The pace of change is fast in the high-technology surveying sector and manufacturers are keen to demonstrate the potential advantages to contractors of using digital instruments over purely mechanical or optical surveying tools.
It is not just the fact that the traditional surveying often calls for at least two people where digital equipment often only requires a single worker, it is also a question of ease-of-use.
Traditional surveying requires specialist knowledge and can take many man hours to complete, whereas most functions and calculations can now be carried out automatically by digital equipment, allowing it to be used by people with limited training.
Bidding for work
For example, US-based Frazier Masonry Corporation adopted robotic total station technology for standard layout tasks in early 2012, and now makes a point of highlighting its use the technology when bidding for new work.
Vice president of concrete Mike Prascsak said, “When we explain that we’re using the same tools as surveyors to set out points, and that we can even reset lost points if needed, contractors are amazed.”
Vice president of operations Lonnie Herrell was the first to push for the introduction of robotic instrumentation at Frazier. “We started by reading a lot of magazine articles, then we attended World of Concrete to actually look at different solutions,” he explained.
“Then we arranged for demonstrations from five companies. Finally, we narrowed our options down to two systems and had both companies do work on actual job sites — we programmed in actual project data, and did layout work with salesman present.”
Frazier selected the Intelligent Construction (iCON) suite of surveying hardware and software from Leica Geosystems. He opted for a Leica 50 robotic total station, controlled with a Leica iCON CC61 tablet PC.
Mr Prascsak said the company had achieved higher accuracies and saved time and money using the technology over traditional methods. “On one of our most recent projects, a 30,000 ft2 (2,787 m²) building, we had a total of 1,027 points to set — that included footing edges, pier locations, bolt locations, etc. — and one man, working with the robot, was able to do the work in two days.
“With our previous methods, that would have taken three days, with a two-man crew. Especially on large buildings, there’s a very clear return on investment.”
And there has been a flurry of new equipment introduced to the surveying sector this year, reflecting the almost constant drive to update and upgrade what is available. Leica alone has launched a host of new software and hardware since January, including new slope measuring software for its iCON build and iCON site software.
The slope application is suitable for for iCON GPS 60 and iCON robot 50 models, both running on iCON field controllers. Based on points or lines, all slope elements can be flexibly defined without the need to load additional data. This is said to allow users to quickly define slopes and react to design changes in the field.
The company has also introduced a new line of rugged construction lasers – the Rugby 800 Series, consisting of the 810, 820, 830 and 840 lasers.
On-board technology includes Smart Lock, which continuously monitors the laser plane in real-time and sounds an alarm if the plane moves out of tolerance, while Maximum Temperature Stability technology is siad to provide the highest accuracy over the entire working range without drifting.
Topcon has also launched a wide range of surveying equipment this year, with a focus on increasing accuracy and efficiency. New products include the PS-AS robotic total station, a high-precision auto-tracking tool, the motorised DS total stations and the RL-200 rotating laser for levelling applications.
Topcon said the accuracy of the RL-200 had been improved from 10 arc seconds to 7, and the range diameter from 800 m to 1,100 m. The dry cell battery life has gone up from 85 to 100 hours, and the rechargeable battery from 80 to 90 hours.
Most recently, the company introduced the GTS-250 series of total stations designed to provide field-ready quality and accuracy with an economical, compact design. The GTS-250 series has a single-prism range of 2,000 m and features 24,000 point data storage.
Leighton Davies, business manager for survey products at Topcon Europe Positioning (TEP), said, “This series provides the perfect entry-level value choice, and also provides the construction professional with a dedicated layout solution.”
The desire to save time and money is something that Hilti has also taken into account. It said with the Hilti POS 150 and POS 180 robotic total stations, it now only takes one person positioned at the reflector staff and equipped with a controller to complete surveying tasks. Thanks to automatic tracking, a second person at the total station is no longer necessary.
Hilti said it was responding to changes in the industry, including tight schedules and budgets demanding that construction workers can operate quickly, accurately and efficiently.
It said, “These new robotic total stations are a classic example of how high-tech solutions are now becoming firmly established on construction sites. Just one person equipped with the corresponding reflector and controller can, for example, not only mark out the layout of building control lines and points of a structure in 3D, working directly from the building plans, but can also measure out the excavation for foundations or check the position of existing structural elements and control lines.”
Unlike mechanical instruments, these robotic total stations follow the reflector on the staff (and therefore the user) automatically. Hilti said a second person was no longer necessary when sighting points at distances of up to 300 m. The controller directs the user straight to the target when laying out building control lines or marking points.
It said single user working with a robotic total station was therefore able to lay out 500 to 600 points per day. Compared to mechanical systems, this raises efficiency by a factor of three to four, said the company.
The POS 150 and POS 180 differ only in their angle measurement accuracy. With the POS 150 this is 2.4 mm at 100 m, while the POS 180 is more precise and achieves an accuracy of 1.4 mm at 100 m.
There has also been a raft of developments in the field of mobile surveying, which includes vehicle-mounted equipment as well as aerial drones. The most recent launch from Trimble is the new Trimble MX2 mobile spatial imaging data capture system that can be mounted to vehicles.
Designed for mapping, surveying and engineering environments, the MX2 is described as rugged, lightweight and portable. Trimble said it was also easily deployed and redeployed on projects similar to conventional surveying equipment.
A precise laser scanner and an embedded Trimble-Applanix GNSS/Inertial positioning system allows the creation of the point cloud accuracies necessary for many spatial imaging projects.
Accompanied by Trimble Trident software to capture, process and analyse point data, the MX2 is available in single and dual-laser versions.
Dutch surveying company Geomaat, meanwhile, has developed a method of measuring safety barrier heights on European roads. It uses 3D Laser Mapping’s mobile laser mapping system, StreetMapper, and automated feature extraction software called Geomaat to process a laser scanned point cloud to determine the height of an existing barrier.
The software then automatically codes the geo-referenced 3D model, green for acceptable and red for requiring attention.
Geomaat is also exploring the use of StreetMapper data to identify and record the locations of the small detection wires located along the highway. Used to record traffic volumes, speeds and temperatures, for example, these provide essential intelligence for highways managers.
In a similar development, Geomaat is using the same point cloud data to calculate clearances and free heights along the highway prior to extensive resurfacing projects.
Jolle Jelle de Vries, managing director of Geomaat, said, “The fundamental difference of using StreetMapper versus traditional surveying techniques is that we can, and do, measure everything – quickly and with minimal disruption.”
“In addition to the highly accurate point cloud measurements, StreetMapper also allows us to capture 360o geo-referenced images. These allow us to visualise the DTM (digital terrain model), design, barriers, etc, in a real world context.”
StreetMapper’s vehicle-mounted lasers have been designed for the rapid 3D mapping of highways, runways, railways, infrastructure and buildings.
As far as aerial surveying is concerned, another launch comes in the form of the LA300 from Lehmann Aviation. This is a new automatic drone for professional aerial images and video, targeted at the mining and construction sectors.
The automatic drone requires no piloting skills or training, and is said to set new standards in aerial imaging. It can be launched by hand, fly for up to 30 minutes and automatically land in a chosen location. The device uses a Nokia 1020 camera and all flight data is transmitted to the drone using Wi-Fi.
The drone has a range of 15 km, at speeds of 20 to 80 km/h. It is capable of flying in harsh environments, between -25 °C up to +60 °C, and with winds up to 35 km/h. The LA300 weighs 950 kg, including the camera, and boasts a wingspan of 92 mm.
This all illustrates how the tools available for surveying work are constantly being updated, and in the space of just a few years the sector has changed from being focused on purely mechanical or optical equipment for use by highly skilled operators, to a fast-paced, high-technology arena accessible to anyone who has had minimal training.
But a tool that is state-of-the-art one day can be quickly eclipsed by another new launch, and it will be interesting to see how manufacturers continue to develop future-proof equipment capable of accepting new updates.