Canadian Consulting Engineer

3D laser imaging recreates power plant down to nuts and bolts

March 10, 2014
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The future is near. Several hundred Ontario engineers gathered at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto on the night of March 6 to learn more about the magic of 3-D laser imaging.

The future is near. Several hundred Ontario engineers gathered at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto on the night of March 6 to learn more about the magic of 3-D laser imaging.

Held as part of Engineering Month, the “Engineering Innovations in 3D Imaging” was organized by Professional Engineers Ontario.

Peter Srajer, P.Eng., advanced technology manager with MMM Group gave the first presentation. The company is using 3D laser scanning on a range of projects — everything from huge power plants to tunnels and bridges and historical buildings.

Srajer showed highly detailed and colourful 3D images reconstructed from millions and billions of data points. A power substation, for example, was detailed right down to the smallest pipes and bolts, to an accuracy of 2 millimetres. The data points are exported directly to a CAD or BIM program for modelling. With this information, the plant owner can identify problems like “bottlenecking” in the pipe layout and correct them.


One of the advantages of 3D laser imaging is speed: the scan can be done in a few hours. It also saves having to send people into close dangerous situations, since the scanning can be done from a distance. Srajer showed a 3D scan of a large tunnel collapse, where the cause of the collapse could be seen without someone having to get closer than 150 metres.

At the 58-storey Bow building in Calgary the technology was used to show where electrical conduit and other services were hidden behind walls. And at the historical Gage building in Hamilton they did a 3D scan to record the existing status of the building before renovations were done. At Edmonton Airport, 3D imaging of the airside portion of the terminal was done and then the results were overlaid on a photograph to create an attractive graphic presentation. Every pixel in the photograph has a 3D coordinate.

The second speaker at the forum was Eugene Liscio, P.Eng, president of A12-3D, who gave a lively demonstration of how 3D laser scans are being used to reconstruct crime scenes in forensic engineering. They can accurately show how two cars collided, for example, or be used to construct a video of how a gun attack was acted out.

Steven Pong of the University Health Network in Toronto showed how laser scanning and 3D printers are being used to model the human body, and to create hips, jawbones, prosthetics, and even devices for measuring sleep apnea.

The speakers suggested that the possibilities for 3D scanning to create a virtual representation of reality are endless. The only thing standing in the way at present is limited computing power, which has “not kept up.” These technologies eat up billions of bytes.

Srajer also noted that the technologies are evolving so quickly a device will easily become obsolete in five years.

And 3D imaging is not always practical, Srajer cautioned. While the scanning can be done quickly, it takes a huge amount of time to process the data, making it costly. And the technology doesn’t work well on relatively flat areas, or where there is grass or vegetation. In the latter cases LiDAR is preferable, he suggested.

The Engineering Innovations Forum has been held as part of Engineering Month since 1990. Sponsors this year include Morrison Hershfield, Hatch, MMM Group, PEO and the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers.


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