From laser scanning sites for 3D modeling and design to radio frequency identification (RFID) monitoring for access control, various data acquisition technologies have proven useful to the AEC industry over the years. While scanning technology has been implemented successfully in grocery stores since the early 1960s, new breakthroughs are bringing about fresh applications.

Even so, adoption of advanced technologies in the construction industry has been slow over the past several decades, leaving many opportunities for improvements in efficiency and quality on the table.

Today, scanning technologies offer numerous possible applications to the construction industry that could dramatically improve workforce management, site safety, productivity and materials management — all while reducing costs and labor.

Levels to Fit Your Needs

Depending on the scanning technology being used, implementation of a solution can be either passive or interactive. Expected adoption rates among workers are worth considering when determining which technologies to implement to minimize process disruption while maximizing adoption rates.

Most importantly, many of these technologies can offer benefits even with passive use, avoiding the need to significantly change existing work processes. This means that training and implementation costs can be kept low.

Consider these levels of technology and their implementation costs and benefits against your own project needs and budgetary concerns:

1. Starting at the Simplest Point

Barcode scanning and hand-held scanners have been around for decades and are relatively cost-effective. Purchasing these scanners and putting them in the hands of workers to keep track of materials and equipment is a simple way to implement this existing technology to improve overall efficiency.

For instance, if you put a barcode at every laydown area on a site and a barcode on every piece of equipment or material, a worker can scan that equipment or material to associate it with that specific laydown area. In this way, you can create a real-time record of what is happening on-site, understand where equipment and materials are, determine if something is missing and who had it last.

Using scanning technology in this manner is scalable to many applications. Quick response (QR) codes and RFID tagging are available technologies that can be implemented to more accurately track materials as they arrive and move around the job site.

2. Going a Little Further

Lidar is another technology that has seen extensive use in other industries, but not a great deal in construction. This is another technology that can be scaled to meet job requirements or cost restrictions.

With lidar, you can perform basic ground scans to acquire survey data before a job begins, or you can scan progressively throughout the project to build a 3D model. To go even further, you can fly through the site with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, equipped with lidar to take high-level imagery of the site. Lidar-gathered data can then be used to validate earthwork, verify construction progress and inspect construction quality.

3. Gathering Data on a Finite Level

Scanning, as you can see, is an area of technology that can be defined in various ways. The two steps above are concerned with areas as diverse as gathering high-level data, tracking the movement of large pieces of equipment or materials on a job site, and collecting millions of individual data points to create a highly accurate model of a site. But it also is possible to use scanning technology to gather detailed information about the movement of people on a site.

With wearable devices for workers, scanning offers information on the movement and flow of workers throughout the site. As workers arrive or leave, the headcount is adjusted, assisting in safety procedures. Scanning in this way also provides solutions to locating equipment, analyzing resource optimization and performing site analytics to build a better, more efficient job site.

Adapting for Business Benefits

All these tools are scalable to meet specific project needs or meet varying budgetary constraints. With this in mind, owners can take scanning technology as far as they or their budgets will allow, even implementing tools that provide image recognition, like Essentially, there is a scanning technology that provides data for just about any situation, but the need, workforce commitment to adoption and budget will guide the implementation.

Scanning technology has been around a long time, but it has yet to see widespread use in the construction industry. It is not so much that these technologies have not been implemented because they are too complex, but rather that these technologies must be adapted for the situation and project.

This reaction could be due to a lack of business cases providing concrete evidence of the benefits scanning technologies offer. But the technology has been in use for decades and continues to improve to offer even more uses that could be implemented to provide gains for the construction industry. By starting with the simplest scanning tech, an owner can reap these benefits at an affordable cost.


Data acquisition technology creates data that needs to be sent and stored over a network. Find out how mesh networks are fast becoming the affordable, effective answer to providing reliable networking at job sites.

Read the white paper

Jesse Teas is a senior consultant for strategy and innovation at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. He has nearly a decade of experience in the utility industry, specializing in systems implementation and integration, telecommunications, advanced technology implementation, and 3D modeling, design, rendering and visualization. He has a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.