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De-ethanizer tank at natural gas plant, using 3d laser scanning

3D Laser Scanning: When Accuracy is Critical, Smart Tech is the Solution

August 2, 2017

When a client needed to add a 150,000-gallon de-ethanizer tank to its natural gas processing plant, 3D laser scanning was the technology they needed to make it happen.


Their challenge was threefold:

  1. The congested layout of the plant would have to be modified to accommodate the tank
  2. No legacy or as-built information was available to design the new tank facility
  3. The new system would need to be installed in an extremely tight time frame of just four days, leaving no room for error.

Utilizing the latest in laser scanning technology, Precise Visual Technologies was able to quickly and comprehensively capture accurate as-built data on the existing space.

“Accuracy was critical,” said James Kovalik, PLS, technology development manager for Precise Visual Technologies. “Laser scanning with the Leica ScanStation was the only way to accomplish the task.”

Speed, Safety and Accuracy Pay Off

Of course, retrofitting a large processing facility can be done without laser scanning. The traditional approach relies on using lifts and ladders to obtain hand measurements and makes assumptions based on perfect real-world conditions. The process is laborious, risky and prone to error, leaving much to be desired. Obtaining the necessary field surveys and documentation typically requires multiple costly site visits over a period of weeks, and measurements must be double and triple checked to ensure accuracy.

In contrast, our team spent just 10 hours onsite with the latest Leica ScanStation equipment and quickly collected comprehensive and accurate as-built documentation of all necessary piping, tanks, valves, structural and electrical components, and site features associated with the project area.


“By utilizing the 3D scanning approach, our team replicated the as-built conditions accurately in a 3D model,” Kovalik said. “The Leica ScanStation saved countless site visits, as well as time and costs associated with traditional field surveys and documenting.”  


The accuracy of the scans allowed the engineering team to thoroughly explore the proposed design with the client’s engineering, safety, and operations teams to jointly understand how all facets of construction would impact existing operations prior to actual construction taking place.

“With 3D laser scanning, the project team was able to thoroughly review construction issues and conflicts prior to construction, which simplified that phase and minimized the risks of unexpected changes and downtime,” Kovalik said. “Having the accurate 3D data also streamlined construction by reducing RFIs [requests for information] from the contractor.”

Point Clouds Provide a Perfect Installation

Transporting this massive tank from Texas to West Virginia was a complicated endeavor that required careful coordination among multiple agencies and organizations along the way. One thing the project’s stakeholders did not need to worry about, though, was the installation of the tank once it arrived safely at the facility. Thanks to the innovative approach utilizing 3D laser scanning, the installation onsite was flawless.

“The project was completed within the planned schedule and budget, and, most importantly, without interrupting the existing production or processing capabilities,” Kovalik said. “Through careful planning and design of the proposed facility, as well as extensive collaboration with their engineering team by using the Leica ScanStation, we were able to meet the client’s needs and achieve a successful installation.”


  • Construction Drawings: Electrical, I&C, Structural and Mechanical
  • Final 3D Model



  • Increased safety – all data captured from the ground with no need to climb ladders or scaffolds
  • Fast data collection – all project data captured in just 10 hours onsite
  • Comprehensive data capture – all data collected in a single site visit with no return visits required, saving time and money
  • Reduced downtime – perfect-fit installation means no second guessing or rework


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