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53,000 square feet in 3 days!

When California reopened for construction earlier this Summer we took the opportunity to see just how fast a building can be captured as a baseline "digital twin". Our friends at Cushman and Wakefield had a property in Alameda that was going on the market. The building was an older 53,000 sft warehouse/office building full of the prior tenant's boxes and equipment. They felt that it would lease faster if the broker could make it easy for potential tenants to review the building without having to visit, and quickly evaluate what it might become.

Our goal was to produce a HELIX for the building including: complete 360 degree photo documentation, high-precision LiDAR scan, and drone photogrammetry of the roof and cornice. The process would include 4 phases:

  1. Data capture using LiDAR, 360 degree ground and 3D aerial photography.
  2. Data formatting in the HELIX Twin Platform
  3. Modeling the raw data into accurate 2D plans and a 3D BIM model
  4. Quality Assurance review

When we started focusing on rapid geometry capture tools and services a year or so ago, this project would take a minimum of a month. The team knew that we could do it in 5 days if we hustled based on earlier speed challenges, but our company goal is to eventually turn this into a near real-time process.

In order to complete the building in 3 days we would have to use the whole days. That meant that as data was captured it would need to be processed and assembled even as more data was collected. With team members in 4 time zones we were able to continually "pass the baton" to the next time zone.

Here was the timeline:

Day 1 California: Data Collection and image processing

Scan and Photograph, uploading the photos as they were captured to a team in Chicago who received them and placed and linked the photos in the HELIX scene editor. It was critical that the photos were processed and placed quickly so that the modeling team could review them quickly to help interpret the point cloud. One of the biggest challenges in digitizing a largely open space is taking 200+ photographs where the photographer has to either hide or appear in every photograph. The team made extensive use of the HELIX "Double Shot" software to take two photos for each scene with the photographer changing position so he can be removed digitally. We used two Faro terrestrial scanners too accurately capture the building geometry and generated nearly 50 high resolution scans of the interior and exterior of the building. The team made extensive use of target spheres and cards to simplify and automate the point cloud registration process as much as possible.

Day 1 Asia: Model Preparation

As the Geometry Capture team completed their work the Modeling Team received the complete photo tour and continued registering the point clouds. The modeling team began laying out the building and generating custom Revit families to augment the standard families used for the bulk of the model.

Day 2 California: Point Cloud Registration, Photo Tour QA and Drone photography

The SF team completed point cloud registration and point cloud QA ensuring that the 50+ individual scans came together as a single, accurate point cloud model of the interior and exterior of the building. The team decided to use a drone to provide more accurate external detail of the roof and to provide a high-resolution composite photo and a photogrammetry-based point cloud to complete the point cloud generated by the internal and external scans.

Day 2 Asia: Model Generation

With a fully registered point cloud and photo tour and the building layout and components prepared, the modeling team pulled together the BIM model in record time. Although the client was only looking for LOD 200 (basic geometry with little structural or MEP detail) the Modeling Team over-delivered. As the model was completed the Digital Architecture Team in Chicago went to work checking every inch to ensure that the model reflected the measured reality of the space.

Day 3 California: QA

The biggest risk in multi-time zone modeling is in the QA process. If the modeling team does not get it just right the project would lose a full day waiting to digest and fix any issues. With the HELIX sharing platform and BIM modeling talent in each location issues can be fixed from anywhere in real time. Fortunately the Modeling Team knew just what we were looking for based on our extensive work together and they made very few mistakes.

The team approaches speed challenges with a mixture of excitement and concern. When you work to compress a difficult process with huge files shared by team members worlds apart there is little room for mistakes. It does not matter how quickly the HELIX is delivered if it is not just right. In the end the project was delivered a few minutes before the "self imposed" deadline.

A day is coming when we can open the door and a robotic device scans the building returning to deliver an automated BIM model. When it comes we expect to be the ones making it possible. Until then, 3 days from entering the front door to delivering a full HELIX is not bad.

Feel free to take a look at the completed HELIX here.

Tools Used:

HELIX Digital Twin Platform

Faro Focus 3D Scanner (2)

Ricoh Theta Z1 360 camera (2)

DJI Mavic Pro 2 drone

Faro Scene

Drone Deploy


Autodesk Revit, Autocad, Navisworks