3D Printing

3D land surveying and GIS: 3D is not just for printing parts

In this month's Technology Toolbox, explore how 3D tech is revolutionizing plant infrastructure management.

By Sheila Kennedy

3D is not just for printing parts or modeling equipment. In the industrial space, three-dimensional perspectives in land surveying, spatial analysis, mapping, and GIS benefit many land and infrastructure management tasks. The latest 3D tools offer greater realism and accuracy, which improves efficiency as well as safety.

LiDAR and photogrammetry

Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) laser scanning and digital photogrammetry are two of the surveying techniques leveraged for 3D purposes. The Sanborn Map Company uses aerial LiDAR technology for its oil, gas, and utility clients to map utility corridors, conduct as-built surveys of the terrain and network assets, and simplify corridor maintenance by detecting vegetation and other right-of-way encroachments. Sanborn also offers terrestrial and mobile LiDAR services.

"With 3D visualization coupled with today's sophisticated modeling techniques, almost anything is possible," says Jason Caldwell, vice president at Sanborn. “For instance, while all of Sanborn's 3D products comprise accurate x,y,z coordinates, the visualization components can range from generic building exteriors to photo-real textures, as well as indoor modeling. Full modeling can include the integration of multiple sensor systems that Sanborn operates, including aerial imagery (oblique and ortho) or LiDAR for a striking, life-like rendering of any real-world environment.”

Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs. Smart3DCapture software from Acute3D automatically turns photographs from a simple camera into high-resolution photo-textured 3D models. Acute3D, recently acquired by Bentley Systems, provides the solution as an alternative to more costly 3D scanning.

“Acute3D for reality modeling takes unmanned aerial observations to the next level. This 3D photogrammetry software can turn digital photographs taken from any camera into 3D mesh models, rendering a compact, intelligent as-built representation of a plant, asset, or even an entire city,” says Sandra DiMatteo, director of application advantage, asset management, and operations at Bentley Systems. “It is a simple and cost-effective alternative to LiDAR point-cloud scanning when considering redesign options within the context of existing conditions.”

Software platforms

Software compiles and formats survey data for 3D visualization and analysis. ArcGIS from Esri provides a scalable platform on which to apply geography in any business system, workflow, and model. 3D is an integral part of the ArcGIS system. “Using an intelligent visual interface – a 3D map – you can quickly access, analyze, and understand all types of information,” says Simon Thompson, director of commercial industry at Esri.

“Esri's location platform visualization and analysis tools are used globally to map out plants for emergency and facility management,” adds Wolfgang Hall, global industry manager for logistics and supply chain at Esri. “Locating and tracking inventory, assets, and resources using 3D mapping provides an intuitive foundation for operational efficiency.”

GeoMedia 3D, part of the GeoMedia GIS suite from Hexagon Geospatial, provides the ability to fuse all available data sources (imagery, feature data, photography) into a 3D context that includes point clouds. Compared to 2D, the integrated 3D visualization and analysis environment enables faster consumption and comprehension of the results.

“We are seeing increasing interest from people working with geospatial technology to leverage 3D data. This type of data is readily available today with the proliferation of LiDAR scanners – both terrestrial and airborne,” says David Glenn, GeoMedia product line director at Hexagon Geospatial. “People are seizing the opportunity to derive immediate value from high quality point cloud data, not only for the traditional world of 3D visualization, but also for asset management, urban planning, and event management.”


3D services

Professional services firms are embracing 3D technologies and techniques. Meridian Surveying Engineering, for example, is a licensed land surveyor serving California that provides spatial imaging using high-definition 3D laser scanning surveys. Applications include as-built surveys of complex facilities such as processing plants; deformation monitoring of land or structures; surveying of hard-to-reach or hazardous areas; construction planning and progress tracking; and building information modeling (BIM). Boundary and other data can be linked to the 3D scan, including hydrographic data.

WSP USA, a branch of the international engineering professional services and consulting firm WSP Global, uses the latest 3D laser scanning technologies as well as LiDAR, digital orthophotography, photogrammetry, GPS, robotics, and digital data collectors in its surveying, mapping, and GIS services. Safety and productivity are key benefits. For instance, 3D laser scanning of electric utilities from a distance eliminates the need to enter electrified areas or to shut down power to the area.