How has Coronavirus impacted point cloud users?
Another day, another blog about Covid – right? We’re used to hearing about how Covid has changed all our lives, and how work will be totally different forever (or it won’t, depending on who you read). But I’ve seen very little that deals specifically with those of us who work with point clouds. So I thought I’d do just that – and, from talking to customers and our own experience, try to paint a picture of what the pandemic has meant for professionals who use point cloud data in their jobs.
During the pandemic – data became the crunch point
Several of the professionals I spoke to related similar stories about data – both generating scans in the first place, and then working on the data. Craig Greaves from The CAD Room told me:
“Site work was a nightmare. Nobody had any guidelines in the early stages about how to work safely, so every time we went to a site something different happened – sometimes we’d have to sit through hour-long safety briefings, other times we’d have to wear full PPE, other times we’d have to wear masks while lugging all our equipment up long flights of stairs. Residential projects were also complicated because people were very nervous about having us in the house. That’s all improved now, of course, but for a while it was very tricky.”
In the interests of balance, it must be said that some other clients felt that scanning was actually easier during the pandemic as nobody else was allowed on site, so they could just get on with the job! But I think that highlights the biggest issue, which was the lack of a uniform approach to how surveying and reality capture should continue during the height of lockdown. It’s also worth mentioning that a few people did observe that the pandemic was an opportunity to showcase the value of point clouds. Once the scans had been done, nobody else needed to visit the site – they could just consult the point cloud. I imagine that was quite a wake-up call for a number of trades and designers who had resisted point clouds in the past.
Secondly, the message I heard from my conversations was that lockdown made collaboration on point cloud data very difficult. With design teams all working from home, the size of point clouds became a problem. One client told me they had to buy a whole fleet of extra hard drives in order to post the files to each other. Given the size of the hard drives you’d have to buy, and the need to post them with the right level of tracking, speed and insurance, that likely added up to quite a hefty expense for many companies.
It also caused problems with scheduling, Craig told me: “If someone needed to do drawings on Wednesday, for instance, we’d need to be copying the data Monday night, then posting it to them Tuesday so that it’d be there in time. It wasn’t impossible, but it was a lot of extra setup and admin that made life harder.”
After the pandemic – has it got easier?
In many ways, of course it has – as restrictions have lifted, activities like scanning have become easier again, and people are returning to the office. But, at least for now, there’s enthusiasm from many employees to continue working from home – at least some of the time. A lot of people discovered that they enjoyed cutting out the commute (both the time and the cost), and that they were able to be just as productive from home as they were in the office.
With this new interest in remote working, many organisations that work with point clouds are naturally looking at alternatives to posting hard drives to make their point cloud data available to employees wherever they are.
VPNs solve the challenge of accessing data remotely – but not the issue of file size. After all, viewing a massive point cloud file over a VPN – or downloading it to your machine to view – isn’t an optimal experience. Of course, firms could simply demand that their employees return to the office. But research has indicated that organisations that mandate a return to the old way of doing things risk losing a lot of staff, quickly, to those that can accommodate new ways of working. It would be difficult for firms to try and scale operations back up if their designers all left because a competitor was able to let them continue working from home, after all!
I think it’s imperative that firms that rely on point cloud data look into solving this problem as quickly as possible. Beyond the issues around staff retention I highlighted above, enabling employees to work with point clouds quickly and conveniently from their homes likely also means they can do it from anywhere – a coffee shop, or a construction site, for instance. Such a solution would make your firm more flexible, and enable employees to complete their work more efficiently because they can make quick edits or do snippets of work on the go.
It’s one of the reasons we’re excited about the possibilities for our cloud storage platform, the Zappcha Cloud. It enables firms to store their point cloud data in the cloud, and stream that data directly to our software – either Arena4D, or our plug-ins for SolidWorks and Rhino. Because it uses our unique (and free) VPC file format, the Zappcha Cloud lets users stream point clouds of any size in incredible quality, meaning that working from home doesn’t force you to make do with poor quality data, or wait for hours for the point cloud to load. If you want to give it a try, you can sign up at Zappcha.com.