Trimble introduced a robotic solution with the LM80 in 2006. McCartney explains that it increases productivity in a couple of ways. “A magnetic-drive servo on the instrument improves horizontal and vertical tracking allowing it to maintain lock on the prism, even if the individual holding the rod is walking at a fast pace at close range,” he says. “If lock is lost an audible signal will alert the operator immediately, allowing him to quickly reestablish contact.”
He continues, “The robotic total station is also performing functions behind the scenes that would be taking up an operator’s time and potentially introduce error when using a conventional total station. The Trimble robotic instrument, for example, is not only capable of moving the total station horizontally and vertically, but an exclusive feature called Surepoint automatically corrects back to zero if the instrument wanders in the vertical — something the operators would normally do manually.”
McCartney emphasizes that savings can be dramatic when using a robotic versus a conventional total station. “Going to a robotic total station can increase field productivity three to four times, but that’s only part of the payback equation. If one employee (with benefits) costs $40,000 a year, payback would be within eight months. Add in enhanced productivity and payback is realized within three to six months. Over a five-year period, some contractors have saved upwards of $500,000 just by using a robotic total station.”
“The benefits of robotics extend beyond cost saving and productivity gains,” adds Concrete Foundations Association (CFA) Technical Director Jim Baty. “These units are extremely accurate, and concrete contractors who use them have better tolerance and quality control. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re a big operator or small, or if you do or don’t have labor issues. The introduction of robotic total stations has been a welcomed addition to the industry.”
At the World of Concrete this year, Trimble introduced the Trimble Field Link for structures layout solution for concrete, steel and general contractors. The system is more powerful and has more memory than LM80, operates on several software platforms, and features a 7-inch touch screen. “A contractor can actually load a building model and see what he’s doing in 3-D,” McCartney relates.
“There’s also an option that can define and photograph a potential issue in the field, make a PDF of the problem and attach it to a report that can be e-mailed to the architect or building owner,” he continues. “The LM80 is still very viable for most work concrete contractors will be doing. Trimble Field Link, however, offers them a more powerful tool for virtual graphics, giving contractors a better understanding of what they’re actually trying to accomplish in the field.”
The technology in these work stations can triple the price tag on a robotic total station over that of a conventional unit, yet the savings are dramatic in time, money, productivity and accuracy. They work in all conditions, never get sick and don’t require retraining. “There are very few if any occasions where a conventional system would be preferred over a robotic system,” McCartney notes. “A few contractors may think it’s advantageous to have four eyes on a project rather than two, to ensure against mistakes. Yet the technology on the robotic systems is so advanced that it virtually eliminates any application for their conventional predecessors.”
Based in Neenah, Wis., Rod Dickens is a freelance writer specializing in the construction industry.