To the non-professional, it might seem that floorplans aren’t that important. Sure, they’re handy, but hardly an essential piece of information. Fortunately, us professionals understand that floorplans are critical to any number of activities in facilities management and AEC. They enable effective planning of how a space will be used, whether that’s a factory floor or an office floor; they also let us know exactly how large a space is, which can be important for things like buildings insurance. They can even be used to calculate costs of heating and lighting spaces, giving you greater visibility into the costs of running your building. And in 2021, floorplans have become even more valuable as facilities managers attempt to ensure that social distancing can be observed in spaces, either by rearranging workstations to be farther apart, or by limiting occupancy based on the available floorspace.
Given the importance of the floorplan, then, it’s a little mystifying that even as late as 2020 people are publishing videos and instructions online for how to draw floorplans by hand. In this article, I want to show you how software can make the job of creating and maintaining floorplans much easier – and why it’s something that anyone who works with floorplans should be considering.
The drawbacks of measuring by hand
Floorplans have traditionally been drawn by hand – and yes, one advantage is that you don’t need much in the way of fancy equipment to create your floorplan. A tape measure, pen and paper will do the trick. But there are a number of drawbacks to doing things by hand:
Human error creeps in. A steady hand and a keen eye ae pre-requisites for those creating floorplans, but even the best of us don’t get it right all the time. Sometimes mistakes get made, and those mistakes will obviously affect all the subsequent calculations that use the flawed data.
Difficult spaces are… difficult. There will always be some nooks and crannies that are tricky to measure by hand. If the dimensions of those spaces are guesstimated, then you introduce another opportunity for flawed data to subvert important work.
Health and safety. OK, measuring an office might not be very risky, but imagine you are re-designing a factory floor to accommodate a new production line, or a mining operation. It’s very unlikely that these places will shut down while the floorplan is drawn up, meaning that often the professionals measuring the space are putting themselves at risk.
Digitisation is tricky. Measurements made by hand are either turned into physical floorplans, or have to be translated into a digital format for use in other software packages. Obviously, if the end result is a hand-drawn floorplan, that information can’t be uploaded into a digital system – and will need to be carefully stored to ensure it can be referred to at a later date (spoiler: it often gets lost). Manually adding the measurements to a digital model is OK, though it is time-consuming – and any changes will have to be manually edited.
The data is limited. Your hand measurements are taken once, recorded, and then sit there. If you want to take a new measurement, you have to go back to the site with your tape measure and do it by hand – which is time-consuming.
The good news is that if you’re looking for 3D modelling software to help with your floorplan, software solutions exist that can take away the challenges of hand-measuring floorplans.
Software that turns scans into plans
Increasingly, surveyors creating floorplans are turning to 3D scanning tools and software to digitally measure their spaces. These tools combat the issues of measuring by hand at every turn:
- Digital measurements are much more accurate than hand measurements, and can go down to the micrometer if needed.
- Because of how 3D scanners work, accurate measurements of hard-to-reach spaces are easy.
- 3D scanners also make it safer to get accurate measurements of spaces that are hazardous, such as factory floors, or pipes in a ceiling vault.
- The point cloud that a 3D scanner generates means that your measurements are all digital from the start.
- Because measurements are taken from the scan data, it’s easy to go back and get additional measurements if needed – you simply consult the point cloud.
In fact, the process of taking 3D scans and turning them into digital 2D floorplans is common enough that it has its own name now: scan-to-plan. It is, it must be admitted, reliant on software that can be costly compared to investing in a tape measure and a pencil. But we have seen on projects with clients that creating floorplans using a combination of 3D modelling software and point cloud-to-mesh software can reduce costs of floorplan creation by as much as 84% because of the time savings that come from working with digital tools.
The right tools bring opportunity
I believe that 3D scanning and point cloud software represent a really exciting evolution for those who create and work with floorplans. Creating floorplans from 3D scans gives you the opportunity to create a highly accurate plan in a fraction of the time it takes to measure by hand – and brings a wealth of benefits besides. By converting point cloud data to mesh models, it’s possible to create floorplans which include 3D objects of furniture or machinery, that can then be used to plan new layouts in other software tools. To reuse that example of a factory floor redesign, if the scan gives you not only the floorplan but the existing machines, you can easily see the impact of moving machines or adding new ones, showing you where issues may arise.
Best of all, because 3D scans are increasingly simple to conduct, it’s possible to keep your floorplan up to date by adding fresh scans at regular intervals – ensuring your floorplan reflects the as-built conditions on the ground. In this way, software helps realise the true value of floorplans – making them powerful sources of insight for facilities managers and AEC professionals.
Steve is a seasoned technology general manager who has worked in both software and hardware technology businesses. Starting with a software and service company that helped businesses get on to the internet, through the mobile phone revolution and latterly a consumer electronics solution to keep vulnerable children and adults safe. The common theme being early adopter industries where technology has been the catalyst to change and improved profitability. Having led a number of businesses to a sale Steve joined PointFuse, a leading digital twin software, 3 years ago to develop a very interesting and unique software technology into a solution that enhances existing workflows in the construction industry.