Tracking Technology

19 March 2008

Increasing Efficiency, Simplifying construction operations, improving accuracy and minimising downtime are some of the clear key benefits of integrating GPS into modern surveying equipment and machine control.

Jim Veneziano, general manager for Trimble's construction division, said that by using the company's site positioning total station or GPS technology, the new SCS900 site controller software tablet edition is able to achieve such benefits.

Mr Veneziano added that the SCS900 tablet edition combines the easy-to-use data management system of existing Trimble SCS900 software with the graphics capabilities and processing power of a tablet PC.

“It extends the use of Trimble site positioning systems to construction jobsite supervisors, foremen and project managers who coordinate activities from a vehicle,” he added.

The software is designed for use on the jobsite with the Trimble positioning product family, featuring the Trimble SPS780 and SPS880 Smart GPS antennas and the Trimble SPS750 and SPS850 Modular GPS receivers.

Leica Geosystems' SmartWorx is an all-in-one GPS and TPS (Total Station) software suite for the Leica System 1200 Series of instruments.

A spokesman for the company said, “The instrument software with the same user interface for Tachymeter and GPS instruments has an intuitive control concept that delivers quick and reliable results in the field.”

He added that the software comes with the new set-up program for the Leica SmartPole, which gives users the freedom to immediately start with the measurement of data points while performing stationing and orientation 'on-the-fly'.

Satellite Development

Currently there are two fully operational satellite networks for use in GPS-based systems including the US military GPS network (NAVSTAR), which is now permanently available for civilian use, and the Russian owned network, known as GLONASS, which is being updated. The key development in this area will be launch of the European system, called Galileo, which is currently experiencing major setbacks following the collapse of negotiations between the European Commission and the final private consortium interested in the project. In a new report from the Commission it states that if the Galileo project is to be salvaged, pubic funds, rather than a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), will have to be used. There are two suggestions offered by the Commission: either an initial constellation of 18 satellites are launched with public money, with the launch of the remaining 12 and the operation of the system being run as a PPP concession. The other option is to buy all 30 satellites with public money, with a PPP taking responsibility for just the operation of the system. The cost of these operations will be between € 9 and € 12 billion. It is not clear how much the initial Galileo system budget will be exceeded by, but the Commission states that € 2,5 billion of public funds have been used over the last 10 years to get this far in the process. Full operation of the system will not begin until the end of 2012 at the earliest, five years later than the original 2008 deadline.

Topcon launched a new processor, the GR-3 system - the world's first RTK triple-constellation satellite receiver – in 2006.

Ian Stilgoe, Topcon's product marketing and support manager, survey products, said, “The GR-3 was the world's first production model to receive the Galileo test signal; it is designed to pick up all signals available now and all signals planned for the foreseeable future.”

Besides offering universal satellite tracking-GPS, GLONASS and the Galileo system (when operational) Mr Stilgoe added that Topcon has recently added the world's first UHF digital radio option for a GNSS receiver.

“The modern digital design provides improved performance and reliability and at the same time, the maximum level of flexibility for system customisation,” he said.

He added that the unit also set new standards for rugged construction and unparalleled durability and has 72 universal channels that can track up to 36 satellites simultaneously.

“Topcon Europe Positioning has led the precision satellite positioning industry for years, recently with the world's first triple constellation technology, G3, and now with the first, next-generation digital radio design,” Mr Stilgoe said.

Surveying equipment manufacturers are gearing up for the launch of the Galileo satellite network and tracking and monitoring its performance.

Valentin Fuchs, product manager for positioning, at Leica, said, “Galileo will be a huge milestone in the future. We have a core technology group at Leica and some of them are also part of the Galileo committee. Therefore, we are working in a kind of Galileo environment with them. We are doing on-going testing with Galileo and we at Leica want to have the latest technology so when the network is launched we will be there and our receivers will be ready for it.”

Machine Control

Use of GPS based machine control is a growing phenomenon in the construction industry due to advances in software used to improve the accuracy of GPS receivers. Mr Fuchs said GPS receivers for use in the construction industry must be simple and robust.

Once all three satellite networks are operational signal coverage will be boosted and this in turn will improve the performance of machine control, particularly in problematic locations such as built up cities or in areas surrounded by trees, Mr Fuchs added.

The company's range of GPS based solutions for specific applications include PaveSmart for concrete paving, GradeSmart for earthworks operations and DigSmart for excavating purposes.

“We are adding more graphics to the DigSmart solution. We already have a top view but it will include some long section and cross section views as well, which will make the work more graphically guided and easier for the operator to work with,” Mr Fuchs said.

Trimble has launched its latest version of the Trimble GCS900 grade control system, a solution for mass excavation through finished grade earthworks. Christian Luttenberger, segment manager, Europe, construction division, for Trimble, said that the GCS900 version 10.7 includes new, high accuracy configurations for dozers and graders using the new Trimble SPS730 and SPS930 universal total stations. The system also extends the flexibility for the in-cab Trimble CB430 control box to include the CCS900 compaction control system and conventional configurations of the Trimble GCS300 through GCS600 grade control systems.

“Digital data seamlessly connects the design engineer, contractors, operators and supervisors into an integrated workflow – eliminating compatibility delays that arise from using products from different software companies,” Mr Luttenberger said.

Topcon expanded its Millimeter GPS precise positioning technology into the paving industry earlier this year, creating the world's first 3D-GPS+ control system for pavers, profilers and trimmers.

A company spokesman said Topcon's unique technology provides a significant enhancement in the vertical precision of RTK GPS.

He added, “The technology, known as Lazer Zone, is used by hundreds of companies worldwide to generate a vertical accuracy to within a few millimeters as compared to the centimeter vertical accuracy of conventional RTK GPS.”

Topcon's 3D LPS-900 system, based on the GPT 9000 machine control, features its exclusive X-TRAC tracking technology and integrated radio communication for higher speed operation under all conditions.

Achiel Sturm, Topcon product marketing manager for Europe, said, that the LPS-900 takes electronic site plans and controls grade of machines.

He said, “The LPS-900 truly brings seamless integration of traditional survey technology with the latest in local positioning and digital site plan-based grade control.”

Levelling With Lasers

Developments have also been made in laser technology used for levelling.

Leica Geosystems launched the new Rugby 50 described by the company as, a ”tough, affordable laser, ready to work when its user is.” The company also launched the Leica LINO L2 line laser on the back of the success of its DISTO laser system, which is equipped with Power Range Technology to guarantee ”excellent visibility even in a bright environment the lines are easy to see.”

Sokkia has introduced its Triax LT40 cross line laser to replace the LT50 and Pentax offers a high-quality automatic self-levelling laser, the PLP-700 Series.

Outlook

The future of GPS technology and performance on construction applications will be shaped by the launch of the delayed Galileo network. Despite other industries implementing steering systems in machines using GPS, it is not safe for an operator working in construction machinery to be fully replaced by automation, Mr Fuchs said.

Mr Luttenberger said, “Positioning technology allows contractors to change the construction process, but at present it is still in the relatively early adoption stage for machine control. For maximum benefit, contractors will eventually adopt the technology across the whole of their operations. As contractors learn the value and benefits of having complete sites operating with grade control and guidance systems, the adoption will be driven by the value the systems provide and the need to increase productivity to remain competitive.”

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