A touch of Hollywood: with 3D to the digital dream factory

A stroll through new factory facilities long before they are even completed? That is indeed possible today – at least virtually. 3D technologies create the perfect illusion not only in Hollywood but have long since invaded our factory buildings as well. For example the PlantScan 3D process. This aids the digital surveying and planning of industrial facilities. I found out how this works from our survey pros.

The equipment used by Ansgar Päschke and his survey team in their work includes a device which, at first glance, reminds me of a speed camera. It isn’t set it up on roads, however, but instead in workshops, plant facilities and factory buildings. The tool is a 3D scanner with which one can perform a detailed scan of the surroundings, today for example purposefully covering every inch of a cement plant site. The survey team sets up the scanner at selected points and takes 360-degree shots. Around 40 such scans are produced on one day to record all the buildings and halls on the premises.

The data thus gained is taken as basis for creating detailed, computer-generated 3D images. The predecessors of Ansgar Päschke and his team had a much harder job on their hands, moving around the facilities armed with measuring tape and camera and having to measure every nook and cranny by hand – over a period of several days. And they were only able to perform rough measurements, if at all, where awkwardly accessible corners or hazardous areas were concerned.


This is how 3D scanning works: With the aid of a rotating deflection mirror a laser beam first performs a vertical scan of the surroundings; the reflected light is captured by the device. The scanner then rotates horizontally in a step-by-step process. The wavelength of the laser changes with the travelled distance, which enables the device to identify the distance to the object. Special markings later help the surveyors to combine several scans in order to produce a computer-generated 3D image. (© C3 Infographic)

Plant measurement, made better and faster

The process that eases the team’s day-to-day work so immensely goes by the name of “PlantScan 3D”. It facilitates high-precision planning of the installation and conversion/retrofitting of plant facilities as well as the millimeter-precise determination of the wear and tear of structural elements. The team frequently visits older plants as well, for the purposes of re-measurement: “Here, the use of PlantScan 3D is particularly recommended. In most cases, no up-to-date plans exist for plants with 50 years behind them”, says Päschke.

Old construction plans have errors or there is no documentation of conversions or retrofits. That can confront a plant builder with unpleasant surprises. “Once a plant has been completed, a subsequent conversion or retrofit can prove extremely expensive, against which background 3D-scanning means we save a whole lot of time and money”, adds Päschke.


Ansgar Päschke: "3D scanning really helps to save us money." (© Thorsten Doerk)

Ansgar Päschke: “3D scanning really helps to save us money.” (© Thorsten Doerk)


Step into the model of a building before it’s constructed

The PlantScan 3D success story began a number of years ago among the plant builders at thyssenkrupp, and today the process is used in various of the Group’s spheres of activity. They share their experiences in workshops held regularly with the survey team, with the result that each of them help the further development of the 3D scanning process. thyssenkrupp technology head Reinhold Achatz is delighted too at this success: “This example shows that we can advance our Group’s enormous technological potential together and on a cross-departmental basis.” He emphasizes that collaboration and networking are key building blocks of the Group’s innovation strategy.

The expert team is also currently working on new technologies for the imaging of the acquired scan data. In the future, with the help of virtual reality applications, projectors and data glasses it will be possible to step into a new plant, even before it is built, for example to run design reviews. All relevant project participants like plant designers, mechanics and also clients are thus able to visit the virtual site simultaneously and to bring their comments and suggestions into the ongoing project – either jointly in front of a virtual reality wall, or from different places all over the world by using a digital server.

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