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June 2, 2023

Laser scanning is quickly becoming table stakes within shipbuilding. Reality capture is being used to capture as-built vessels prior to refit, validate models, capture undocumented changes, and more. However, an enduring myth comes up is that “all laser scanners and scans are the same.” This is the key misconception we’re tackling in this post. 

Understanding laser scanning in shipbuilding 

Laser scanning technology is invaluable in shipbuilding, helping reduce both time and resources spent on manual measurements and subsequent data processing. By using laser scanners, shipbuilders can obtain high-resolution, 3D digital representations of ships, both inside and out, aiding in new build design, refit planning, damage assessments, and inspections. Most importantly, they are able to reduce the amount of time a vessel is out of the water

However, it is important to note that there are many different types of laser scanners, each with its own unique features, capabilities, and limitations. They can vary greatly in terms of accuracy, resolution, scan range, scanning speed, and field of view. Moreover, how these scanners are used – their positioning, the number of scan positions, and even the environmental conditions – can significantly affect the quality and usability of the captured data. 

Debunking the myth: variations in laser scanners 

Accuracy and resolution 

Different laser scanners provide varying levels of accuracy and resolution. High-accuracy, portable scanners are necessary for precision tasks and confined spaces like engine rooms or inside bilge blocks. Other areas where a small measurement error can have significant implications also benefit from precise and compact scanners. On the other hand, for larger-scale surveys like capturing the general layout of a ship, a lower-accuracy, high-speed scanner may suffice. 

Scan range 

Scan range matters, especially in shipbuilding. A scanner used to capture small parts or confined spaces might not perform well when capturing an entire hull due to range limitations. For instance, fixed scanners are great for individual spaces but may require a huge amount of time to scan an entire ship. 

Scanning speed and field of view 

Different scanning technologies also have different scanning speeds and fields of view. Time-of-flight scanners, for instance, may offer greater range but are typically slower than phase-shift scanners. A scanner with a wide field of view captures more area per scan but may lose detail on small objects or faraway surfaces. 

Environmental conditions 

The environment in which a scanner is used can drastically impact the quality of a scan. For example, some scanners are more tolerant of bright light or reflective surfaces than others, which is important when scanning outdoor surfaces or water-touched areas on a vessel. 

It’s not just about the scanner 

Beyond the hardware, how the scans are conducted and processed can have a massive impact on the final outcome, both in terms of quality and overall cost. The positioning and number of scan positions can greatly affect coverage and detail. Scan overlap is essential to ensure comprehensive data collection and to assist with scan registration.  

Data processing is also a significant factor. Different software can interpret scan data differently, influencing point cloud quality and the usability of the resultant 3D models. It should be easy to take a point cloud or scan file, share it with your engineering tool, and combine it with any existing 3D information (or start modeling from the point cloud). In shipbuilding, high-quality, clean point clouds are vital for creating precise 3D CAD models of the complex geometry of ship structure and systems. 


The myth that “all laser scanners and scans are the same” can lead to unwise investment and less than optimal use of the technology. In the world of shipbuilding, understanding the capabilities and limitations of different scanners and scanning methods is essential to make the most of reality capture. Always align your choice of scanner and scanning technique with the specific needs of your project to ensure the best possible outcome. With the right tools and approach, laser scanning can truly set sail to a new era of efficiency and precision in shipbuilding. 

Upcoming webinar: Reality Capture for Shipbuilding: Truths, Myths, and Facts 

Join SSI and Brian Ahern, CEO at DotProduct, a leader in laser scanning, on June 22nd as we expose the truths, myths, and facts behind reality capture for shipbuilding including: 

  • Mitigating barriers to getting started with reality capture. 
  • Getting the desired deliverables from the scan. 
  • Building scan data into your digital thread, across the lifecycle. 

See more information here:

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