You were part of the team who developed the first laser scanner for FARO, who were you developing it for? What was your reasoning behind it?
In the beginning, we developed the laser scanner for factory layout planners and architects. The first job we had was in a European car company where we were tasked to scan the existing factory environment to prepare for the installation of new machinery for new car models. Typically, in the car industry whenever something changes on the car the production line has to change too, but in many cases you cannot build a new factory just for a new car model, you have to use what is already there. The challenge was to capture the details of a production line to allow the engineers to design the changes and analyse which machinery can be re-used. For example, where can the existing robots be moved to make space for another robot? Does the conveyor system need to change with this modification, or maybe also, does the building structure need to change to make the new machinery fit? This was the beginning of laser scanning in Europe. The laser scanner was used by land surveyors a little bit earlier, but FARO products started off with architecture and factory design.
The laser scanner has gone through three generations and you have been there all along, what were the challenges to bring the laser scanner, as it is today, to the market?
We always wanted to improve our products incrementally. That means, instead of launching a completely new product to the market we always tried to improve the existing product first. Our first laser scanner was designed and produced by engineers in a single-item production style. The first step was to find a way that would allow for series production. We replaced single parts inside the scanner and put a new laser module inside which allowed us to use more advanced laser modulation methods resulting in better quality and accuracy in the data at much less noise.
First FARO Laser Scanner
In the next iteration step, the boards were changed. Instead of wires connecting all the electronics, we used so-called flex boards which are flexible printed circuit boards. It may sound small, but it created a much better stability and reliability of the system.
The next big step was when our laser scanner became much smaller. This was when the Focus Laser Scanner was born in 2010. We more or less had the same electronics concept, the same measurement principles, but just made everything smaller: the electronic boards, the mechanics and the housing. I think this was a big advancement for the whole industry as the volume of the laser scanner shrunk by the factor or 3 with a weight of only 5 kg. So suddenly our customers had a really compact, easy to carry system that could even be taken as hand luggage on board of a plane.
Next step then was the introduction of a new laser measurement system which increased measurement ranges. While the measurement range of the first Focus laser scanners was 120 m, the next generation was already capable of capturing data in a distance of up to 330m. The housing stayed the same but internally the measurement system and the optics were completely redone. Our latest Focus generation, the Focus S and M series is built on all the learning about measurement systems, mechanics, optics all brought in a completely new shape. At the same time, we also improved the manufacturing methods to increase production volumes and reduce production costs.
The market for laser scanners has evolved since you first released the laser scanner, tell us how different was it back then?
When we started, it was an early adopter market of technology affine customers always at the forefront of trying out latest technologies. Today we sell our laser scanners to construction companies for their day to day business which also means that the expectations of the product have changed completely. Early adopters are ok with product hick-ups or if they must search for parts of the solution themselves. But for construction companies, you must deliver a complete field to finish solution. This also meant that over the last years we were focusing much more on software solutions in the back end of the workflow than before.
At the beginning, without a specific target customer orientation, we worked along our credo of “only good points”, i.e. valid measurements with minimal noise and without measurement mistakes. As we are now targeting the construction industry, our aim is to deliver tools that go beyond point clouds. You can e.g. create CAD models inside AutoCAD or Autodesk Revit directly from the point cloud. With our BuildIT Construction software you can now do on-site quality control, i.e. at the construction site to verify walls are straight, the floor is flat, all the openings in the walls are in the correct position and so on.
What is the vision for FARO now especially for Construction BIM?
I think we now have a quite clear vision for the Construction BIM business. We want to support and drive the digitization of the construction industry. If you look at global statistics you will see that the construction industry is the second least digitized, just before agriculture. This is slowly changing however, and we want to drive and support this digitalization trend by providing according solutions along the construction and building life cycle. I think in this context it’s also important to deliver solutions which are what we call “traceable” so that we can always track and trace back when a change has been made and how accurately it was captured.
This is for example relevant with regards to compensation payments because something went wrong on the construction site. We want to make sure that our results are traceable in a way that we can always say what has been created or built based on which data and that the data has been captured on a specific date with a known accuracy. I think that’s a unique and holistic solution approach that will deliver real value to our customers. Like in a BIM model, our traceable construction concept focuses on having one consistent data model over the whole building cycle.
Is there something you are already working on for the future?
We always work on new products and improvements to current products to enhance the Traceable Construction Lifecycle based on the feedback we continuously collect from our customers. For example, we learnt from our customers that stationary laser scanners are good if you work indoors or within limited areas. However, if you have to capture very big construction sites or very big factories like chemical plants, stationary laser scanning from the ground provides a lot of detail and a lot of accuracy but it takes a very long time. We have just announced a partnership with STORMBEE, to now provide a flying solution with our laser scanner being out on a UAV. By flying over large areas our laser scanner can capture quite accurate data at a much higher pace than you could do from the ground. This is using existing technology, the scanner is the same, software is the same but adding a drone to get a completely new solution that provides more efficiency than we had before. In that mode, we try to complete our offering step by step along the whole construction lifecycle and along the needs of our customers.