3-D Laser Scanning and BIM Facilitate Complex Process Piping Construction

3-D laser scanning presents a unique opportunity when combined with Building Information Modeling (BIM) to produce extremely accurate depictions of existing conditions within buildings—especially when complex mechanical systems are involved.

KCI was recently assigned a project for a high pressure steam valve replacement project at a large boiler plant. The job had several key challenges, including the large number (46) and size (up to hundreds of pounds) of the valves as well as their location in very hard to reach areas of the plant. The owner of the plant wanted construction documents to be produced that could show a contractor just how difficult the job really was going to be so they could prepare and bid on the project accurately. Drawings needed to show the locations of the valves, the many obstructions around them, equipment below them, and their height above the floor.

To achieve this level of detail in the conventional manner, an engineer or team of engineers would visit the site to measure by hand the location, length, elevation, and size of each pipe, valve, structural interference, and any other relevant data, all while climbing up ladders and around equipment in a swelteringly hot boiler plant. And even with all that effort, measurements are realistically only accurate to within a handful of inches, sometimes much worse for objects a great distance off the floor that lack convenient reference measurement points. This process, when applied to the 46 valves being replaced, dozens of other obstructing valves, and hundreds of pipes, could have taken weeks of field survey time, followed by hours in the office to carefully interpret the measurements and notes into drawings.

Instead, KCI performed a 3-D laser scan of the relevant portions of the boiler plant facility. One day of laser scanning by a single member of KCI’s survey team and one day of post-processing resulted in a full 3-D point cloud of the boiler plant.

BIM Laser Scanning Point Cloud
Everything captured in a point cloud is made of small, colored dots that represent a single scanned point, measuring the X,Y, Z position and color of that point.

The location of every element in this building is accurate to within 1/8th of an inch—many times more accurate than hand measurements without requiring interpretation of field notes. Every detail is recorded in 3-D so that engineers can identify the precise positions of all elements.

Using this laser scan data, KCI was able to import the point cloud into Autodesk Revit to develop a BIM model of the boiler plant equipment and produce high definition drawings of the existing pipe, valve, and equipment configurations in relevant spaces throughout the boiler plant. Revit facilitated tracing directly over the point cloud, drawing in pipes using their locations in the cloud.

BIM Laser Scanning Point Cloud Piping
With Revit, piping and valves can be drawn directly over the point cloud, offering engineers the confidence that locations of drawing elements are accurate.

The end result is a complete BIM model of all relevant portions of the facility, including 650 pipes and 100 valves, making it easy to produce high quality construction documents of every angle of each key space, providing detailed sections, floor plans and isometric views of the existing construction. In this case, the client also requested additional views of the construction from different angles, and KCI was able to quickly respond by simply viewing the 3-D geometry from a different angle and generating drawings from those elements.



For this project, the benefits of implementing 3-D scanning and BIM modeling included:

  • Saving over a week of engineering field surveys in a hot, 115+ degree boiler plant facility—cost savings we were able to pass directly on to our client.
  • Developing extremely accurate 3-D representation of the existing spaces.
  • Generating high quality construction documents.
  • Providing additional views and angles of the construction elements at the client’s request.

For areas with complex process piping, hazardous or dangerous conditions, or a lack of detailed engineering drawings, the combination of laser scanning and BIM can be an invaluable resource.