How Do Point Clouds Save Engineers Time in the Field?


Virtual reality applications, manufacturing, and medical imaging share something very unique in common. All of these work with 3D modeling, and they can all be aided by the use of point clouds. As 3D systems have normalized, the need for a better understanding of point clouds has increased. Here, you will receive a comprehensive look at point clouds—what they are, how they work, and what benefit they give to the engineers who use them.

What Are Point Clouds?

Simply put, point clouds are a compilation of data points supplied by a coordinate system that represent objects or space. Many times, these are employed for 3D designs, so the point clouds in the system will define the shape of a physical system using X, Y, and Z geometric coordinates. While every point is an individual (x, y, z) coordinate, point clouds are the collection of the single spatial measurements within a dataset to represent a whole.

Here are some of the key facts surrounding point clouds:

They are useful.

Point clouds can transform individual, unrelated data points into a shape or other useful form. Several iterations of free software are available that make point clouds easy to edit, display, and filter. Because they only use positional coordinates and sometimes color, a lot of data can be stored in point clouds. They also offer a less time-consuming and invasive way to collect measurements from populated buildings like hospitals and schools.

There are various point cloud formats.

There are different types of point clouds; therefore, hundreds of file formats for 3D modeling exist, and different processing software has varying capabilities for data input and exporting. Engineers and other point cloud users should be thinking about what the point cloud data will be used for and what different machines can read when determining what format to use for a given project.

Point clouds continue to evolve.

As technology advances, point clouds will have more applications. Already, machines that process point clouds with algorithms and vector analysis have sped up and automated some of the steps to lessen manual involvement and save time. Additionally, point cloud data, accuracy, density, and size will continue to expand over the next several years.

How Point Clouds Are Used

Point clouds are used when applied to and aligned with 3D models through a process of point set registration—otherwise known as point matching. This is a technique that finds the spatial transformation joining two point sets, ultimately merging multiple datasets into a model. The data are frequently collected and generated with 3D scanners for point clouds and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology. These models can detect specific measurements and capture a shape, model, or scene and input them into computer programs for further use and future manipulation.

Some of the many applications of point clouds are:

3D Surface Construction

Being able to visualize and recreate geographies is a key use of point clouds. By using this data, you can allow for the generation of shapes from single or multi-dimensional maps by converting them into dense point cloud datasets. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) rely heavily on the use of point clouds to make elevation models. Defense systems can use 3D surface construction to identify specific target locations.

Industrial Computed Tomography

Industrial metrology and inspection use this technology. Systems are able to take the point cloud of a manufactured part and compare it with an existing model. Doing this allows you to see differences, identify geometric dimensions, and display tolerances that show the accuracy and precision of measurements.

Medical Image Rendering

By using point clouds, it’s possible to accurately represent volumetric data. This is largely used in medical imaging, which aims to create visual representations and structures of a body in order to analyze underlying issues and devise proper interventions.

How Point Clouds Save Engineers Time

Point clouds have many benefits to engineers, computer programmers, and others, but one of the most useful is the saving of time. Since point clouds provide accurate measurements by engineering 3D scans, they are able to improve design. Point clouds provide a lot of data in a single set, so they improve communication and understanding among users.

Companies like As-Built Management use point clouds as tools for devising drawings rather than taking measurements and drawing entire projects by hand. They often serve as a point of initial data when creating different forms and documentation for a building or project. Point cloud datasets also offer a way to check precision and accuracy, maximizing design efficiency. Engineers appreciate that point clouds aid in building information models (BIM), 2D renderings, 3D drawings and animations.

Once engineers understand point clouds, the process of point cloud registration, and familiarize themselves with the relevant software, they will be able to perform certain tasks quickly, such as:

  • Developing stitched clouds from individual scans by combining them and transforming them into a large rendering.
  • Including more models in an attempt to secure design drawings.
  • Performing model clashes to test whether equipment will fit or if design projects will require more advance planning to obtain and move larger objects.

With the ability to acquire data quickly, ensure precision and accuracy, and have detailed information about the data, engineers who use point clouds are able to use time and resources more efficiently than ever before. 3D scanning to collect point cloud data has been proven to reduce work times and provide maximum accuracy.

Ultimately, project teams are able to communicate better with the amount of detailed data point cloud scans provide. More than just the (x, y, z) data coordinates, point clouds allow for 3D visual depictions that offer a more complete picture of structures and dimensions.

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