Staffordshire University 3D Scanning labs

Facility for education and research support

Goal: Establish a dedicated 3D digitisation facility at Staffordshire University

In June 2018, the department of Technical Services at Staffordshire University underwent a transformation.

I’d been working in Academia for approximately three years at this point and ‘radical restructuring to facilitate new and innovative teaching practices’ had pretty much become a daily occurence.

I was promoted (that’s the mental-health-conscious version of ‘arbitrary job title change’) Technical Specialist for Visualisation and Simulation, based largely off the work I and the team had done to refurbish the University’s motion capture stage.

My first task was to establish a series of labs dedicated to laser scanning and photogrammetry. I was given a budget and three rooms to play with, but my first priority was to understand what laser scanning even is.

An overview of the equipment invested in for the 3D scanning labs

Investing in specialist solutions

I was encouraged to invest the funds into as many scanners as possible, the idea being that lots of people could all do scanning at the same time. I advised against this since I saw little evidence that we would see such an adoption rate. More importantly, I was concerned that such an approach would be prioritising quantity over quality and that the long term success of the facilities would be mitigated as a result.

So instead, I shortlisted equipment that was highly specialised toward particular use cases. The HandyScan Black Elite is a handheld laser scanner that digitises complex objects (including reflective surfaces) with relative ease, ranging from mechanical tools to cars. Two things it isn’t particularly great at however, are large environments and extremely small objects. For the former, the Faro Focus S70 fit the bill quite nicely, scanning up to seventy metres per scan and with a range of resolution/quality options. At the opposite end of the scale is the MechScan Macro 3D Scanner, an incredible piece of kit hyper specialised on very, very small objects.

I likewise designed one of the larger labs to be a dedicated photogrammetry space, with sufficient room, light blockers and electrical outlets to help students digitise a range of 3D objects. An initial investment was made into Espher hardware to simplify the setup process, although much of this didn’t arrive until I’d moved on from my position.

My thinking was that between these options, almost anything a student or researcher may wish to scan was possible. Indeed, the facilities saw adoption from students across games design, ceramics, fine art, mechanical engineering, fashion and more.

Project details

  • Client: Staffordshire University (UK)
  • Responsibilities: Facility design, R&D, Education design, Training, Data Analysis, Product Management, Project Management, Academic Development
Laser scanning class in session with the HandySCAN Black Elite.
What's left of the previous technician.
Using the HandyScan Black Elite
Using the HandyScan Black Elite
A relatively detailed scanning subject
Scanning in progress with the HandyScan Black Elite

Evolving practice: Teaching practical skills remotely

I predicted that the labs would not be an overnight success. It takes time for students to become aware of the options available to them, as it does lecturers and researchers. I figured the first year would be a relatively slow burn and that was more people used the facilites and created cool work of their own, the more others would wish to do the same.

That hit a bit of an obstacle when Covid-19 hit, as these topics are distinctly lacking in the theoretical element. It’s not that you can’t learn about how the various products work in advance, but they’re used in a practical capacity to generate measurable results. As such, I had to adapt a delivery strategy that balanced controlled access with sharing as much insight as possible.

This placed great emphasis on the structure and tone of educational content. I stuck a GoPro on my head and undertook the various processes involved as slowly as possible, attempting to give students something that would closely match what they could expect to see when they came back on site. The videos were kept relatively short form and focused on very particular elements, so that students could quickly find the specific piece of information they needed with ease.

How successful this approach was, is difficult to say. I’d left the University before the end of our various lockdowns and so didn’t get the opportunity to engage with students on how the materials helped them to study remotely. That being said, what little feedback I did get was extremely positive and I know that several of the people using them have since secured full time employment.

Am I taking full credit for what is ultimately the product of our students perserverenace, dedication and hardwork? Would I ever do such a thing??


Laser scanning articles

I speak about laser scanning and 3D photogrammetry on a few of my journal articles, which I welcome you to check out.

Read journal entries