Dallas Sluss loves the TVA's latest "toy", a 3-D laser scanner.

"It really allows us to do things better, faster, and leaner," says Sluss.

The 25-year veteran of the agency says the scanner takes measurements and is used to inspect substations, dams, and other structures. It reveals more details than ever seen before, which helps solve problems before they become issues, such as cracks in a foundation.

"We can get hundreds of points on that foundation," adds Sluss. "We can also get the bolt anchors. We can get the steel members, and all the details associated with that."

The scanner is set up in a varying number of spots on the ground, depending on the size of the project, and can analyze from very close distances or from as far away as 1000 feet. Besides the high accuracy, it also keeps TVA workers out of harm's way.

"In the past maybe we've had to put people into the bucket truck or repel down the face of a concrete dam," says Sluss. "With this type of equipment we don't have to do that."

At each point the laser spins quickly, completing a 360-degree scan in about a minute.

"The scanner provides a complete picture of what's going on so you don't have to go in with an idea of the details on the front end," explains TVA surveyor Eric Donan.

The information from the scans are then downloaded, pieced together like a puzzle, and used by engineers and other staff to complete their missions.

Fifteen years ago the scanning of Chickamauga Lock, Dam, and switch yard, which was done recently, would have been very time consuming. So it's possible the TVA wouldn't have gotten all the data it needed.

"It may have taken a year to capture as much data as we did in a day," adds Donan.

The TVA pays for the scanners out of its budget. Despite the $240,000 total price tag for the two local scanners, their efficiency saves the agency and you money in the long run.

"The more efficiently that I do my job, that translates all the way downstream to when I pay my electric bill, just like anybody else that pays their electric bill," says Donan.

Similar laser scanners are used by construction crews and by the Chattanooga Police Department to analyze crime scenes. The ones used by TVA are very durable and can withstand temperatures of -4° to 122°.