as revolutionary is the model itself. Because you will have a fully functional 3D model of the structure you are working with, it opens a world of use possibilities. 
  • Your new model can allow engineers to virtually stress-test structural changes, with pinpoint accuracy. 
  • Your model can allow for evaluation and validation of surface variations and conditions
  • An as-built 3D model can allow for easy, early failure detection on insulation, refractory, rotating equipment, and electrical components – however, only through very specific techniques can this be achieved.
  • A quality 3D model allows for virtual tours of the site from stakeholders of all types. Instead of hardhats to check progress, your stakeholders will only need a computer screen.

Unlike blueprints and even early 3D models, contemporary 3D models (as well as the point cloud data that helped create them) can be easily shared. Software like the JP Digital Interactive Viewer makes it easy to share your reality-captured 3D model with all members of your team in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. It’s almost like being able to pass around the entire structure. 

As we explain elsewhere on our blog, “With geographically dispersed teams, centralizing all this data is crucial. Whether it’s original CAD designs, as-designed BIM models, build changes, maintenance records, or operational KPIs, teams can no longer afford to have information strewn about on various hard drives and paper files. Instead, collaboration should be seamless – someone needs to bring point clouds, BIM models, designs, and pertinent information into one, centralized source.”

Within the interactive software, each member of your AEC team can utilize the data and model in the ways that they need. From your engineers examining structural integrity to electricians planning the route for conduit, everyone has a model that’s scalable from macro to micro levels. 

To learn more about how JP Global Digital can help you to create, manage, share, and utilize 3D Models and Reality Capture in the AEC industry, try a free demo today!