Total Station Upgrade Sparks Efficiencies

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Despite excelling in an industry in which planning and accuracy are paramount, Sal D’Anna’s professional career recently took a major turn for the better based solely on a ride to work. Because of that fortuitous trip, D’Anna, president of his own engineering and architecture firm, discovered a new equipment supplier, trimmed his onsite supply inventory and upgraded an aging total station, field controller and support software. As a result of that last point, not only is the Detroit-area firm more productive and efficient than ever, they are poised to take their newfound technology to the next level when circumstances warrant it. Not a bad ride to work at all.

Turn for the Better
Established in 2000 by his father, Frank (who already had decades of engineering experience as co-owner of another firm), D’Anna Associates specializes in a range of architectural and engineeringrelated services, according to Sal D’Anna, company president.

"On the engineering side, we do a good deal of construction staking, topographic surveys, house staking—that type of work," he said. "We are not licensed land surveyors but do work hand in hand with several survey firms for times when certification by a PLS is needed. However, for the work we do, we’ve been using survey-type equipment, specifically a Nikon DTM-352 total station, for nearly 15 years. I was very much aware of the fact that my equipment and the software that supported it had become outdated over the years but—largely because of our heavy workload—kept putting off replacing it."

All that changed one morning when, while driving to the office on one of the busiest thoroughfares in nearby Utica, Mich., D’Anna’s eye caught a glimpse of a sign for Benchmark Precision Instruments, Inc., a new business in the area. That he even spotted it amidst the sea of other business signage was in itself, remarkable; that it was so well-suited to his needs was even more so.

"At that time, I’d been thinking about the lack of good workrelated customer service I had available to me," he said. "If I needed work done on my old total station, I was told it would be a week and a half to two weeks before I could get it back—and I had no recourse but to accept that. Same thing with wood stakes or spray paint: I had no choice but to order them from area suppliers in large quantities and store the excess under a stairwell in our building. So, intrigued, I pulled into Benchmark’s lot and it turns out to have been one of the best business moves I’ve ever made."

Ideal Fit
D’Anna said he immediately hit it off with Ashraf "Ash" Putris, the president and owner of Benchmark Precision who showed him a full inventory of relevant site supplies, as well as a range of survey and positioning instruments from Sokkia.

"Ash has a background in engineering, so we got along well right from the start," said D’Anna. "I made a few purchases of some stakes and paint which was decently priced and available in the quantities I needed, and eventually got to talking about a replacement for my total station. I was impressed, not just with his knowledge of the equipment but, more importantly, how willing he was to take time to lead me through the workings of each different unit."

Not long after those first couple visits, D’Anna purchased a Sokkia DX-205A, 5" motorized total station package, as well as MAGNET Office software from Topcon Positioning Systems, and a Sokkia Archer2 data collector.

"We discussed his business, the type of work he does, what results he was looking for, etc., then looked at the best equipment to make that happen," said Putris. "Based on all that, the Sokkia DX Series seemed the best fit, and from what Sal has told me since the purchase, we really got it right."

Options When Needed
One of the biggest immediate benefits D’Anna has enjoyed since purchasing the DX-205 is the robotic capability made possible through a purchased upgrade. Though he still frequently takes another man along to the job site, he admits that the luxury of no longer being tethered to the instrument is, well, liberating.

"Coming from a work situation in which a team of two was needed to operate our previous total station, it’s nice to be able to go it alone if I have to," he says.

"However, I often still take a crew member along with me, but only because I’ve got a system which I’ve found to be really efficient. For any kind of staking, I find my first point, I mark it, and my colleague pounds a stake as I move to the next point. Doing so can shave as much as an hour off of a job and, given that we easily do 100 jobs of this type a year, the savings from just doing that can be substantial."

D’Anna’s system upgradeability doesn’t stop with the move to a robotic system either. He said he is already considering an additional upgrade that would turn his DX unit into a hybrid total station.

"It’s rare when one of our jobs is in a wide open area," he said. "Having a GNSS capability for work between trees or between existing buildings would eliminate having to do multiple set ups in the field. If I have two setups, I have two drawings; if I have three, I have three drawings—all of which has to be put together back in the office. So again, saving an hour here, an hour there, it’s easy to see how that upgrade could pay for itself in no time."

Control and Management
Rounding out the package that brought D’Anna’s survey/staking function into the 21st century is an Archer2 field controller as well as MAGNET Field and MAGNET Office software to help manage the transfer of data.

"As it was with the DX, the difference between the Archer2 and our old controller is literally like night and day," said D’Anna. "For one thing, it is far more compact but still offers a large 4 ½-inch color screen which has already made my job so much better. Now, for example, once I upload a drawing of a house for stakeout, I can see the lot and the house onscreen and easily identify where I’m at. Also, if I want to take shots along a property line with terrain changes but I only know the start and end of that line, this model has a built-in submeter GPS that will get me close enough to take a shot which will then be corrected when it’s input. It’s a very cool controller."

Similarly, the manner in which data can be now input and output has been something of a revelation to D’Anna. With his 2002-vintage controller, importing drawings, entering data, and exporting work files all seemed slow and cumbersome. With the addition of the Archer2 and Topcon MAGNET packages, D’Anna said data transfers of all types are fast and seamless.

"I’ve quickly discovered how well the Topcon MAGNET software bridges the gap between our office and the field," he said. "For staking projects, we are able to create a layout in MAGNET Office then seamlessly access it in the field on my Archer2 collector which, in turn, controls the Sokkia total station. For performing topographic surveys, data can be collected in the field using MAGNET Field software then sent back to the office where MAGNET Office can be used to make design changes and organize the data to best fit the needs of the project. This too has been a nice time-saver for us."

Smoothing the Transition
What could have been a major adjustment period while transitioning to the new equipment was instead made relatively smooth, both because of the help he received from Sokkia and Benchmark as well from as additional resources he was able to draw upon.

"Initially, two representatives from Sokkia came to my office and worked with me on the DX out in our parking lot—so that really helped me gain some familiarity with the instrument," said D’Anna. "In addition, Sokkia, in conjunction with Topcon’s Total Care program, offers a very comprehensive website with a range of training videos and practice manuals."

He added, however, that the bulk of the help he’s gotten has been from "Ash" Putris at Benchmark. He feels his newfound equipment supplier goes the extra step to answer his questions and for those he can’t handle himself, he finds an answer.

"In addition, the fact that he was also able to help me finance my purchases through Topcon, rather than pay for them outright, not only fit with my financial needs, it also made the deal come together more quickly," said D’Anna. "Because I’ve worked with so many companies over the years, I know that the help he’s provided—and continues to provide—has been `over and above’ what is typical. It’s all been a very positive experience and the savings we are seeing from the new equipment reflects that."

Larry Trojak of Minnesota-based Trojak Communications, is a freelance marketing content specialist. He writes extensively for the geopositioning, utility, aggregate processing, recycling, construction, and demolition markets.

A 2.422Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

Larry Trojak

Larry Trojak of Minnesota-based Trojak Communications is a freelance marketing content specialist. He writes extensively for the geopositioning, utility, aggregate processing, recycling, construction, and demolition markets.