There’s no good excuse for opting out of Scan to BIM


I’ve been taking a lot of meetings with architects over the past year to talk about scan to BIM services. If there’s a way to tell me “no,” trust me, I’ve heard it. I’ve also been in business long enough to know that not every reason is truthful. Some reasons are just excuses that they tell you because they don’t want to admit the real reason they’re saying no to you (or themselves).

I’m making the list of reasons public with the hopes of improving this situation for both the architects and the service providers. If you are doing the pitch, you need to have a ready answer for this first set. The second set is for the architects: If you feel this way, I encourage you to take a look at how you intend to progress as a company over the next decade, because these are not the beliefs that lead a firm to success.

  • It’s Too Expensive
    Alternatively, I get told that, “we don’t have that budgeted in this project so, let’s talk again when we’re putting together another proposal.”In some cases this is undoubtedly true. However, two questions come to mind when we try to place a value on scan to BIM services. How much is accurate worth to you? And how much does it cost to be wrong? While there may not be a line item for scan to BIM in a project, there will definitely be a budget for errors and design changes due to “unforeseen” circumstances. Would it not be better to use scanning services to see those errors ahead of time, and budget (both time & money) accordingly?
  • What We’re Doing Now Works Fine
    I assume that you want my opinion on this or you wouldn’t be reading my blog so here it is: If you think interns with tape measures (or a disto), a legal pad, and a CAD license is sufficient, you aren’t paying attention.First of all, I’m seeing a lot of firms keeping a lot fewer interns around, which means that sending internal staff is not as cheap as it once was. Secondly, I am beginning to suspect that people have the “it ain’t broke” mentality because the costs incurred due to bad initial drawings are simply not tracked in a way that shows up on a spreadsheet outlining a firm’s financial performance. In other words, those costs are not tracked in a way a partner is going to see them.Another angle on this one may be “plausible deniability.” I have a hard time believing that so many architects are completely oblivious to the errors in design drawings and typical non-field verified as-builts. I think that they don’t want to know, or at least don’t want a record of how they should have known.
  • It Takes Too Long
    This is a hard one for me. I need to bid projects in a way that maximizes my firm’s talent pool. Frankly, I don’t have the staff sitting around to complete a 10 story building in Revit in the next five days; few of us do. So, I’m going to stretch the deliverable date out a bit further so I can complete the project in-house. If I have to meet the deadline or lose the job, then I’m going to have to pull in a subcontractor for help, which means taking a hit to my profitability on that project.This is a chicken & egg problem. A lot of us have to keep our modeling staff relatively small becayse scan to BIM modelers don’t exactly grow on trees and this makes them rather expensive to keep on the payroll. Secondly, a single BIM can keep an architecture firm busy for months. This results in a “feast or famine” workload cycle that is exceedingly hard to even out. Essentially, keeping costs low means longer turnaround times, and nobody likes that.
  • It’s Overkill For My Project
    Once again, this is definitely the case for residential and some smaller commercial projects. However, there are quite a few options short of a full scan to BIM that are quite feasible on smaller projects. Using an imaging system for 2D floor plans can still be faster (and in some cases less expensive) than deploying interns and making multiple trips back to the site for missed measurements.

And now the unspoken reasons…

  • My Staff Wouldn’t Know What To Do With It
    Well, every one of us started at this point so it’s not unexpected. The question is, How long are you going to be OK with that fact? Most service providers are happy to work with clients (and their staff) to implement a system that works for all involved. Looking to build a team, while being afraid to ask for the help you need, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
  • It’s a Risk and Risk Taker’s Don’t Do Well at This Firm
    Aside from the philosophical argument, the world is moving in the direction of scan to BIM. If your firm is not, that’s going to be a problem for the firm and it’s going to be a problem for you if you ever want to leave. How will you jump to another firm without any experience or a skill set that others find essential?
  • I Think I Can Do It Myself In-House and Save A Lot of Money
    There are two issues that keep you from saving money by doing it yourself.
    1) Having a good Revit staff doesn’t make this idea a slam dunk. Creating a Revit model from point clouds is essentially Revit modeling backwards. Some techs take to it really well, a lot hate it.2) It is doubtful that you will have enough work to keep a staff busy doing this and nothing else. Many firms find that they can do it, but that the tech they have assigned to it is actually more valuable doing her original job than scanning. Additionally, you will not be as efficient as a service provider until you are performing the work as often as they do.



About Author

Sam Billingsley

"Confessions of a Hired Gun" is just that, the true tales spun by a guy who's been in the field, scanning for a living, as long as anyone in the industry. What works and what doesn't work? What does the client want and what should the client want? This is a place where you'll find advice and commiseration if you're in the scanning business, and a place where you can learn about best practices and what to expect from your scanning provider if you're an engineering firm or asset owner/operator.


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    Sam, this is a very on-sided article. The World is not, by any means, moving in the direction of scan to BIM. I speak on the authority of having been involved with is issue since its inception, running one of the first start-ups in the industry with a clear goal to improve the existing conditions collections methods. Having to look for alternative methods for field data collection in the last 15 years, I wish the 3D scanning was as good as you present it to be, but it is not. Point cloud data is incredibly bulky, is never complete due to specific site conditions and is essentially useless, except in very few extreme instances. For example, a complicated MEP runs of an existing processing plant is the one such extreme situation where it actually makes sense to do a comprehensive and a very expensive scan and then further continue to spend an enormous amount of time to convert point cloud data into a BIM format. In cases of geometrically complex interactions and ease of access for maintenance it is worth the effort and is plausible to do so. Almost every other case, such as it is, in order to develop a sensible BIM model one must inspect and document any man-made structure as a designer with the benefits that can never be archived with brute force measurements of point cloud data. Indeed, it is possible to use point cloud data to further assist verification, specifically in open areas, but these will only provide about 10% of information the BIM designer is really after. Almost any “Intern” as you say it, will be able to beat a point cloud scan by about 10 times with complete information needed for BIM development. The cost of point cloud and its marginal return does not suffice, the time and effort of collecting useless data and then sorting thru it, no matter how sophisticated the software may be. The problem here is you think that there is one, when in fact, an as-built process is and always will be an essential part of the design that needs to happen under its own rights. If I was to propose a solution that can actually help in this case, it is a comprehensive database for original blueprints and as-builts on any structure built anywhere in the World. Bottom line is, having to propose 3D scan of 99% of man-made structures out there is a waste of resources, with only marginal real life improvement in very select instances.

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      Sam Billingsley on

      Thanks for reading my post(s). Is this article one sided? Sure it is. Giving my unvarnished opinion is pretty much what got me this gig! However, rather than a point by point rebuttal, perhaps I should start with a few qualifiers. We’re throwing around a lot of terms interchangeably that mean different things to different people and perhaps more importantly, have widely divergent costs. A “scan” is used for everything from a $1M Mobile LiDAR rig to a $3500 Matterport Pro2. And BIM is often qualified by its Level of Detail (LOD) which not only pushes the cost but what assets are to be collected and as a result what hardware should be used. When I say “Scan to BIM” I mean creating an as-built Building Information Model (LOD 100-300) from data collected by 3D imaging devices. I never said point clouds were the answer to every problem nor did I mention LOD’s and the plethora of information required for the higher LODs that are never gathered by laser scanners. So, on some level I think we aremay expecting two different deliverables using different hardware. My intent was to keep it generic while discussing basic questions from those dipping their toes into BIM as opposed to every time a laser scanner is the wrong tool for the job. (which could be another article unto itself…) While your example of a good use case is accurate, I have found many additional good use cases that I think many architects are missing out on due to their fears of many of the things you mentioned. For instance, I think that the urban infill market is perfect for scan to BIM as most architects are looking for spatial data on the shell of the structure they will be redesigning. Normally this is LOD 200 and the things that scanners are good at seeing is what is needed.
      We may disagree on the future and which specific technologies will fill this role but I fail to see how or why we would move away from a semi-to-automated device for collecting the data used to create BIMs and go back to manual collection by a human. While human collection is the only way to go for some assets, I’ll take a point cloud for spatial accuracy of a structure any day. Lastly, you are correct about the size of point clouds and large image databases. Some clients are ready and able to handle such data and some just want to be handed a finished BIM at LOD 200-300 so they can get on with the design. there are plenty of service providers out there (yourself included, I assume) capable of making sure that the client never has to look at a point cloud should that be there wish!

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      From readers comment:
      “If I was to propose a solution that can actually help in this case, it is a comprehensive database for original blueprints and as-builts on any structure built anywhere in the World. Bottom line is, having to propose 3D scan of 99% of man-made structures out there is a waste of resources, with only marginal real life improvement in very select instances.”

      Scan-to-BIM is a logical evolution, but is not the only path to follow when documenting existing structures. Solid modeling from a point cloud model, is a long tedious process. While Scan-to-BIM is often a reasonable course to follow, it’s my feeling that the AEC industry should have a look at what the global medical imaging industry has accomplished with MR/CAT technology. Slicing a brain into uniform size 2D images is analogous to what a 3D scanner does with an existing building. Blueprints are essentially 2D documents, so why not make better use of 2D images extracted from scan data to prepare a plan set? DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) viewers are standardized and easy to use. Photographic (2D) images extracted from DICOM viewers are readily organized, annotated, and distributed electronically to any platform. Too much effort is made in model making, IMHO. Point clouds are valuable by themselves -It’s time to make better use of them.

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