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3D Scanning Technology: The Future of Estimating?

—May 01, 2014
3D Scanning Technology: The Future of Estimating?

By Sunil Nayak, Director, Product Management, Mitchell and Paul Rosenstein, Vice President, Product Management, Mitchell

With today’s auto insurance claims, repair shops and claims departments rely on vehicle data in order to help accurately assess the cost of a vehicle repair. For most appraisers, the data is sourced from the three major estimating software providers that either collect the data themselves or license the data from third parties. Just as movies, TVs and even printing are moving toward 3D, the vehicle information provider industry is as well and at least one provider is in the process of building a repository to house the next generation of accurate, interactive vehicle data using 3D scanning. To obtain the extremely precise data, cutting-edge 3D scanners, such as the devices offered to the aerospace industry, measure the car to a fraction of a millimeter. 3D scanning collects measurements of a car’s frame and chassis, and provides the most detailed and accurate automotive information. You do not need to be an appraiser to appreciate the difference that level of precision will mean to the future of physical damage estimating.

How the 3D Scanners Work

The process is a bit like watching an episode of “Star Trek.” The infrared laser scans the entire vehicle and generates a 3D point cloud of everything in it. By moving the scanner around the vehicle, the laser can take several scans with each one collecting 84 pictures as well as millions of points, each one 2mm apart. The scanner has a range from half a meter (1.5ft) up to 120m (over 300ft). The complete 3D point cloud gives the ability to measure virtually anywhere on the vehicle. When this technology is leveraged, the potential it brings to the claims and repair process skyrockets. Some high potential areas identified for use include:

  • Deformation-Based Estimating
  • Fraud Detection
  • Consumer Self-Service

Deformation-Based Estimating

Today it is sometimes difficult to detect damage that you cannot see during an initial inspection, especially when there may be only millimeters of deformation. With 3D scanning technology, an insurer could take an image of a damaged vehicle and then view a color map that would highlight the extent of the impact. In effect, a damaged vehicle could be compared to a “clean” undamaged vehicle that is in the database in order to identify impacted areas. Since the system is able to detect even the smallest dent, an appraiser would be able to identify hidden damage before writing the estimate—potentially preventing the need for a supplement or re-inspection. Today, this type of analysis is often accomplished through an initial tear down of the vehicle, which can create extra expense or vendor issues if the claim is eventually totaled.

Fraud Detection

In addition to helping ensure estimates are right from the start, this type of technology could be used to prevent incidences of fraud or overpayment. Similar to a crime scene investigator that is able to identify exactly how a transgression occurred, a 3D scan of the vehicle could identify if the vectors of damage match the facts of loss reported to the insurer. If the damage does not match, an alert could be sent to the desk reviewer or SIU department with a notification of the potential for fraud on the claim. Also, a desk reviewer could look at a photo comparison to identify prior damage on the vehicle, helping to prevent overpayment on the claim.

Consumer Self-Service

Another potential area for this technology is in the use of photo-based estimating. A consumer could take a picture of his vehicle and upload it to his insurer via a smartphone. From there, the insurer could compare the uploaded image to the 3D scan of the vehicle available in the 3D database to see how much damage occurred. If the damage is under $1500, the insurer could opt to place the claim on a fast-track settlement path with an automated value or photo-based estimate in order to reduce loss adjustment expense. This type of fast-track settlement, if severity can be accurately controlled, has great potential to produce major loss adjustment expense savings for all insurers.

The 3D Future

As the industry continues to demand increasing accurate information to restore vehicles to pre-accident condition, the future of 3D data collection is extremely bright. This advanced technology to collect automotive frame measurements and chassis diagram data from most Original Equipment Manufacturers worldwide and deliver to insurers and collision repairer through estimating solutions would be an important step forward. While there are current identified use-cases for this next-generation 3D database, new technology always transcends its original intended application. The most exciting, game-changing applications for this data have not even been imagined.

Published in Claims Management Magazine, May 2014

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