NavVis technology is a step change in 3D data capture technology and point cloud management

NavVis is a Step Change in 3D Data Capture and Point Cloud Management

An Interview with Matthew Craig, Owner & President / Visual Precision Solutions

Can you please provide a brief overview of your professional background and experience with 3D laser scanning/lidar technology, as well as a brief history of the growth of your group and its use of 3D technology? Please include an idea of the timelines.


My involvement with 3D laser scanning technology began in 1996 when Ian Matthews from CYRA technologies came to Houston and did a demonstration of the CYRAX laser scanner. At that time, I was the as-built division manager for CSA, Inc., based in Houston, TX, where we were using close-range photogrammetry to capture the existing conditions of a facility to create the as-built 3D CAD model. After witnessing the 3D laser scan demonstration, we looked to use the technology on a project, and in 1997 we used a CYRAX 2400 on a nuclear project in Eastern Europe. Over the years I have worked with the Mensi Soisic scanner (1998-2000), QuantaPoint  (2000-2003), Leica 4500 (2003-2004), Z+F 5003, 5006, 5010c, and 5016 (2004-present day) and the Faro Focus 330 (2014-2015). 

My career in the 3D laser scanning industry has been primarily been in the petrochemical Industrial market. I have owned my own laser service company (1998 – 2000) and have worked for laser scan service providers (2000-2003, 2016-2020). I have worked for KBR and JACOBS engineering and construction firms as a laser scan technology subject matter expert (2003-2010), where I managed over 400 laser scan projects and developed the regional execution work processes for using laser scan technology on capital project work. I have worked as the business development manager for the Americas for LFM Software Limited an AVEVA company (2010-2016). I am currently working as a dimensional technology services consultant.

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

I currently do not own any 3D surveying and mapping hardware or software since I recently left the service organization I was working for as a senior advisor. They owned 20 – Z+F terrestrial laser scanners (5010, 5010c, 5016). All these laser scanner systems were acquired from 2009 to 2019. Most of the laser scan deliverables produced were AVEVA LFM laser scan deliverables; however, we had some Leica Cloudworx and TruView deliverables, and Autodesk ReCap deliverables. 

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

My good friend, Dr Dennis Hirota, recommended that I look at the NavVis system. Dr. Hirota and I have known each other for many years, and I have come to respect his recommendations based on his experience and knowledge on 3D data capture and geomatics technologies.

I had viewed a demonstration of the NavVis M6 system at the SPAR3D 2019 conference in Anaheim, CA, and was interested, but at the time the accuracy limitations for the industrial engineering applications for the petrochemical industry market did not meet our requirements, and the leasing business model that NavVis was using at the time would not fit our business or technical requirements for the organization I was working for at the time. However, the NavVis IndoorViewer was interesting to me because of the ease of use and functionality and having the ability to customize the software using its API. This ability can provide a customizable interface that would be unique to a client based on their use case requirements. 

When NavVis came out with the NavVis VLX system in 2020, I was impressed with the accuracy improvements, the ease of use, and the ergonomic design, making it easy to work with in the field. The amount of information that it could collect in a short amount of time, and the quality of the data output was very impressive.

As far as others mobile SLAM technology I also have investigated the GeoSLAM system and the Leica BLK2GO system. Both systems still have accuracy, data quality, and control issues for large scale industrial projects

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

As powerful as the NavVis VLX system is, it still does not meet the measurement accuracy requirements needed for locating tie-in locations in the field, so the inclusion of a terrestrial 3D laser scanning system would be necessary as part of a workflow for industrial plant projects. The NavVis IndoorViewer can include terrestrial 3D laser scan data along with the NavVis M6 and NavVis VLX data, which allows the end user to integrate the right tools for the project as required. This hybrid approach along with controlling the data using a rigorous survey control network will reduce the field execution time and laser scan data size substantially by using the NavVis system for the full coverage, and a terrestrial laser scan system for specific scans that require a higher accuracy. In addition to the field execution benefits, the ability to have a software platform like the NavVis IndoorViewer that can be used in the cloud or on premise, can provide end-users with a value-added solution that allow users to perform asset management tasks, measurement tasks, and other functions within a collaborative environment that requires little or no training. End-users also can easily export all or part of the 3D point cloud data to neutral file formats that can be used with other pointcloud management software platforms.

The only challenge that I have run into is a work process related issue when it comes to managing the data with a survey control network. Unlike some 3D terrestrial laser scan workflows, where each scan is tied to the survey control network using surveyed targets, which is a very rigid work process, but highly accurate method of controlling the laser scan data, the NavVis VLX and NavVis M6 system does not require much survey control because of the SLAM technology. However, like all spatial geometry solutions, it does require a good understanding of where the survey control needs to be placed to constrain the laser scan data results to ensure good accuracy results. No matter how good the automated solutions are, there is always error, and the bigger the footprint to be captured the bigger the risk of error propagation. So, having a good survey control network to constrain the laser scan data is a solid secondary check to control the error of the 3D laser scan data. The challenge with this work process is determining how much and where to place the survey control for consistent, accurate results.

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

The only project that I can discuss where I used the NavVis VLX system was for the San Jacinto College Center of Petrochemical Energy and Technology (CPET) facility’s Glycol Unit in Pasadena, Texas. The unit size was (150’ W x 75’ L x 40’ H), and was comprised of multiple pumps, storage tanks, exchangers, a distiller column, extensive piping, a multi-level pipe rack, and a 4-story structure. This fully functioning unit is used to train students to be plant operators.

The Glycol Unit was laser scanned in late 2019 using one of the latest 3D terrestrial laser scan systems on the market. It took two days (2 ~ 10 hour days) to target, survey and laser scan the facility. In September of 2020, we captured the same unit using the NavVis VLX system, and it took 25 minutes. We used the same survey control so we could compare the accuracy differences between the two datasets. 

Overall, we found a 4 to 5 mm difference between the two datasets when we exported the NavVis dataset to an e57 neutral file format and brought the file into a the same pointcloud management software that was used with the 3D terrestrial laser scan system. Since there is no overlapping 3D pointcloud data with the NavVis system, when the 3D pointcloud data is exported the file size of the pointcloud dataset is significantly reduced (approx. 4GB) compared to the 3D terrestrial laser scan dataset (approximately 85 GB). 

With the significant file size difference, there was little difference in the data quality, and in most cases the NavVis VLX dataset appeared clearer due to the fact there was no overlapping data. Based on the reduced file size of the NavVis VLX dataset, the dataset creation of the NavVis VLX data took only 30 minutes, compared to the 5 hours of processing the 3D terrestrial laser scan dataset. The performance of the NavVis dataset within the pointcloud management software was more than double and easier to manipulate compared to the 3D terrestrial laser scan dataset. The value proposition of the NavVis VLX system will lower the cost and time for field data collection efforts. It does not reduce hourly or day rate, but it reduces the time factor to gather information accurately and makes it more affordable to project work.

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

As the trend for digitalization and the creation of the digital twin continues to grow, technologies like the NavVis VLX system and NavVis IndoorViewer provides a cost-effective solution to accurately document the existing conditions of facilities, progress construction, and link asset information. As a result, there will be more companies that will need these types of services to meet their 3D digital asset requirement needs.

I have a basic philosophy about any technology that is being considered to be used on a project. If the technology improves the quality of what I deliver to my customer, if the technology allows me to execute the project faster and more efficiently, if the technology allows me to execute the work at a lower cost, and if the technology helps me to execute the project safer with minimal safety risks (better, faster, cheaper, safer) then it is a technology to seriously consider  implementing into a project. The NavVis technology is a step change in 3D data capture technology and pointcloud management and will bring value to an organization’s portfolio of technology solutions “if” they properly develop and follow work processes that capitalizes on the benefits the technology brings. 

Thank you for a great interview Matthew.


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