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Hot, Cold, Far, Dangerous

11/13/2020 | Vaughn J. Mantor

In previous articles, we touted the value in time and cost savings that 3D laser scanning brings to projects. This article is different. This article is all about safety. And all these examples are from our personal experiences.

For modern construction projects, safety is paramount. At many of the largest engineering firms in the United States, every meeting begins with contemporary, personal observations about safety from every participant.

Far from the Ground

The iconic cooling towers of nuclear power plants are often 400 feet high. Made of prefab sections of concrete, they must be periodically inspected for defects and degradations, inside and out. How is this done? By hanging engineers with ropes over the side, and slowly lowering them from top to bottom as they laboriously document every irregularity in the surface. The hyperbolic shape of the towers means the engineers are dangling in mid-air, not even close to the surfaces. Would you like this job?

While laser scanning can do this job more quickly, more thoroughly, and more expeditiously, more important is the difference in safety. Almost all of the tower can be scanned from the ground. Only the horizontal surfaces at the top rim of the tower are out of sight for the lasers. The drop in insurance costs alone could cover the cost of laser scanning.

Bridges – over land or water – must be periodically examined, topside and bottom side, for damage and degradation. The taller the bridge, the more dangerous it is for those who must closely examine the underside, the pillars, etc. The work is even more dangerous if the bridge is over a busy railroad track as in the point cloud image below. Dozens of trains passed under the bridge in the time it took to scan it.

Laser scanning completely changes the safety considerations as well as the time and cost of evaluation.

Hot Stuff

The internal temperature of a coal-fired boiler is well over 1000°F. The inferno is a kind of controlled bomb with coal powder exploding as it is pumped under pressure into the boiler. The pipes conducting super-heated steam can be pressurized at 3,000+ pounds per square inch. For maintenance and alterations, the measurements must be taken while the boiler is in operation. And it’s noisy; ear protection is required at all times. Would you like this job?

We’ve scanned more than a dozen power plants because owners and engineers realize the unprecedented safety that laser scanning gives to any modification project.

Dangerous Roads

Last year, Verify 3D saved time and money for the city of Billings, Montana and did it safely. We have all seen workers in orange vests putting up temporary traffic markers to direct the cars away from the lanes in which they are working. It’s a dangerous job to take accurate measurements in a busy, complicated intersection in preparation for roadwork. And a tedious job, as well, prone to error.

Verify 3D scanned the entire intersection, in daylight, and our equipment never left the sidewalks. No orange cones, no traffic restrictions, and all done in a day by a team of one. The red line in the image below traces the scanner’s path, which is over 5900 feet.

Electrically Charged

If you have been close to an electric distribution substation, you may have felt the static electric field it generates. That tall, chain link fence around the substation is intended to prevent the electrocution of persons and animals. It acts as a Faraday Cage protecting those outside. Those who are authorized inside always walk and talk with their hands in their pockets so their fingers don’t become lightning rods. And they use a lot of nonconductive tools. Using a laser scanner is far and away the safest means to measure everything in a substation. And sometimes we can scan from outside the chain link fence. The scanning can also be used to verify the identity of the equipment listed in inventory.


If you’ve read this far, you might be thinking, “Will they talk about mining?” Yes. We have scanned both surface and underground mines, and safety is a primary reason for scanning in many of them. One example: many surface mines are cut in a series of terraces. Each terrace, or “bench” in the language of mining, must be periodically measured because the overall slope of the mine must be neither too steep nor too shallow. Older methods of measurement methods were slow, and precarious for the surveyors, and prone to missing data. Laser scanning, using special long-range scanners, makes the process much faster and safer.

Underground mines are safety nightmares. But they must be measured from time to time for various reasons, and lengths are not the most valuable measurement, but volumes. Climbing around stopes (stepped excavations) to take tedious measurements is hazardous. Laser scanning takes far more accurate measurements with far less danger.

If it’s too hot, if it’s too cold, if it’s too far away, or if it’s too dangerous to get close to, we can measure it, accurately and safely.

If you’d like a personal explanation or demonstration of the ways laser scanning can help you, or you’d like to speak with one of our clients, see our contact information below.

Because our experience in this technology dates to 2002, Verify 3D knows the most appropriate equipment to use on each project and how to use it for the best benefit to our clients. For this project (the Billings intersection) we used a Leica laser scanner, a P-30, and Leica Cyclone software for registration. Per contract, Verify 3D delivered ReCap point clouds, TruViews, and an AutoCAD Civil 3D Surface model with feature lines.

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