Quickie: Topcon acquires ClearEdge3D to move into software

Feb 22, 2018 | Hot Topics

Topcon announced earlier this week that it has acquired ClearEdge3D, a maker of 3D modeling and construction verification software. Unless you’re into AECish topics, you may not have heard of Topcon. Topcon is a Japanese company that makes positioning instruments such as survey stations, laser scanners and similar gear (among other things that aren’t relevant here). ClearEdge3D is a US software and services company best known for its EdgeWise and Verity brands. EdgeWise isn’t BIM (building information management), but ties into BIM models and workflows by manipulating laser scan point clouds to create objects for use in a BIM product like Autodesk’s Revit. By scanning an existing asset and then feeding that directly into BIM, the CAD modeling step in an AEC project can be significantly shortened. And since one of Topcon’s product lines is laser scanners …. you can see where this is going.

Verity, ClearEdge3D’s other main product, compares a point cloud to design or fabrication models, identifying anything that doesn’t match –maybe floors that aren’t level or items that have been installed in the wrong place. This used to be done manually, by humans who walked a construction site to make these comparisons. Verity automates the task, and laser scans remove any ambiguity or personal interpretation.

Why am I telling you this? Because whether you’re in AEC or not, this is about data. About using laser scans, in this case, for as many things as humans can think of. And it’s about applying techniques like object recognition (does that cloud of points represent a door or a window?) to new areas. One can see this combination having application far beyond the construction site, as the BIM model moves through the lifecycle of that building. Want to move a wall? A laser scan of its construction can reveal exactly where the electrical lines are. Need to train someone in a dangerous task? Have them move through a BIM model to practice virtually.

It’s also about hardware plus software. ClearEdge3D has said that it plans to maintain its hardware agnostic view of the market, so not disadvantaging users of competing laser scanners. Topcon has said it doesn’t see any immediate changes to Verity or EdgeWise but one can theorize that they might be bundled with Topcon laser scanners in the future. It’s also about software margins: hardware is notoriously low-margin because each item has a fixed cost. Software is the opposite: with downloads, the first license bears all the cost of development and every other license is pure profit.

Financial details of the transaction weren’t released.