Space management software and reality capture – is there a better way to work?

thumbnail image 2D/3D Modelling

Steve Salmon

Space management software is, I think, a truly remarkable application of computer technology to solve real world problems. Far away from the headline-grabbing productivity solutions like Microsoft Office, or smartwatches that make our lives more convenient, technology has been quietly developed and refined since the 1980s that enables organisations to understand how much space they have, and how they can use it to best effect.

One of the biggest revolutions in this field was the integration of 3D scanning tools into space management workflows. Before 3D scanning, organisations would measure spaces, and upload that data into a computer model, by hand – and some still do. With 3D scanning from hand-held devices spaces can be measured in a fraction of the time it takes to measure by hand – while taking into account every desk, door, window and pillar in your building with pinpoint accuracy.

But is the partnership of space management software and 3D scanning perfect? In short, no.

3D scans for space management software programmes still have drawbacks

What’s missing? Well, importing 3D scan data into space management software is still a laborious and error-prone process. For those new to the world of 3D scanning, scans produce files called point clouds. Point clouds are a real-world space translated into a series of points which have to be loaded into a CAD tool such as Revit, where those points have to be interpreted before they can be used by space management software. Someone has to decide which points represent walls, doors, pipes, and so forth – and identify where walls meet floors, other walls, or ceilings.

This is still a highly manual process and one that is therefore subject to human error and increasing costs. A CAD professional has to literally draw around the points to create the shapes of the building – and of course, any inaccuracies they inadvertently introduce will be reflected in the final floorplan they create and use in their space management software. Once the project is complete, a second scan will often have to be taken to ensure that planned changes have been made in line with the design.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that space management software has grown beyond simple floorplans and space calculations. Space management as a discipline is now intertwined with wider facilities management workflows, including asset lifecycle management and TCO calculations. Much of the interoperability between these disciplines relies on CAD professionals being able to create parametrised objects – digital representations of real-life objects that have a height, width and depth, as well as other dimensions – that can be used in a variety of systems. Again, creating these objects from point clouds is currently mostly a manual process, which also relies on third party design applications. And given that some of those objects can be very small, creating them from point cloud data can be very tricky and fraught with error.

Introducing Space Creator from PointFuse: a way to automate the measurement of floorspace and creation of parametrised objects

This challenge was what led us to create Space Creator. It’s a module of our PointFuse Pro offering that automatically creates parametrised, IFC-compliant, LOD 200 BIM objects alongside highly accurate floorplan data.

We took our inspiration for Space Creator from the latest hand-held 3D scanners. They’re so fast to use, and require so little training compared to more traditional scanners. They make the barrier to entry for 3D scanning much lower – so we wanted to lower the barrier for organisations wanting to make use of that data. That’s why we’ve designed the whole process to be as intuitive as possible, so you don’t need trained experts to take advantage of Space Creator. Once you’ve registered your point cloud data from your scans and imported them into PointFuse, the whole process is handled within the Space Creator workflow, so there’s no need for additional software. The outputs are IFC-compliant so they can be imported directly into a whole host of space management systems immediately – and because the outputs are at LOD 200, they’re detailed enough to be immediately useful to space and facilities management professionals.

An investment that pays dividends in time and quality

We built Space Creator to help PointFuse customers save both time and money when working on floorplans and redesigns of space. One of our partners conducted an evaluation of Space Creator and found that compared to traditional methods of measuring floorspace, Space Creator generated cost savings of 84% – based purely on lapsed time. Combined with the fact that Space Creator can be operated by less skilled workers than are needed for traditional methods, the savings that organisations can achieve are significant.

Beyond simple costs, though, we believe that Space Creator can improve on the quality of a project. According to a leading software organisation, only 50% of space management projects are completed on time and on budget. That’s largely because, as we discussed, manual methods of measurement – even using 3D scans and point clouds – are error-prone, resulting in delays while discrepancies are double-checked and spaces re-measured. PointFuse and Space Creator give you a repeatable workflow that automates a lot of the areas where human error may have crept in in the past; as a result, delays are reduced, costs are saved, and projects complete on time and on budget.

A world of different uses

The ability to quickly and accurately create floorplans and object data for space management software programmes is something we’re really excited about here at PointFuse. It unlocks a whole world of possibilities:

  • Buildings managers can get up-to-date information on their space, accurately understanding layout and utilisation so they can plan ahead.
  • Office-based businesses can use this data to plan offices that are Covid-safe, allowing employees to remain a safe distance apart if needed while still ensuring everyone has access to services and amenities.
  • Environments such as schools and hospitals can increase the accuracy of their spatial data, enabling them to report on occupancy limits and ratios with more confidence, aiding compliance with local regulations.
  • Factories can quickly and easily repurpose floorspace to accommodate new production lines, responding faster to changing consumer demand.
  • Insurers can gain a wealth of insight into properties they cover, reducing the amount of buildings which are over- or under-insured.

There are of course many more applications – but the key point for me is that Space Creator helps to make this insight accessible to a wider range of organisations because it’s so simple to use. It’s just one part of the process – a companion solution to existing workflows that adds a layer of accuracy, information and intelligence – but an important one that slots seamlessly into your workflow to get things done faster and more accurately. It’s my hope that a tool like Space Creator can help more and more organisations to fully understand the spaces they own and work in, and get the most out of them.

Best of all, we’re currently offering a free 15-day trial of PointFuse Pro, including Space Creator, enabling you to see for yourself how much easier and error-free space management can be. Click here to register for the trial.