3-D Technology Brings New Dimension to Healthcare Design

High-definition Scanning Elevates Precision and Accuracy

By Ryan Anderson, Engineering Leader, Trex Commercial

In the medical field, accuracy and precision are essential. The same is true for architectural design. When the two intersect and work in harmony, the results can have a significant, positive impact on patients and healthcare professionals alike. 

3-D scanning is quickly gaining momentum in the healthcare design arena for its ability to capture and present highly accurate information in a short period of time. While 3-D technology has been around for years, the building and architectural industries are just beginning to tap into its potential. 

As a leading national provider of architectural railings, Trex Commercial has more than three decades of experience working with architects, general contractors, and glaziers. During this time, we’ve seen several rising challenges within the healthcare construction industry – including shorter building cycles, shrinking budgets and the need to produce accurate designs at a moment’s notice – and we also have seen first-hand the benefits that 3-D technology can offer. 

What is 3-D Laser Scanning?

Laser scanning, also called high-definition surveying (HDS) or reality capture, is a method of non-contact, high-accuracy mapping that uses lasers to digitally capture the contoured surfaces and complex geometries of specific elements within a building or facility. These lasers scan or sweep across objects, measuring millions of points with “XYZ” coordinates, to create an accurate 3-D depiction of the scanned element referred to as a point cloud, which can then be easily converted for use in common design software such as AutoCAD, Inventor, or Solidworks. From there, designers and drafters can create submittal drawings based off the project scans, eliminating the need for field dimensioning post-architectural approval.
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HDS offers a wide array of benefits, including decreased project costs, faster turnaround, improved safety and planning, reduced rework, and higher quality data capture. 

  • Speed, Accuracy & Consistency – 3-D laser scanning enables a faster project turnaround and accurate means of collecting millions of measurable data points in seconds. It has the ability to identify differences between the planned technical drawings and built conditions on-site, thereby preventing potential issues before they arise. 
  • Improved Safety Laser scanning is performed hands-off, making it safer and unobtrusive. The technology enables scanning engineers to obtain measurements for difficult, hard-to-reach, and sometimes dangerous areas of a building site – a process that could potentially take days and bring other work to a halt.
  • Cost Savings Imagine the time and money savings on a project that requires zero rework. By exposing variances early in the process, 3-D scanning allows contractors to quickly identify and address potential problems before they become larger – and more costly – issues during construction and installation.
  • Valuable Data for Design – The richness of data from 3-D scanning provides clients peace of mind that measurements are accurate and thorough. Even after project completion, building management can virtually access every detail of a building’s design, which can be valuable for future repairs and renovations. 

3-D Scanning in Action

HDS is scalable and can be used for small facilities as well as large-scale projects. A great example of this technology in action is the signature spiral staircase at Colorado State University’s Health and Medical Center in Ft. Collins, Colo. Trex Commercial utilized 3-D laser scanning to create a custom railing system for the building’s stunning and intricate architectural focal point. A picture containing indoor

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Multiple scans were taken of each floor and the collected data points were then turned into a “point cloud” file with extremely accurate dimensions. Working from this, our team created submittal drawings from the project scan, eliminating the need for field dimensioning post-architectural approval. 

Despite a tight deadline and the complexity of the work, 3-D laser scanning allowed us to accurately – and quickly – model the staircase’s unique geometries, leading to swifter and easier installation and, most importantly, on-time completion of the project. The result – 720 linear feet of our Equinox® stainless steel and glass railing combined with Point™ supported smoke baffle – offers abounding views and allows natural light to fill the space without distracting from the building’s distinctive architectural details.

3-D technology offers tremendous benefits for healthcare designers, surveyors, manufacturers, and clients. In the short term, it provides accurate measurements and modeling for design and construction, while in the long term, it provides clients with valuable information that can aid in planning future maintenance or reconfiguration of the space. It’s no wonder this technology is becoming an integral element of architecture and engineering from preconstruction through final inspection. 

About the Author

Ryan Anderson is an Engineering Leader for Trex Commercial, Inc., a subsidiary of Trex Company, Inc., and a national leader in engineering and fabricating architectural railings for commercial applications.