3D Scanning: The End of the Tape Measure?


Dylan Shockey, Project Engineer, Chief Engineering PLLC

The old reliable tape measure. A simple and essential tool that has been the staple of workers from blue collar to white collar. Tape measures have been used not only by the home handy man, but also by professional engineers across the globe to aid them in designing the newest innovations and technology for their customers … until now. In the engineering world, the tape measure is starting to be phased out – you can, almost literally, measure its untimely end in the engineering consulting world with a tape measure.

How can such a crucial tool – one that has long been essential for every engineer – suddenly become obsolete? The answer is in 3D scanning. 3D scanning technology is changing the way modern engineering consulting is done. Now, at this point, some of you have probably stopped reading and scoffed at the idea of 3D scanning replacing old faithful. Nothing can ever replace the trusty tape measure and human error—I mean, human eye. How can some blocky 3D image possibly replace a tape measure? Well, the answer is in the cloud—point cloud, that is.

Today’s 3D scanners produce imagery far superior to older, blockier 3D images by using LIDAR technology which uses lasers, reflection, and refraction that provide accuracy in scans up to 1/1000th of an inch*. Modern scanners can map a process exactly as it is in a facility and, while the scanner is at it, will map out the whole facility, just because it can—and because you told it to.

How many engineers and even fabricators have run into a situation where they measure for hours upon hours, draw up a process as best they can, design everything according to those drawings and it still just doesn’t quite fit? Countless engineers have fallen into this trap, and we end up spending extra time, and money, making field adjustments or having to back out of a project to redo the entire design just because something didn’t quite add up.


We all know the situations, too: the floor isn’t plumb and square like we assumed it was; the supports aren’t actually the same height; the platforms aren’t actually square with each other; the list of time-, money-, and trust-losing scenarios goes on. With 3D scanning and point cloud technology, these variables that you find during installation of your design are no longer unknown. An engineer can scan an entire process, building, or component, and get any measurement they want from it, all in a fraction of the time.

​An engineer can scan an existing process in a facility and use the point cloud scan to get the exact dimensions needed to create an innovation or design that fits in the field. With the point cloud technology, you can measure the needed dimensions for an addition to a process, design the addition in AutoCAD, and install the actual design into the process on the point cloud. You can show your design installed in your client’s facility before it is even built (see below).

Above: 3D scanning allowed a new component to be designed in the exact environment in which it would be installed

A prime example of a company utilizing this technology to improve efficiencies is Chief Engineering in Memphis, Tenn. Because of 3D scanning, Chief Engineering can provide unparalleled designs and concepts to clients, helping it become one of the Mid-South’s leading engineering firms. 3D scanning ensures each design is done quickly and more accurately than ever before, which shortens the time from discovery to installation.

The age of the tape measure in the engineering world is reaching its end and a new age is dawning. Chief Engineering, and other firms like it, can keep your customers or business on the forefront of this new age. Welcome to the age of 3D scanning. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

If you have any scanning or engineering solution needs, contact Chief Engineering at 901-574-3403 to speak to an engineer.