June 2014

Three Things I Learned at HxGN Live 2014

by Sean Higgins, Online Editor | June 11, 2014

Sean Higgins looking at UCSD's big 3D Display.  

Sean Higgins looking at UCSD's big 3D Display.  

1) UAVs are still capturing the market's imagination.
UAVs are still very much on everyone's mind, as evidenced by the popular Aibotix booth and the multiple standing-room-only UAV sessions I attended. And it seems that UAVs are inspiring a lot of creative thinking, too. Ralf Kaiser, head of the physics section of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, presented the outlines of a project called RAMNET, which involves a tethered ground robot with power and data cables that would act as a base station for microdrones. This kit could be used to explore large, complex areas too contaminated by radiation for humans to enter -- the microdrones would fan out, gather data, and return to the base station to recharge, all without any direct human interaction or risk of radiation poisoning. Of course, most projects imagined in the US will have to remain in the imagination as long as the use of UAVs remains restricted by the FAA.

2) Technologies are fast becoming easy to use, more affordable. 
As I mentioned last week, Pegasus:Two is meant to be easy enough to use even someone like me could gather and process data effectively. The technologies are also becoming less expensive and so it is more likely that a smaller company could afford and operate rigs of their own. This trend opens the door for wider adoption, which brings along all sorts of changes for the technologies and the market.

3) The visualization of data in 3D has not yet reached its full potential.
F3 and Associates were on hand at HxGN with their new Augmented Industrial workflow for Google Glass. As their website explains, "our workflow consists of 3D laser scanning an as-built environment, 3D modeling the building features from the point cloud, and then implementing it in the augmented reality application.  We achieve high accuracy from surveying in the 3D model in the environment." iPads are nice, but the possibility of seeing survey-grade data directly in your line of sight without any extra effort is very exciting. For now, it seems they have it rigged to show only pipes, but the future possibilities are endless. If only Google Glass didn't look so kludgy.

See also: UCSD professor Falko Kuester's presentation of a very impressive 3D visualization solution. This was also a crowd favorite. The picture above features me (with cool-looking glasses) enjoying the display

By Claudine Wong

BENICIA, Calif. — 

A Benicia company is getting attention across the world for its cutting edge approach to an industry that has long relied on more traditional methods.

F3 started as a land surveying company, but considers itself a leader in the field of industrial measurements.

Sean Finn, one of the company’s three founders, tells KTVU that his firm has been involved in several big projects including the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

"For example, we worked with the Bay Bridge when it was built and helped with the foundations,” he said. “And when a strip mall gets built, we tell them where all the curbs go and where all the buildings go."

But then a few years ago, F3 decided to try something new.

“Sometimes to win the game you have to change the rules a little bit," said Finn of the decision.

So the company decided to invest in a 3D printer to see how much more perspective they could give their clients.

Now they own four 3D printers, working around the clock, helping give their clients a look at their project in a way no one else can.

The response has been stronger than the company could have imagined with big name clients like Apple, Google, Shell and the Walt Disney Corporation lining up to work with F3.

Locally, F3 has also helped with the Hogan Dam and the Cal Memorial Stadium.

The projects have several layers, Finn said. Clients get traditional paper plans but then the project site gets a 3D scan.

What they get next is a 3D replica of the site. Most replicas have moveable parts so that everyone involved can take a look at the challenges in front of them in miniature.

Clients even get what F3 calls a 3D hardcopy. Those are 3D pieces that attach by magnet to the paper prints so models can be taken into the field.

On recent project Finn says those 3D models helped a refinery complete a project two days ahead of schedule and saved the refinery millions of dollars.

3D printing is not new but Finn says no one else in the world has used it like this. In fact in a recent industry conference in Las Vegas, F3 went up against 5,000 participants and companies from 30 different countries and walked away with two first place awards.

July 2014

Petrochemical Plants—A Booming Business for 3D Laser Scanning


Written by Kevin Corbley 

Founded in 2004, F3 & Associates of Benicia, Calif., is a land surveying company specializing in industrial layout applications. Four years ago, F3 acquired its first scanner, with additional purchases following quickly. 3D scanning led to 3D printing and metrology in subsequent years. Now F3 offers a workflow that combines these two technologies with augmented reality to benefit its clients in the petrochemical industry and beyond. Geospatial consultant Kevin Corbley recently interviewed F3 Partner Sean Finn about this explosive growth. 

KEVIN: Why has 3D laser scanning become so popular in the petrochemical industry? SEAN: Before scanning technologies came along, huge petrochemical plants were modeled with a pocket tape and a clipboard. Essentially, the engineers and the team would try to route a pipe or as-built locations with pocket tapes and asymmetrical sketches. Laser scanning is a great way to capture an environment, maintain accuracy, and increase safety in projects ranging from in-kind component replacement, to plant expansions, and capital improvements.

KEVIN: What are the biggest challenges involved in scanning and modeling petrochemical plants and related facilities? 
SEAN: A lot of the archive drawings don't match the coordinate datums in the plant. We have to figure out what datum a scan is going to be on in order to match the paperwork in the client's hands. There are also a lot of safety requirements and paperwork that needs to be in place to start working in these environments. 

KEVIN: What equipment do you prefer to use when you are out scanning one of these facilities? 
SEAN: We use Leica ScanStation C10s and ScanStation P20s as well as Leica digital levels and transits. Leica Geosystems provides a good workflow and is a standard in the petrochemical industry--they're part of the equipment listed in some of the specifications. We found that Leica 3D laser scanners have great range, generate rich cloud data, and are really the right type of scanner for petrochemical or any industrial environment. Other benefits include the ability to take photos at the same setup, the ability to adjust resolution on the fly and capture certain areas. Specifically, the survey workflow for both the C10 and the P20 allows us to know how we are fitting our control and our targets before getting to the office, so it is a great quality control check while we are in the field. Additionally our clients had a certain workflow that we wanted to make sure we could slide right into. 

KEVIN: Do your guys in the field have to go through a lot of training to use these pieces of equipment and perform the actual scanning? 
SEAN: Yes. The software within the scanner is very user friendly, but target placement, setting the survey control networks and all that stuff prior to turning the scanner on is where your experts really need to invest their time. It takes a trained eye to understand where the scanner needs to be set up to capture an immense amount of data from different perspectives and at what resolution they need to run. So it is a process that we are constantly learning and improving. 

KEVIN: Does a field crew become specialized in scanning a petrochemical plant, scanning one type of plant versus another? 
SEAN: Yes. When you are talking about plants, from paper pulp to petrochemical to any other kind of energy or manufacturing facility, each has different safety hazards, so you have to prepare a mitigation plan. With petrochemical refineries, for example, there is a lot of elevated work, several stories high. You have hot pipes and hazardous conditions. When you get a crew that is comfortable in those environments and has a track record of performing high quality work safely, you definitely want to rely on them in those environments. 

KEVIN: Tell me a little bit about the workflow used in the field to collect the scans at a typical petrochemical plant project. 
SEAN: Each one is different. We typically set up by establishing what datum the client wants the data on. If it is going to be on a coordinate system that is monumented on the ground, or if it is going to be an as-built set of plans that we have to match what those plans constrain to. The surveyor then takes that datum and spreads it throughout the entire area using closed traverses, adjusted traverses, and high accuracy digital levels. All of this ground control gets put in place first. After the ground control is in place, we put targets in the entire environment--black and white targets or gray and white targets. Every scan setup has a minimum of five targets with coordinate geometry on them and that becomes the art form--how those targets get placed, how the scanner can hop around and have enough redundancy and coordinate geometry targets so it maintains accuracy. Once the targets are in place, they are then tied out by a land surveyor, and the scanning operation commences behind them. 

KEVIN: Is there a common mistake or pitfall that you have to watch out for when scanning a petrochemical plant? 
SEAN: The common pitfall that we encounter is the control datum. You have to understand where data needs to be georeferenced. Another pitfall is not understanding what the total envelope means. When you are collecting data for others, there is a responsibility to give them a very, very rich data set from the ground to the top. If that's several stories, you have to get safely creative with man lifts and scaffolding to get the entire envelope of the data set. There is a certain art form to collecting just the right amount of data. Collect too much, and it bogs down the computers. If you don't collect enough data, your client can't do their job. 

KEVIN: What was one of the most challenging scanning and modeling projects that you've done in the petrochemical field? 
SEAN: Recently we did a petrochemical facility where they asked us to scan an entire hydrocarbon cracking unit. The challenge here was the timeline and the immense volume of data that had to be collected--we had less than one month. We were one of the only firms that said we thought it would be possible. We used two Leica ScanStation P20s and two Leica ScanStation C10s. The P20s enabled us to go through the lower areas and collect really rich data sets very quickly at high resolution, while we used the C10s to step back a little bit and scan the higher elevations and higher columns. By utilizing the combination of all the scanners we were able to get this project done in the field, while a team was registering the point clouds in the office by sending hard drives back and forth nightly, and finally get the data set to our client in the time that they asked. We had six guys who worked six days a week in the field. 

KEVIN: How do you process your scans, and what software do you use? 
SEAN: We typically use Leica Cyclone to stitch the scans together and to georeference them. From there we take the point cloud data into a CAD-based environment. The finish line could be a registered point cloud out of Cyclone or a 3D CAD model. The deliverable can be a paper product or a PDF where you are looking at a manufacturer or construction set of drawings. The finish line can also be a 3D print, in which we print out plastic replicas or scale models of the environments that we scan for our clients. These are usually desktop models that are used for project planning, safety meetings, a better understanding of the project and how it is going to be changed or added to. Or the submittal can be an augmented reality application that enables the client to "walk the job" with the point cloud data or the CAD-based data for use as a planning tool. 

KEVIN: How does a 3D scan become a 3D print? 
SEAN: First we talk with the client about the scale of the model, or how big the replica should be. That's usually cost-driven, but you don't want to make the printed model so small that important features get lost. For the printing, first we collect the point cloud data and model it into a water-tight solid. Then it goes into our print software, and one of our in-house 3D printers prints it from the ground up. We use the Fortus and Dimension lines of printers from Stratasys, which have an almost 2-foot build space, are fast and are within .003 inch accuracy. 

The internal parts of the petrochemical plant units are challenging to print in 3D. It's hard to get access, so we've developed a way that we scan the outside of say a coker unit, and then we use the archived plans to model what is on the inside of that coker unit--which is sometimes 400 feet tall all the way from the snout to the base. So the client can have confidence that the measurements of the outside of the unit and the insides of the unit are based on manway locations or nozzle locations. Then the 3D print can open up like a dollhouse, and the entire thing can come apart. 

KEVIN: Does the quality of the scanning on the front end impact the quality of the 3D printing products on the back end? 
SEAN: Absolutely. The richness of the point cloud is what makes everything come together. So the better your registration and the better the resolution on the point cloud data, the better the print. And honestly, that also produces more savings for the client because the richer the data set is, the less time you spend modeling it into a water tight solid. There are some programs that will wrap it for you automatically if the data set is rich enough. 

KEVIN: How does augmented reality play into this process? 
SEAN: Augmented reality is a way that you can take your point cloud data with survey accuracy and you can model things that are going to happen or things that are hard to see. In the field, you place QR codes that maintain a relationship with the digital model so the client can walk through with an IPad or Google Glass or other handheld device containing the 3D model data. By tripping that QR code with the device, he can access and see underground utilities modeled in 3D and in accurate locations on the device's screen. He can see where a pipe is going to tie in. He can see a beam that is going to be put in later. That 3D CAD model just blends in through the camera function right on the screen you are holding, to scale and in the correct location. Again, it's just another way of communicating. It's a visually based planning tool. 

One example of this application was a job we did at a Bay area refinery. They were going to route a major pipe through a very congested area, and it seemed no matter how many times I was invited to a job walk with the owner and the people who were going to do the work, no one could really grasp the route of this pipe with the asymmetrical drawings. So we set up an augmented reality application for the next job walk and placed a few QR codes in locations that were critical. Everyone was then able to gather around the tablets that were accessing the augmented reality with a scaled 3D CAD model and actually see how the new pipe was going to affect and have relationships with the existing facility. 

KEVIN: How do augmented reality and Google Glass work together? 
SEAN: Google Glass is a hands free device that can work just like the camera function in your phone. As the client walks through the environment with the Google Glass and sees a QR code, they can scan that QR code with the Glass, and that loads up a relationship embedded in the memory file of the Glass--a 3D CAD model that will illustrate what they want to look at or what you want your client to see. It can be a future piping design that is going to occur in the facility right where he is standing, or it can be underground utilities that aren't otherwise visible. It can be metadata related to a pump, for instance, that says when the pump was installed, when it is due for inspection, when it is due for swap-out, who made it, who installed it. All that data can be loaded on that Google Glass, and we as a service provider can put that QR code on a sign or in the cement so that information is accessible in the field. 

KEVIN: Does Google Glass have the ability to retrieve data from the cloud, for instance, or do you physically have to load data into a chip in the glass itself? 
SEAN: When it comes to Google Glass, the model is actually loaded onto the device itself. With iPads or tablets, it can be either one. The problem with a cloud-based system, however, is that you need to have a tablet that has cell phone capabilities or there has to be WIFI within the area. 

KEVIN: What other industries are using, or maybe should be using, the integration of scanning, 3D printing and augmented reality?
SEAN: Any facility that operates on a large scale and for long periods of time throughout the day needs to have this technology in their plant. I wish I could videotape the reaction when we drop a plastic model on someone's desk or when we deliver a 3D CAD model to somebody who hasn't used one before. Giving the clients the ability to visualize their products through these tools and this technology ... it is just a matter of time before everything is done this way.

Kevin Corbley is a business consultant working in the geospatial profession. He can be reached at www.corbleycommunications. com. For more information about F3, visit www.f3-inc.com. To learn more about laser scanners for augmented industrial applications, visit www.leica-geosystems.us.

June 2014

The latest news and press releases from Leica Geosystems.

Leica Geosystems Announces 2014 HDS Plan Contest Winners

NORCROSS, GA – Leica Geosystems is pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 HDS and MS50 Plan Contest. An annual highlight of the Geosystems HDS/Laser Scanning subtrack at HxGN LIVE, the contest gives attendees the opportunity to show off their state-of-the-art deliverables by submitting plans that incorporate 3D laser scanning.

Historically, the contest has included three entry categories: (1) Buildings/Heritage, (2) Civil/Survey and (3) Plant/Marine. This year’s contest included a new fourth category, MultiStation, to recognize innovative work being done with the Leica Nova MS50, which integrates 3D laser scanning in a high-precision total station.

Thirty entries were submitted and evaluated by a panel of 11 qualified judges based on the completeness and usefulness of the plans, the creative use of point clouds and models, and overall appearance. The first- and second-place winners in each category were as follows:

Buildings and Heritage:

  • First Place: F3 & Associates, Inc., Benicia, CA - California Memorial Stadium 3D Hard Copy™
  • Second Place: Project Surveyors, Macquarie Park, NSW, Australia - Existing Conditions BIM Model
3D Printed Hardcopy Building  Plan Submittal

3D Printed Hardcopy Building  Plan Submittal


  • First Place: Allegheny Surveys Inc., Birch River, WV - Site Survey of Mohawk Dam for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Second Place: The Land Group, Eagle, ID - Topographic Survey for Vallivue High School Track & Field


  • First Place: F3 & Associates, Inc., Benicia, CA - California Crude Oil Refinery Vessel Top Replacement 3D Hard Copy™
  • Second Place: Zenith, Perpignon, France - 3D Scan for Clash Analysis in the RBH Plant in Ontario, Canada

3D Printed Hardcopy Petro Chemical Plan Submittal

3D Printed Hardcopy Petro Chemical Plan Submittal


  • First Place: Brasfield & Gorrie, Birmingham, AL - Grandview Hospital As-Built Survey
  • Second Place: 1519 Surveying LLC, Waco, TX - Raw Material Inventory Report

“This year’s contest was difficult to judge—the entries were all very good. We went through multiple rounds of voting,” said Mike Harvey, HDS product marketing manager for Leica Geosystems and the HDS Plan Contest chair. “Ultimately what separated the winners was the overall usefulness of the plans. They were each in a format that could be presented to a client as a final, impressive deliverable.”

A new level of innovation was evident in this year’s entries. F3 & Associates, for example, included 3D printed components that substantially enhanced the 3D visualization of the plans. Other entries creatively merged models with point clouds, or included Leica TruViews for interactive point cloud viewing and measurement.

“We’re seeing a transformation where the market is beginning to view the 3D world as standard,” Harvey said. “As a result, service providers are raising the bar on the deliverables they provide to their clients. The HDS Plan Contest gives surveying, engineering and construction firms the opportunity to evaluate the latest state-of-the-art being offered by their peers while also giving them a target to create something new and even more innovative. I can’t wait to see next year’s entries.”

Submissions for the 2015 HDS Plan Contest will open in the spring. For more information, email michael.harvey@leicaus.com

May 2014

HxGN LIVE 2014 Promises a Wealth of Information


By Linda Duffy

Sean Finn at HxGN Live 2013

Sean Finn at HxGN Live 2013

"Spotlight on leading edge trends that shed light on the road ahead – what’s next and how fast new technology is being adopted; examples include scanning used for augmented reality like Google’s virtual reality glasses and immersive 3D reality."

Sean Finn at F3 3D Laser Scanning and 3D Printing

APRIL 2014

3DPrintanimate.com Interview

Interview by Leif Thor © 2014

3D Industry Spotlight – Interview with Commercial 3D Printing Leader Sean Finn of F3 & Assoc.

I recently went out to F3′s facilities in Benicia CA, where Sean Finn, one of the partners shared a piece of this road, and I left looking at my smart phone like it was an old rotary phone that made you hate your friends with lots of zeros in their number


LiDAR News Article

X-Ray Vision for Plant BIM

By Kevin Corbley

A look into F3's Patent Pending Workflows that are changing the industry standard

"From the point clouds, we can create 3D BIMs accurate to within one-eighth of an inch."

-Sean Finn

Augmented Reality and Augmented Industrial™

Augmented Reality and Augmented Industrial™

University of California Memorial Stadium - 3D Print


F3 was part of the team that took ENR's 2013 Best Project Award in the Sports/Entertainment category.



From a land surveying and 3D laser scanning firm to incorporating 3D printing to help visualize projects. 


"we gather everyone from the ironworker to the CEO and put a three-dimensional exhibit in front of them. It helps us identify problems quickly and resolve them earlier in the process." 





In-House 3D Printing

JUNE 2013


F3 attended HxGN LIVE this year in Las Vegas for the first time and received a prestigious award from Leica Geosystems. Laser scanning companies from around the world entered into the HDS Submittal Contest. The deliverables were judged on creativity of displaying useful information, model use and point cloud. F3 incorporated its newest patent pending workflow, AUGMENTED INDUSTRIAL™. We implemented the use of our survey background, innovation of displaying information, and expertise in High Definition Laser Scanning and left the HxGN LIVE conference with FIRST PLACE in the Plant/Marine Category of the Submittal Contest.  We will be entering next year so keep your eyes out for what is next.



Award for First Place at HxGN LIVE 2013

APRIL 2013 


F3 introduces a new service in reverse engineering and inspection, the FARO Laser Tracker. This portable coordinate measuring machines with a precision of 0.0027" at a distance of 30' and maximum working range of 230' can provide your project with measurements to fractions of an inch tolerances. 


Also check out our Rapid Prototyping and 3D-Printing Department



FARO Laser Tracker



We will be displaying our newest patent pending workflow as well as giving away some great F3 swag at the 2013 Heath Facility Planning, Design & Construction Summit and Expo

February 25-26 at the Mascone Center in San Francisco.



3D CAD Model



U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson from California's 5th Congressional District visited F3's Benicia office in January where he was shown first hand how F3 has become one of the top progressive companies in the combined counties of Napa, Contra Costa, Lake, Solano, and Sonoma.  



Visit from U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson



F3 made 3D scanning an integral part of the design and construction process during the University of California at Berkeley Memorial Stadium renovation.



California Memorial Stadium




SPAR Point Group wrote an article on how F3 was able to start implementing 3D laser scanning.


California Memorial Stadium