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3-D Laser Scanning Offers Tremendous Potential

Using emerging technology, Trex Commercial Products delivers innovative solution

Trex1 Dec18 Ma
The circular staircase features a fascia-mounted railing application, facilitated by attaching a 4-inch by 6-inch stainless steel mounting plate to a steel weld block through two pre-drilled and tapped holes. The block was welded directly to the stair stringer.

Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, Colo., recently opened the doors to a brand new, state-of-the-art medical center—a $59 million, 113,000-square-foot facility that consolidates the university’s medical offerings into one building for students, faculty, staff and community members.

When Minneapolis-based Trex Commercial Products started the project, 90 percent of the work had been completed. The company used an unconventional, yet effective approach that not only proved successful but which offers tremendous potential to today’s architects and specifiers. Considering the complexity and tight schedule of the project, our expert team of engineers recommended using 3-D laser scanning to design and produce the remaining glass and metal railing, integrating it seamlessly with the existing work.

It’s an innovative solution that is quickly becoming more common on commercial job sites, yet while the technology behind 3-D laser scanning has been around for years, the building and architectural metal industries are just beginning to tap into its potential.

Simply stated, high-definition surveying (HDS), also known as reality capture, takes the guesswork out of surveying. The process uses a small laser beam to scan or sweep across objects, measuring millions of points with XYZ values. These measurements form a point cloud that can easily be converted to AutoCAD, MicroStation and several other design formats.

High-definition surveying benefits both the client and the surveyor. It offers cost advantages, faster project turnaround, improved safety, and more complete and higher quality data capture. Additionally, measurement scanning can be completed without significant interruption of surrounding activities—a major benefit when working on compressed construction deadlines. Furthermore, the richness of the data gives clients peace of mind that the measurements are accurate and comprehensive.

Coming into the CSU project with little background or knowledge of the previous work that had been done, these scans were essential for filling in missing gaps of information. They allowed our team to quickly capture precise measurements for difficult, hard-to-reach areas of the center’s central four-story circular staircase—a process that would otherwise have taken several days and brought other on-site work to a halt.

3-D laser scanning allowed Trex Commercial Products to quickly pick up where the previous supplier left off, providing accurate dimensions and measurements that led to swifter and easier installation.

In the case of the CSU project, two to three scans were taken of each floor. Working from these, the design team was able to create submittal drawings, eliminating the need for field dimensioning post-architectural approval. In fact, the 3-D scanning proved so effective that there were zero dimensional remakes required—saving both time and the cost of fabrication rework.

This insight represents, perhaps, the single greatest benefit of laser scanning for this project. By exposing any inaccuracies early in the process, issues were able to be quickly resolved before they became bigger problems during construction and installation.

Thanks to 3-D scanning, Colorado State University was able to complete its new medical center as planned. The end result—which features 720 combined linear feet of Trex Commercial Products’ Vista stainless steel and glass railing and Point-supported smoke baffle—offers abounding views and allows natural light to fill the space. Now open, CSU’s medical center provides a much-needed central facility for health and well-being, benefitting the entire campus community.

While this project is officially complete, the benefits of using 3-D laser scanning continue to reveal themselves. For instance, CSU building management now has a thorough, accurate guide to virtually every detail of the building’s design, all of which can be valuable for scheduling long-term maintenance or reconfiguring spaces for other uses.

As a provider of architectural railings, Trex Commercial Products has extensive experience manufacturing glass railing systems and working with glaziers, as well as architects, general contractors and installers. During this time, we’ve seen several rising challenges within the metal architecture industry—including shorter building cycles, shrinking budgets and the need to produce accurate data at a moment’s notice. Finding innovative solutions is critical for succeeding in this environment.

When combined with our company's customer service and the right experience, embracing the potential of new technology, like high-definition surveying, provides a tremendous competitive advantage.

It’s a strategy that transformed this particularly challenging project into an overwhelming success, and allows us to bid (and win) some of the largest commercial railing projects in the country.

Dan Stachel is the vice president of Trex Commercial Products, Minneapolis. To learn more, visit