3D Laser Scanners vs. Total Stations: What’s the Difference?

If you work in the construction, architectural or real estate industries, you probably have some familiarity with 3D laser scanners and total stations. In an effort to fully understand some of the differences and similarities between the technologies, we must first comprehend what it is that they do and how they work. 

What Does A 3D Laser Scanner Do?

3D laser scanner

It’s important to remember that depending upon the job that you’re conducting or the goal and scope of the project, there are a myriad of 3D Laser Scanners on the market. Some have been designed with innovative technology for use on the top of vehicles and in hard to reach places while others are designed to be used in a stable environment on solid ground. 

A 3D Laser Scanner uses LIDAR technology to capture data in a wide variety of settings. There are very few surfaces or objects that can escape the lens of a 3D Laser Scanner … they are very diverse and multifaceted. The scanner literally scans an object, building or environment and takes millions of coordinates into account. Each coordinate is made up of three points (x, y and z) that are combined together to form what is known in the industry as a point cloud. 

Each of these coordinates, also known as (Northing (y), Easting (x) and Elevation (z)) are used to create a point cloud. With point cloud data we are able to obtain the exact measurement from any point on the point cloud to any other point. 

3D Laser Scanners Can Perform The Following

Although the list below is not exhaustive, it will give you some idea of the capabilities and outputs of a 3D Laser Scanner. 

  • As-built survey
  • Reality Capture
  • Existing conditions survey
  • Construction verification
  • Sequencing
  • Simulations
  • 2D & 3D maps
  • Prefabrication
  • Architectural documentation or historical preservation
  • Calculating volumes, deformation analysis and overhead clearances
  • Virtual design and construction
  • Laser scanning for facility coordination
  • Collecting geospatial data

What Does A Total Station Do?

Total Station

A total station's purposes vary widely from that of a 3D Laser Scanner. Luckily, our blog on total stations can answer a lot of the questions you may have surrounding the capabilities of a total station and how it works. Total stations are known for their accuracy and ability to save teams time and money. From mining and meteorology to forensic investigations and BIM, there are numerous industries putting this technology to work. Some of the functions of a total station are listed below. 

Total Station Can Perform The Following

  • Topographic surveys
  • Land and title surveys
  • Roadway and corridor surveys
  • Design surveys
  • Infrastructure surveys
  • Volumetric surveys to measure stockpile volumes
  • Power line inspections
  • Utility design surveys
  • Crash scene investigations
  • Crime scene investigations
  • Mine and quarry surveys
  • Tank calibration or inspection

3D laser scanners are great for creating 3D models or renderings of an object or environment. They’ve been used in historical preservation projects, in improving public safety workflows and to enhance the experiences of popular and modern culture, to name a few. The work of 3D laser scanners is all around us.  

Total stations are also used widely and in numerous fields including construction, civil engineering and surveying. While they too use scanners, total stations are optical instruments that measure horizontal and vertical angles as well as distance by analyzing the slope between a specific point and itself.  

If you’re looking to introduce 3D laser scanning technology or a total station to your next job, we highly recommend speaking with one of our industry experts here at Datum Tech Solutions. Contact us here