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BLK ARC and Boston Dynamics Spot dog on a building's rooftop

Leica BLK ARC and BLK2GO help Autonomous Reality Capture Become an Everyday Part of Turner Construction’s Toolkit

By Christopher Curley


From pioneering the use of steel-reinforced concrete in general building in the early 20th century to becoming an industry leader in using Building Information Modeling (BIM) to inform construction projects in the early 21st, Turner Construction Company has always had an eye towards innovation in a field many consider stalwart, but inflexible.

So it’s no surprise that they would be among the first to integrate two cutting-edge scanning solutions to expand their 3D mapping portfolio: The Leica BLK ARC autonomous laser scanning module mounted on Boston Dynamics’ famously viral mobile “robot dog” Spot as well as Leica Geosystems’ first-of-its-kind handheld imaging laser scanner, the Leica BLK2GO.

The company is no stranger to laser scanning, having dedicated teams of experts already using products like the Leica RTC360 3D laser scanner as part of their Building Information Modeling (BIM) toolkit.

BLK2GOWhere the RTC360 offers greater precision and detail, the BLK2GO is small and agile, making it perfect for hard-to-reach spaces and opening up opportunities for laser scanning where tripods and other heavy equipment would be overkill.

“It gives us flexibility that we didn’t have before,” explains Kris Wahl, Innovation Project Manager with Turner. “We can reduce the time and effort associated with scanning and get that critical data into the hands of our field teams quicker for informed decision making.”

Turner is a leader in lean construction – eliminating waste in work processes and gaining efficiencies through continuous improvement – and one way they accomplish this is by developing fully detailed 3D models of their projects before and during the construction process and then augmenting them with real-time scanning.

“Traditional laser scanning can be labor intensive and time-consuming,” Wahl said. “And we have to really lean on our Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) folks since they’re uniquely skilled in operating complex reality capture technology.”

That’s where the dynamism of BLK2GO comes in handy.

“With the BLK2GO, you don’t need that level of technical expertise,” Wahl said. “Any field superintendent or engineer can capture accurate data quickly and easily, so we’re able to scan much more frequently.”

See Spot Run

The demand for speedy autonomy is here, and innovators like Turner prove how successful it can be.

While there will always be different scanners for different needs, fusing the BLK2GO with Spot and later using the fully integrated BLK ARC on Spot, Turner was able to add autonomous scanning to its workflows, saving hundreds of work hours.

“Autonomy is really important in construction because when we automate processes, we ensure that they’re happening consistently and routinely no matter what else is happening on the jobsite,” said Wahl. “The data we capture scanning is really important, but the actual act of walking a site and scanning isn’t the best use of our people’s time and abilities,” Wahl continued. “With Spot handling scanning duties, our folks are freed up for higher value tasks associated with driving schedule, quality, and safety on a project.”

While the BLK ARC does not offer the same level of fine detail as the RTC360, it is more nimble than its larger cousin. And that gave it a unique place in Turner’s scanning repertoire.

“The beauty of it is we thought that most of the time that we would need this RTC360 quality data, which is really nice, clean, precise data,” said Chris McKee, Reality Capture Manager at Turner. “And then we ran ARC on Spot, and we're like, ‘Well, we can still see everything, and we can still get measurements off of everything.’ So it's a hammer and scalpel approach. ARC’s the hammer, we go in, do the big stuff; less accuracy, less quality, but we can still get distances. And then if we need something more precise, we bring in the RTC360.”

BLK ARC Becomes a Money- and Time-Saving Part of the Turner Team

BLK ARCNow Turner is moving to more permanent solutions for this dynamic laser scanner/robot duo to minimize labor busywork, make job sites safer, and free up human brainpower – and they’ve bought a BLK ARC to be a permanent part of their scanning arsenal.

"It really streamlines our ability to capture as-built conditions and continually monitor the progress and quality of work,” Wahl said. “Spot is routinely and autonomously capturing scan data, and then our VDC teams are checking it against the coordinated BIM model to ensure things are being installed as planned.”

That’s what’s happening at Turner’s Ohio business unit, where they’re using a BLK ARC on Spot to perform daily missions and crucial checks of installations and components on site and dramatically speed up scan times. They had previously used an RTC360 for this task, and while that high-performance scanner remains a critical piece of Turner’s reality capture arsenal, the greater mobility of the BLK ARC and its autonomous capture process made it the natural choice for this job.

“To give you one example, we have a 350-foot by 250-foot room that takes us four to five hours to do with the RTC360,” McKee, who manages Reality Capture operations at their Ohio location, said. “We did it with the ARC in 15 minutes.”

They’re also using the BLK ARC on Spot to perform crucial checks against their model, catching errors big and small which makes for a smoother project overall, with fewer surprises.

“For instance, the model is designed the way things should be built, so if we compare the scan to the model, we can see if there’s something like an extra pipe that was installed or alternatively if something wasn’t installed that needs to be there,” he said. “With this workflow it’s easy to keep track of all of that.”

The effort is already paying off. Regular missions with the BLK ARC on Spot have revealed misplaced fireboxes, electrical units off-plan, and even misalignments within a fire suppression system that would have hampered effective coverage in event of a fire.

“That was the biggest thing,” McKee said. “Now we could see where the fire suppression sits as compared to the model and it's out in some areas six inches to a foot. So, if you’re hanging fire sprinkler heads based on the pipes for the fire suppression, you're going to be a foot off and you're not getting the coverage that you need."

BLK ARC and Boston Dynamics SPOT dog on a building's rooftop

Free the People

In its mission statement, Turner says that its “primary asset is people,” and Leica’s autonomous robotic solution helps recognize this twofold. One of which is protecting those people from potentially dangerous environments.

“We can send Spot into tight or hazardous spaces where we don’t want to send people,” Wahl said. “One of the more common uses of scanning is to capture as-built conditions before we begin a renovation or demolition project,” explained Wahl.

A lot of time we are upgrading old buildings with asbestos or have other hazards. With robotic scanning, we keep people safe during that data collection effort, and then the data itself is used to help us plan the work better, and that makes us safer.

The other is to get Turner’s people back to doing what they are good at: thinking through complex problems using intuition and creativity.

“When we talk about what we want innovation to do for us at Turner and for the construction industry, we always go back to this goal of removing tedium and inefficiency so people can reach their greatest potential to do meaningful and fulfilling work,” Wahl said. “Robotics and automation are just one way to accomplish that. By eliminating repetitive and time-consuming manual tasks, people can use their skills and ingenuity for the important stuff.”

McKee agreed. And as their fleet of Leica Geosystems’ sensors – including new autonomous scanners grows – Turner is able to find the right specialties for each scanner to maximize their productivity.

“We’re in a scenario right now where we've integrated the BLK ARC on Spot into our essential workflow because of the amount of data that we're getting and the amount of time that we're saving,” he said. “Let's say that we need an area scanned. It's quicker to load up ARC on Spot, drive out to the building, walk it through a really large area, download the data, and process it than it would be to send somebody out with the RTC360 to do that – like a third or a quarter of the time,” he continued. “We're to the point now where we really can't do without it.”

The BIG Picture

Turner’s ability to do more scans and generate more detailed and comprehensive as-built models benefits their customers long after construction. And while Turner clients are finding innovative ways to leverage the models for things like emergency planning, they’re most commonly used for building maintenance and retrofits.

“They can use the as-built model to see behind walls and above ceilings, so they know exactly where to make connections between existing and future systems, it just makes everything much easier down the road,” explains McKee. “The ARC is really streamlining our ability to produce a deliverable that really helps an owner manage and maintain their facility over its lifecycle.”