3D Laser Surveys within the Water Industry

3D laser scanning in confined spaces with PointSCAN 3D laser surveys

3D Laser Scanning

As we begin looking at new projects in AMP7, it is astonishing as to the level of technical progress the industry has embraced over the past 5 years.  One of the biggest influences, certainly on my career has been the introduction of 3D laser survey technology and how the water industry has benefited on more ways than one could imagine.

I recall finishing AMP5 with a project containing a 3D model of our new site, and commenting on how it had made the whole design and construction process easier.  Soon after this we were combining the model against time and cost with so called 4D and 5D modelling.  Today CAD modelling is the norm and we are using Virtual reality, Hololens and 3D technology that was only science fiction five years ago.  

However, the entire water industry was relatively late to the game. The construction and engineering sectors were well advanced in 3D technology but it is clear to say that this is no longer the case.  As technology has developed the industry has embraced the changes and caught up by aligning technologies with other sectors and skipping some developments.

There are few industries that benefit as much from the use of 3D laser surveys as the water industry. A single survey not only creates documentation for topographic data, design data for engineering, fabrication, construction and of course as-built drawings.  3D imagery and virtual reality can also be combined to enhance project management, improve safety and offer opportunities for training and development.  

Water and wastewater projects rely heavily upon mechanical dimensions for both construction and process activities. They can and do however offer challenges for traditional survey techniques. With the majority of treatment sites having been developed over a number of decades.  

Circular tanks, interactions between metric and imperial dimensions.  Pipework suspended from ceilings, from an era when design was functional and no consideration was made for access or maintenance.  All within a site containing hazardous materials, substances and areas.  

There is of course a survey technique that ignores all the above and provides an exact representation of the site and in this post I would like to highlight the benefits of 3D laser survey scanning within the water industry.

3D laser survey: Topographical 3D measurement data by PointSCAN 3D laser surveys

3D laser survey Efficiency

With each asset management cycle comes an ever increasing requirement to for efficiency. Higher demands to deliver quicker and more cost effective projects, but more importantly to deliver more safely.  Which is why a 3D laser surveys provides such a wide reaching range of deliverable s. 

In addition to excellent accuracy and the 3D visual imagery a laser survey offers 3 fundamental benefits which enhance a projects management, Safety, Cost Savings and Time Savings.  All of which have a measurable relationship with another, but all with the underlying goal of creating cost savings.  

I have seen how 3D technology can provide savings long after the survey has been completed.  A good design based on better information will inevitably lead to fewer errors and less changes, which in turn improves delivery, manufacture and construction. 

However this is data that can be used to manage your projects.  Utilised for a range of documentation from intelligent presentations to planning applications and combining project data for progress and financial tracking getting the information right now so you do not pay the price in the future.

As companies fight to reduce their projects carbon footprints 3D technology can also play an important role.  Traditionally site meetings bring together all those involved to discuss and review progress. Imaging that on-site project meetings with every member of the delivery team, suppliers and contractors.  

Now account for their time, cost and logistics associated with getting them to site.  Technology is now allowing us to multi stream the virtual site to you without leaving the office and when site visits are necessary virtual Hololens technology can be used to present data in real time combining reality with the virtual environment.


The water industry has undertaken considerable advancements in the last 20 years in  becoming a safer environment to work.  There does however, due to the nature of the processes involved, remain a risk of potential injury both to site personnel and the environment.  It is a known statistic that if you reduce the time spent on site you reduce the risk of injury.  So reducing survey times by up to 80% through the use of 3D laser survey technology you are already starting to reduce project risk.

Coupled with the fact that a 3D laser survey can be completed by minimising or eliminating access to working at height, hazardous areas, tanks, chambers and other confined spaces then the risk is further reduced.    Furthermore the production of the survey scan data allows any member of the design, project team, contractor or even client can virtually access any area safe in the knowledge they are not effecting the overall project risk.

3D laser survey High Performance

One fundamental aspect of project delivery is the development of a strong well organised project team. Key to this is the ability to share information, whether that be internally or externally. A laser survey provides everyone in a team with the ability to see and access the design in a recognisable format allowing them to provide a positive input.  

Experience has already shown that this additional input has proven to save considerable time and money in preventing on-site design changes as a result of something missed on 2D site plans.

Why? The ability to visualise an environment in 3D stimulates a different part of the brain than that of someone processing a 2D drawing or photograph. As with our everyday sight the brain is able to pick out anomalies easier in a 3D environment than that of a 2D image.  In confirming this fact, some of the most efficient and best design changes have been made by members of a team that may look at a problem from a different perspective. 

Creating efficient working throughout a team increases productivity and promotes to a successful project delivery.


3D laser scanning throughout the UK


Even a simple project may require several specialist suppliers and contractors.  Each of which will need to have comprehensive details of the works to be completed.  As a result they may wish to attend site to complete their own survey.  This is regarded as standard practise, but with every site survey the risk of error increases as each trade will look from their prospective and not as a whole. Moreover each will incur costs, whether hidden or transparent.  

Although it can be said that these surveys are completed for peace of mind, companies are reluctant to rely upon 3rd party information that could be regarded as a risk and nobody wants to be the one to make a mistake. So who should be responsible and are these costs valid?

If a single 3D laser survey is completed and verified allowing suppliers and contractors to see the site whilst providing all the measurement data that they would require, multiple site visits can be averted. Reducing initial cost and creating savings against resources and the environment.

Digital data can also be controlled easier from a central hub ensuring that it remains current and is easily distributed when updates are required. Uncontrolled documentation can also be automatically highlighted if recirculated or submitted.


Key to a successful survey is our planning, experience and knowledge of water and wastewater facilities that ensures a 3D laser survey acquires as much data as possible. Dependant upon our clients specifications all scans will be set out to a local control with the additional option to be geo-referenced with local reference markers or national grid OS system.  

At this stage of the survey process the more data you can capture the better.  PointSCAN will always maximise the amount of scans that we capture whilst attending a clients site therefore improving accuracy and creating a better point cloud. Remembering we can always take point away during processing but cannot add them on without going back to site.

3D laser scanners can apply colour to scan data to improve the visual aspect of a point cloud although this does increase scan duration and therefore reduce the amount of scans that can be captured in a single visit.  

With the ability to register scan data in real time a 3D point cloud can be available within a matter of hours of the survey being completed.  This can provide a basic 3D simulation of the survey site without the need for any additional modelling.  This is not photographic quality but allows point cloud files to be introduced to CAD software where proposed modelling information can be imported onto a virtual 3D topographic plan.  (as below)

The point cloud forms the basis for all 2D and 3D documentation.  It can be converted into multiple file formats which are compatible with most major software applications.

3D laser scanning for water and wastewater engineering projects.


Having spent 25 years working on water and wastewater projects throughout the UK it is fair to say that the retention of long term staff and expert site knowledge has diminished considerably albeit creating a more efficient delivery. 

However the need for accurate information is even greater as outsourced construction and maintenance programmes are introduced.  Experience has found that over the years information is not always readily available in a suitable format and that on-site files may not necessarily be as current as you require.

Again recent technology has been able to provide a solution to not only capture the entire site but also maintain its records.  Taken from the Building Information Modelling processes all site asset information can be stored on a centralised database containing supplier details, operational and maintenance instructions and records as well as performance data.  

At the heart of a successful BIM plan is a fully documented 3D model, regularly updated as sites are developed and accessible from a single central source which minimises incorrect information being applied in error.

Digital Twin

As fast as technology changes different industries, and even on occasion individual companies, like to develop there own unique versions and terminologies.  As the name implies a “Digital Twin” provides an exact digital replica of an environment usually created through a combination of 3D point cloud data and modelling.  

Although not a new terminology, being first introduced in the early 1990’s it went on to be used by the manufacturing industry. Now being heavily adopted throughout the water engineering sector.  A single site survey acquiring an entire site acts as a benchmark for all future projects.  

Then as each additional scheme is completed as-built data can be confirmed by 3D laser scanning and seamlessly introduced to update the controlled documents.

PointSCAN 3d laser survey for planning applications

Off site build

Developed largely by the construction sector, off-site build or modular construction, saw a larger undertaking in AMP6.  Manufacturing items in a controlled environment and delivered to site as plug and play minimises site construction time and statistically reduces risk whilst increasing efficiency.  

3D laser surveys offer an important interface between site and factory design by delivering a digital site so that everything from deliveries, storage, pre-delivery site works and connections can be checked and double checked from the safety of an office environment safe in the knowledge that a digital design change is far more cost effective that one made on site.  

Confined Spaces

I have discussed in the past how 3D laser scanning can provide safer access to restricted and hazardous areas such as confined spaces.  Previously limited to authorised persons with suitable training 3D technology now provides access to any member of your team.

Measurement data from open channels and tanks can also be acquired without having to gain entry reducing time and resources.

3D laser Scanning in confined spaces >


Traditionally site training does not begin until the project handover period.  This not only extends the project duration and final sign off but also introduces additional sometimes untrained persons to an operational site.  

If you have already been using 3D laser scan data and modelling as part of your design process, why not utilise what you already have and begin training in a virtual environment?  Gather crucial feedback from the operators themselves before construction or installation and prevent costly on-site design changes.

Immersive 3D environments and headsets can produce fully interactive scaled replicas of sites in virtual reality which can be programmed to react to different situations.  Touch sensitive VR gloves simulate solid objects allowing maintenance and repair tasks to be practised without disrupting on-site operations. 


The requirement for 3D technology does not confine itself to the development and success of a new project.  With the 3D laser scan and modelling data centrally available operational monitoring also has access to visualise sites.  Having the ability to access 3D documentation and VR can provide on-site assistance on remote or satellite sites from a central control centre.

mechanical engineering for construction

Risk of 3D laser survey

There is however a risk. Can the industry keep up with technological changes?  Traditional draughting and paper plans were around for centuries and took over 20 years to transition to computer modelling, but now technology is moving faster that projects can be delivered, especially longer term schemes. In some cases projects are having to meet the cost for the new technology on more than one occasion.

Change, especially in larger organisations is often difficult to implement leading to people trying to find an easier route which often leads to many variations of the same thing.  This inevitably results in additional time, cost and resources and creates a negative impression. 

We now live in a digital age and nothing is going to stop the development of 3D technology.  I believe that survey techniques will change and adapt but, it will not matter how the data is collected so long as over time there is a solution for how the data is stored and used.  

Groups such a BIM4Water have taken this on board and are working with all the major water authorities to present an appointed standard.  This is an exciting time for the industry and 3D technology is playing a vital role in making it more efficient.  

3D laser survey Performance

PointSCAN specialise in 3D data acquisition of water and wastewater assets.  With 25 years knowledge and experience in the water treatment industry our survey teams are fully trained and certified to deliver safe, fast and accurate documentation for project teams and contractors alike throughout the UK.

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