Leveraging 3D LiDAR Technology for Success

Leveraging 3D LiDAR Technology for Success

Editor’s note: This is a multi-person interview with members of the Burns & McDonnell team, including Anthony Gaskill, PE, Innovation & Development Manager and two members of the Remote Sensing Team: Coryell Kelsey, Senior Technology & Innovation Consultant and David DeLind, PE, Section Manager.

Leveraging 3D LiDAR Technology Success

Can you please provide a brief overview of your professional background (s) and experience, particularly with 3D laser scanning/LiDAR technology, and/or a brief history of the growth of the company and its use of 3D technology? Please include an idea of the timelines where possible. 

Kelsey: I began working for a small surveying firm that was heavily invested in top-of-the-line remote sensing equipment, and really fell in love with the data. I went back to school and earned my certificate in Remote Sensing from Penn State. David and I had been talking about the ways our industries were coming together, and when he moved to Burns & McDonnell, we talked about how we might build something interesting there.  

As an engineering firm, Burns & McDonnell had been using 3D laser scanning and LiDAR technology in 3D modeling and design, but had primarily relied on outside vendors for data tied geospatially. There were a few folks executing really good surveying with TLS scanners, but nothing from an aerial perspective, especially with the data density that can be achieved via UAV. We knew that bringing this capability in-house would provide a major benefit to the company. 

Gaskill: I am an electrical engineer holding a PE in Texas and Pennsylvania. I have been with Burns & McDonnell for the past 8 years. My current work with Transmission and Distribution (T&D) has positioned me to help stand up the Remote Sensing Group and focus early wins on UAV – mounted LiDAR for mapping transmission ROW’s.  Prior to T&D, I worked in oil & gas using 3D point clouds to model brownfield sites, seeing firsthand the importance of accurate models for the design environment.  

DeLind: I am a licensed civil structural engineer with an MBA.  My background includes 14+ years of experience encompassing engineering consulting, public office & working directly for large utility companies.  My colleagues and I founded the Remote Sensing Group at Burns & McDonnell and believe the high-quality data produced is required as a future cost of doing business within the engineering marketplace.   

Can you provide an inventory of some of the primary 3D surveying and mapping hardware and software that your company currently uses, as well as any other related products? Please include an idea of the timeline of purchases.  

Coryell: As an engineering firm, our company has typically gravitated towards software and hardware that integrates well with Bentley and Autodesk. From the TLS side, we have a portfolio that includes RIEGL scanners and have been using them for years. For aerial photogrammetry, the company has typically used Context Capture for both orthomosaic and mesh creation, in-housing that almost a decade ago, when we were one of the first companies to qualify for the FAA Part 33. 

For surveying capture and post-processing, we have a great relationship with Topcon Solutions and use their gear. Post-processing for LiDAR we use GlobalMapper, Green Valley’s Lidar360 and a bit of ArcGIS Pro/eCognition for other things. For UAV LiDAR, which is for the most part a recent addition to the company, there isn’t really a competitor to RIEGL systems. We acquired our VUX-1UAV22, mounted on a Harris aerial drone in November 2022 and immediately brought it into the field. 

What attracted you to the use of RIEGL hardware and software? Did you look at other products? Why did you choose RIEGL? 

Kelsey: I’ve worked with data from various LiDAR and IMU products, and the accuracy and cleanliness of the data provided by RIEGL, combined with the detail in post-processing offered by their software is without comparison. A lot of integration companies are automating most of the immediate .las generation. RIEGL’s software lays out each piece step – by – step. The hard reality is that for ULS, strip alignment really can’t be properly automated yet. There are far too many moving parts, and a human hand has to touch it. Having worked originally in the surveying industry, I appreciate the attention and care that is taken in the RIEGL post-processing suite (RIPROCESS and RiACQUIRE) to ensuring geolocational accuracy of the data. 

DeLind: We were very intentional when setting up the remote sensing equipment investment platform.  The results we have been getting with the RIEGL system speak for themselves and our team plans to continue to leverage their systems.  Burns & McDonnell prides itself on delivering premium services to our clients and to do that we use the best technology available.

Gaskill: In my role I constantly look for the best new technologies to drive value for our clients.  There may be other LiDAR systems in the market, but RIEGL products are head and shoulders above any other commercially available systems.  By choosing RIEGL, I feel that our remote sensing business line will be able to continually provide superior services to our clients which they have come to expect from Burns & McDonnell.

How do you integrate RIEGL products into your workflows? What were some of the challenges with that? What were some of the best practices and lessons learned? 

Coryell: RIEGL products are functionally the main foundation of our workflows now, alongside the surveying equipment and techniques we have built. Previously the company was using vendor-acquired data. The challenge we often faced was “chunky” LiDAR data that was poorly strip aligned or generated from a budget LiDAR and IMU. The data was too sparse, and did not properly adjust for low reflectance  in order to capture things like cable service drops, and/or the data was not geospatially verified. All those mistakes were costly for the company. 

With our RIEGL VUX-1UAV22, we have confidence and control in the data acquired. We use RiPARAMETER to prep our LiDAR systems capture parameters for acquisition. We use POSPac UAV and RiPROCESS to ensure that our data rests accurately within the real world and is tied down, if necessary (it isn’t always necessary). We are seeing 5mm horizontal RMSE without control points.

The main lesson we have learned is to take a breath, slow down, over-cover your acquisition, over-shoot your survey points, and over-check your coordinate systems/tie points/controls when processing. 

Can you provide a brief overview of two or three of the projects where you made use of RIEGL’s technology? Can you provide any thoughts on time savings vs. other methods? Any thoughts on return on investment? 

1 :  We recently executed a transmission right of way scan using the RIEGL VUX-1UAV22 with incredible results.  The project covered 100+ linear miles of collection in a rural area for a large midwestern utility.  We set up the project to run 2 overlapping scans for roughly 200+ miles of capture with verified +/- 1 cm accuracy in the XY plane and +/- 4 CM accuracy in the Z plane.  

2 :  We executed a multi – leg project within a heavy industrialized area also using our RIEGL VUX-1UAV22.  This project had some challenges because of its proximity to a major commercial airport and tight flight patterns.  The system was able to capture highly accurate data out of the gate and most importantly limited the boots on the ground time needed within the Airport footprint.  

What do you see in the future for the use of 3D technology on your projects? Are you investigating other advanced technologies that will create new business opportunities? 

We believe that having highly accurate data capture will be the new cornerstone of engineering and construction.  The heavy usage of LiDAR was adopted by the agricultural industry about 7 to 10 years ago and is now part of the standard cost of doing business.  Having this data for design, EPC, and maintenance will drastically reduce costly mistakes in the field and create a proactive data approach to greatly reduce O&M costs for clients.  Through cyclical scans of client assets, changes over time, preventative maintenance, and risks to infrastructure can be identified and addressed before they become expensive system failures.  

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