So I have a 3D Laser Scanner – now what?

There is a common misconception that 3D laser scanning is a one-size-fits-all solution for every project. The truth is, this new technology is powerful – but it’s not for every surveying firm and it’s not a fit for every project.

First, surveying with a scanner is not the same as with a total station or GPS. For one, there are no field notes – just lots of data points and photographic files.

Another important distinction is the line of site requirement. When a survey crew sets up a survey instrument, they are typically looking for a line of site to the next point. That’s not the case with a scanner, which requires a more focused coverage. Some setups may only be 15 feet from the last if you need to get more views of a complicated structure.

With laser scanning, it is common to gather data that the client does not need at the time, but may need to use later. Once a site is scanned and post-processed, engineers and analysts can check and re-check engineering quality data on a desktop computer any time.

Computer power plays a significant role in successful laser scanning. The post-processing of laser scanned data is critical and can be tedious on older computers. Before buying into scanning technology, invest in at least 64-bit machines with fast graphics cards and as much RAM memory as possible.

You may want one computer to process the scan data and another to process the photographic data. Laser scanners create enormous files that must be managed carefully in a consistent workflow. (Our exterior projects normally have 1 to 10 gigabytes of data and a major industrial facility can have over 150 gigabytes of data.) Create to processes and work flows to store and back up everything.

Finally, don’t expect clients to beat down your door, demanding a 3D laser scan. Buying a scanner won’t make jobs magically appear. The market is just learning about this technology and though it is well worth the investment for those firms willing to do the legwork to find the clients who want and need its special capabilities, you will have to do a lot of educating and demonstrations of what the world of 3D can bring to clients.

The key is listening to your clients and understanding their needs. Keep in mind that many potential clients don’t know what questions to ask. Until laser scanning becomes as common as GPS, surveyors will have to educate owners, architects, engineers and contractors about the benefits.


Tate Jones has over 40 years of experience in land and aerial surveying and was one of the country’s earliest adopters of 3D laser scanning technology. A nationally recognized expert in the field of 3D data capture, he has worked with hundreds of clients in the engineering, architectural and construction industries. Contact him at To learn more about 3D laser surveys, visit

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