The Importance of Quality 3D Scans
It is no secret that the ongoing growth of the ballast water management system (BWMS) and scrubber retrofit industry would not be possible without the recent advances in 3D laser scanning technology.
Not only has the accuracy, speed and reliability of the technology progressed significantly in the past few years, but the simplicity of operation these devices has also increased – making the technology operable by anyone familiar with even a basic mobile phone operating system.
But has this newfound simplicity benefited the shipowner? Or has it created a wealth of substandard point clouds that are likely to result in engineering errors and overruns during retrofit installation?
In this article, our Managing Director, Chris McMenemy addresses these pertinent points.
As one of the original pioneers of the modern retrofit engineering industry, embarking on the challenge some 10 years ago, Cleanship Solutions has been an avid participant in the technological advances of 3D laser scanners over the years. We have very quickly moved from the early systems, which were bulky and often unreliable, to the modern, compact, and steadfast options of today. However, the one thing that hasn’t changed is our collective reliance, as an industry, on these devices to execute retrofit projects.
Simplifying the Complex
Without 3D laser scanners it is fair to say that complex projects such as BWMS and scrubber retrofits would simply not be possible….
The above image is the perfect example. This scrubber retrofit project, which Cleanship Solutions recently completed, included over 400 pipe spools, 70Te of steelwork and equipment, and countless modifications to existing equipment, structure and pipework. Endeavouring to undertake such a project with a sketchpad and tape measure wouldn’t have even been worth considering.
Indeed, it is almost impossible to quantify the time and complexity efficiencies gained from 3D laser scanning. With modern advances in the equipment, one can have, within hour(s), a 3D “point cloud” representation of the engine room, funnel, deck, or wherever your heart desires, accurate to less than one millimetre (if unrelenting accuracy is your thing). The output point cloud, nowadays, is ready to use almost immediately, thanks to auto-registration – doing away with the hours and hours of post processing that plagued the earlier workflows.
Such advances in technology and the resultant increase in efficiencies of established workflows enable retrofit specialists such as Cleanship Solutions, to immediately embark on 3D retrofit
engineering, confident in the quality, density and extensiveness of the point clouds we have captured – saving countless days in the retrofit process.
But as the well-known saying goes – not all that glitters is gold, and these advances in 3D laser scanning are no different.
Knowing how to Operate the Equipment Achieves Nothing
“…modern 3D laser scanning devices are so simple to use that an infant merely familiar with their parents iPad could use them.”
Operating a modern 3D laser scanning device is incredibly simple. Indeed, it is so simple that we teach our new Cleanship Academy 3D laser scanning recruits that even an infant familiar with their parents iPad could use it. After 30 minutes of our 3D scanning Academy training course (that includes a half day classroom program and three successful onboard scan projects), recruits are already capable of setting up and executing scans onboard a live vessel.
But simply knowing how to operate the equipment is not the end of story, it’s merely the beginning. The quality, reliability and density of any point cloud is determined by the fundamental knowledge of the operator, particularly in the following aspects:
Planning & Executing Scans Efficiently
A well trained operator plans well ahead of the 3D scan taking place. Using a combination of vessel drawings and experience of scanning similar types and sizes of vessel, a well trained 3D scanning engineer will arrive onboard with an established scan plan in hand. Suitable planning ensures an efficient scan flow through the space, ensuring logical scan locations, numbering and most crucially, sufficient overlap for post processing accuracy.
Ensuring Adequate Coverage
A lack of suitable coverage of the space scanned ultimately leads to gaps in the point cloud. In our experience, more often than not, per Murphy’s Law, these gaps tend to be exactly where data is required, and result in the retrofit engineers being unable to confirm space suitability or tie-ins to existing pipework.
Understanding Subsequent Use of Point Cloud
It is critical that 3D scanning engineers have a thorough understanding of the intended use of the point cloud they are capturing, otherwise they risk missing important areas or points of interest in the space scanned. Understanding how the retrofit engineers use the data, and the common difficulties they face is crucial in ensuring adequate point clouds are captured.
These points are the bare minimum knowledge required in order to produce reliable point clouds, which is why our intensive in-house training program covers them in detail. However, despite the required knowledge being seemingly obvious, we are still helping many owners deal with the consequences of low quality 3D scanning companies.
The Retrofit Bandwagon
The increase in simplicity of operating these devices has ultimately led to a flurry of startup 3D scanning and retrofit engineering companies around the world, all keen to jump on the retrofit bandwagon. However, as the numbers of these new players in the market has grown dramatically, so too has reportage of substandard point clouds.
Perhaps as much as 10% of the retrofit projects Cleanship Solutions work on include a point cloud that the owner had previously contracted one of these new startup companies to capture for them, and in many cases, the point clouds we are presented with are littered with often critical quality issues.
The following examples illustrate just a few of these issues in more detail:
Example 1 – We Want to Capture Pipework – Not People!
The first example, which comes from an engine room scan onboard a bulk carrier, demonstrates the issue of not carefully controlling the scan environment. Not only had the 3D scanning engineering failed to prevent crew members from walking around the 3D scanner as it was being operated, the operator himself had actually sat in front of the scanner in several scans!
As if this wasn’t bad enough, in some of the most critical scans, which, for a BWMS retrofit are around the ballast pumps and under floor plate pipework, the operator had sat next to the scanner and blocked the scanner from capturing key data of some existing pipework.
The result of this is that our retrofit engineer is unable to confirm some of the key pipe spool dimensions, through lack of clarity on layout of existing pipework. The owners now need to pay for these spools to be fabricated on site.
Example 2 – Point Cloud is Excellent Except for Where it Needed to be!
Our second example demonstrates the issue of the 3D scanning engineer failing to capture critical areas of existing pipework. In this project, the 3D scanning engineer had failed to capture scans which accurately showed the discharge side of the ballast pumps, which is one of the most critical aspects of the whole project. Indeed, the scanner had been set up immediately above the discharge pipework in order to capture it, but the 3D scanning engineer was obviously oblivious to the fact the immediately underneath any 3D scanner is a “blind spot” resulting in the following critical gap in data:
Otherwise, the point cloud is fantastic. It is full colour (many startup companies do black and white scans only to save time), and generally covers the engine room very well. However, this is all irrelevant if the point cloud is missing the one area that is most critical!
Without accurate point cloud data of the discharge side of the ballast pumps, our retrofit engineers are unable to design replacement pipe spools, or accurately route new pipework with existing valves and branches in mind – making the entire retrofit project almost impossible.
The likelihood with this particular example is that the vessel will require a re-visit by CSS to capture a useable point cloud.
What is Causing This Issue?
From our significant experience in this field, there is an obvious correlation between the rise in startup 3D scanning and retrofit engineering companies and the increase in substandard point clouds.
It is our opinion that the growth in simplicity, quite simply, has led to a surge in unqualified, untrained startup companies executing critical 3D scan projects with blind luck. We believe that the newfound simplicity has removed one of the previous barriers of operation that had otherwise previously restricted 3D scanning to companies who were fully trained and capable of doing so.
Whatsmore, the companies offering 3D scanning only are also often sheltered from the ramifications of their poor performance, as the substandard quality of the point cloud is often not picked up until months or even years later, when the owner embarks on the detailed engineering phase.
One of the biggest worries for the industry moving forwards, however, is not just with owners contracting directly with these startup 3D scanning companies, but also with the major retrofit engineering companies, of whom there are many, who subcontract their 3D scanning to a network of startup 3D scan only companies. It is one thing to forgive the startup companies looking to make quick money on a growth market, but established retrofit companies, that owners rely upon for a reliable retrofit projects, using cheap 3D scanning companies so as to selfishly increase their own margin (and significantly risk the project programme as a result) is unforgivable.
Conclusion & Industry Action
All is not lost of course. From the owner’s perspective, the most reliable and sensible approach is to use a retrofit engineering company that has an in-house team of 3D scanning operators, and can demonstrate that their 3D scanning engineers are trained in all aspects of capturing accurate point clouds onboard. Only then can an owner be truly confident in the output of the 3D scanning onboard.
After all, why risk the success of a project valued at millions of dollars to save a thousand dollars on a low cost startup 3D scanning company? Particularly when the potential ramifications of issues such as those discussed in this article, could run to tens of thousands of dollars?
A good 3D scanning and retrofit engineering company shouldn’t be judged by its successful 3D scanning projects, but by its unsuccessful ones, because there shouldn’t be any….
For the industry, the action required is quite simple – stop sending unqualified 3D scanning operators into the field with minimal or no suitable training and a lack of experience. It may be a suitable approach to make quick profits, but from the owner’s perspective all this approach is going to do is increase their costs and waste valuable project time through engaging suitable retrofit engineering companies to go-onboard and re-scan the vessel.
Let’s make this about the owners – not about the bottom line.