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Rent vs. Hire vs. Buy: Which is Best for Your BIM Laser Scanning Needs?

The decision factors may surprise you. Here’s the 411 on what you need to consider.

The decision to rent, hire or buy 3D laser scanners (3DLS) is becoming a common question for more and more architects, engineers, general contractors and specialty contractors.

It’s easy to see why. The growing reliance on point cloud data for design, construction, operations, retrofits and renovations makes 3DLS a project imperative in a build environment rapidly coalescing around building information modeling (BIM) as a global building standard.

A new class of next-gen 3DLS hardware and software has fundamentally opened up the construction marketplace to a far broader array of practitioners. Smaller, faster, lighter and more user-friendly hardware advances like Leica’s BLK2GO puts new first-person, walkaround 3DLS capability in the hands of more professionals for unprecedented 3DLS speed, versatility and simplicity. Similarly, software breakthroughs like Leica’s Cyclone suite automate reality capture, measurement and documentation.

One industry commentator reports over 98% of large U.S. architecture firms have adopted BIM, with the design industry’s overall adoption rate nearing 80%. That raises a growing expectation among trade partners to keep pace by matching as-designed conditions with laser scanned as-built verification (reality capture). Consider MEP contractors, for example: A recent survey shows 71% of surveyed firms now use 3DLS technology at least monthly.

Whether you realize it or not, your projects likely already rely on point cloud data either provided by a trade partner, sourced from a laser scanning service, or self-performed using rented or owned 3DLS technology. Growing your 3DLS capabilities can provide significant advantages in keeping projects on schedule and on budget. But should you outsource, rent or buy to get to the next level? Here are some key considerations.

Outsource Option

  • Hiring a 3DLS service is a good choice when you need experienced professionals to provide accurate field documentation on an as-needed basis. A qualified team should work efficiently to meet your deliverable requirements and minimize workflow disruptions.
  • Hiring a service makes you subject to the service provider’s technology and project schedule, which may not align with your needs . This can be a challenge if it disrupts workflow and the sequencing of trade partners.
  • Outsource pricing is variable, dependent on scope of work, location, square footage, site plans, level of precision, site complexity and deliverables, which could include:
    • Point cloud
    • Colorized point cloud
    • Volume measurement/clearance calculation
    • Fly-through model
    • 2D drawings and models
    • 3D drawings and models
    • 3D BIM smart object models
  • Outsourced 3DLS services may charge by the hour, day or square foot. Square foot charges can range up to $0.20/SF or more, while daily fees can range from $6,000 to $8,000.

Rent Option

  • Self-performing laser scanning can be a good alternative for architects, GCs and specialty contractors who aren’t certain about buying, on a tight technology budget, use 3DLS infrequently or prefer a ‘try before you buy’ approach to better understand the equipment and opportunities.
  • While renting on an as-needed basis has those business merits, it does require a knowledgeable operator, which requires training current staff or hiring 3DLS expertise, similar to purchasing the equipment outright.
  • Software must be considered unless you plan to farm out point cloud registration and deliverable production to a third-party. Be sure to include accessories such as targets, tripods, batteries, chargers and related items.
  • Daily, weekly or monthly rental fees depend on the type of 3DLS technology you require. Expect to pay $600-850 or more for daily rental of laser scanning equipment.

Purchase Option

  • Owning 3DSL hardware and software is a good choice for architects, GCs and specialty contractors with frequent laser scanning needs or that anticipate ramping up in-house scanning capability. It also allows for scanning to proceed on your schedule, whenever and wherever the requirement.
  • Owning laser scanning hardware and software is a carefully calibrated decision. Work with a vendor that takes the time to work backwards from your workflow and deliverable needs to identify the best 3DLS solution.
  • Ted Moberg, building construction product marketing manager at Leica Geosystems advises, “Make sure the software has the tools that best fit what you’re trying to accomplish.” Manny Lujan, VDC and BIM specialist at Leica, adds, “Your technology provider should work hard to understand your day-to-day workflow and how often you are in the field taking measurements.”

Architectural firms, GCs and specialty contractors are beginning to see that the return on the hardware, software and staff training for laser scanning payback justifies the upfront investment.

Which approach is best for you? Get in touch with a Leica Geosystems building construction specialist to discuss your needs.

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