Kansas City, Kan.-based Vanum Construction purchased its first robotic total station, a Sokkia unit, two months ago. “Vanum is a general contractor that specializes in pool construction,” explains Carpenter Foreman Tim Bishop. “I’m using the Sokkia right now to lay out a pool, and I love it and will never go back to using a manual total station.”
A 12-year veteran with Vanum, Bishop says that a total station is used to lay out an entire pool site, including the pool, utilities and bath house. “Most of the software is similar to what we were using, which kept the learning curve to a minimum,” he adds, noting, however, that the new unit offers the capability to view a project in 3-D.
In neighboring Missouri, Kansas City general contractor J.E. Dunn has owned robotic units for several years. It recently expanded its fleet with the purchase of three Topcon IS robotic total stations in October to help lay out building footings, foundations and site work for the new 185-acre, $687 million National Nuclear Security Administration project in the city. “Many of our building projects are quite complex,” explains Craft Superintendent of Carpenters Tino Lipari. “The new robotic units allow us to lay out these complex structures more efficiently and with greater accuracy.”
He points out that savings in both time and labor costs are especially dramatic on large projects like this one. Having one person versus two walking the site has obvious cost savings. And not having an individual at the instrument constantly directing the prism holder to move right or left a few inches saves a huge amount of time. “When using a robotic total station, the prism holder knows where he or she is at, at all times,” Lipari says.
Even with all the benefits associated with using robotic units, he notes that the company still maintains a fleet of manual total stations. “Not everyone is comfortable with the new technology,” Lipari adds. “In fact, some of our more veteran superintendents have only recently adapted to using a total station versus more conventional layout methods.”
Sorenson says that one of the advantages of robotic total stations is their ease of use, and unlike mechanical total stations, everything happens at the pole. “The motorized instrument is the robot, which the contractor controls from the pole,” he explains. “If you’re measuring a point, the robot will follow your moves with the pole. If you’re staking a point, it directs you to the point. The layout software is the same in both brands and is easy to use as well, since it was designed specifically to be used by contractors. AutoCAD drawings can be downloaded and read by the operator who simply indicates the points to be measured.”
Trimble introduced its LM80 Layout Manager software in 2003, as McCartney points out, to make the layout process more user friendly for contractors. “The software transforms blueprints into easily read graphics in terms with which contractors are familiar,” he says.
Tim Carr, president of Custom Concrete Company in Westfield, Ind., explains how it works for his company. “We receive a PDF blueprint from our customer, convert the PDF to a drawing and then download it to our CustomCAD software,” Carr says. “After assigning total station numbers to the corners we export the file from CustomCAD to the Trimble LM80. It’s easy.”
It’s also about differentiating his company from the competition. “In today’s economy, contractors need to deliver value to the customer,” he adds. “We use the robotic total station to locate corners for excavation, footing and walls. But prior to even winning a project, we use it to gather field conditions. This helps us determine the wall height, depth of the brick ledge and how much granular fill a basement may need. The application helps us more accurately identify customer needs and pin down costs at the same time.”
Carr is a believer in robotics. “We started our company in 1969 and spent years using conventional systems. Robotics and the attendant technology have substantially reduced our costs, sped up the operation and allowed us to add value to our service offering,” he says.