Buyer's Guide to Total Stations

Buyer's Guide to Total Stations
Buyer's Guide to Total Stations
Whether you're a surveyor, engineer, or contractor, robotic total stations are an essential tool for accurately measuring angles, distances, and elevations. These devices' high levels of precision and efficiency have revolutionized how we work in the field.

Whether you're a surveyor, engineer, or contractor, robotic total stations are an essential tool for accurately measuring angles, distances, and elevations. These devices' high levels of precision and efficiency have revolutionized how we work in the field.

Investing in a total station can be a game changer for surveying and mapping professionals. Total stations come in various types, from manual to robotic, each with its own unique features that cater to different needs. Choosing the total station that fits your needs and budget is crucial.

If you're in the market for the best total stations, you're in the right place! This buyer's guide to total stations will take a closer look at what robotic total stations are, why they're so valuable, and how to choose the best one for your needs.

What are Total Stations?

Total stations are sophisticated surveying instruments that combine a range of technologies to measure distances, angles, and elevations accurately. These instruments have become essential tools for a wide range of applications, from land surveying and construction to archaeology and environmental monitoring.

Total stations are available in various sizes and configurations to suit different applications and budgets. For example, manual total stations are less expensive than robotic models but require more manual intervention from the operator. On the other hand, robotic total stations are more expensive but offer greater precision and efficiency.

Whether you are a construction professional, land surveyor, or archaeologist, a total station can help you achieve new levels of accuracy and productivity in your work. Understanding the basic principles and features of total stations can help you decide which instrument is right for your specific needs and budget.

How They Work

A total station uses a combination of optics, electronics, and software to measure angles and distances. The basic design consists of a telescope mounted on a base that can rotate in both horizontal and vertical planes. The telescope includes a crosshair or reticle that helps the operator aim the instrument at a specific target.

These devices also feature a laser rangefinder that allows them to measure distances accurately. The total station aims a laser beam toward a target and measures how long it takes the beam to return to the instrument. By knowing the speed of light, the instrument can calculate the distance to the target with high precision.

Total stations also incorporate electronic angle measurement systems that use a series of sensors to detect changes in orientation. These sensors are typically based on gyroscopes or accelerometers, allowing the instrument to determine angles accurately.

Additional Total Station Features

In addition to these core technologies, modern total stations are also equipped with a range of advanced features that help improve accuracy and efficiency. For instance, many total stations now incorporate robotic control systems that allow operators to control them remotely with a computer or handheld device. This option makes it easier for the operator to take measurements from a distance and avoid errors caused by human error or fatigue.

Modern total stations also have the capacity to store data electronically. Operators can quickly and easily record measurements and store them digitally. They can then import that data into specialized software for further analysis and processing.

Types of Total Stations

In surveying, total stations are one of the most crucial tools of the trade. Surveyors use them to measure distances, angles, and elevations with a high degree of accuracy. However, total stations are not all the same, and finding one that fits your specific needs and budget is essential.

A manual total station may be the best choice if you are working on a small project and have a limited budget. A robotic total station may be the better option if you are working on a large-scale project or in hazardous environments. Depending on your specific requirements, reflectorless and imaging total stations may also be worth considering.

Review the different types of total stations below to determine which is right for you.

1. Manual Total Stations

Manual total stations are the traditional type of total station that has been in use for decades. The surveyor operates them by physically aiming the device at the target point and recording the measurements manually. Manual total stations are typically one of the least expensive options, making them a good choice for those on a tight budget or those who only need to perform simple tasks.

Manual total stations do have some limitations. They are slower than robotic total stations and require more time and effort to operate. They also need a surveyor to physically move the device between measurement points, which can be tiring and time-consuming.

2. Robotic Total Stations

Robotic total stations are the most advanced type of total station currently available. Surveyors can control them remotely, allowing them to operate the device from a distance using a remote control or a computer. Remote control saves time and increases accuracy, making them ideal for large-scale projects or work in hazardous environments.

One of the robotic total stations' most significant advantages is their speed and accuracy. They can measure points quickly and with high precision, allowing surveyors to complete their work in a fraction of the time it would take with a manual total station.

Because surveyors can operate them remotely, robotic total stations also provide an advantage when working in harsh or hazardous environments. Surveyors can use them in areas that would be unsafe for a person to enter, such as mines, quarries, or construction sites with heavy machinery.

3. Reflectorless Total Stations

Reflectorless total stations use a laser or infrared beam to measure distances without a reflective prism. They are a popular choice for surveyors who need to work in areas where they cannot use reflective prisms, such as in dense forests or on uneven terrain.

4. Imaging Total Stations

Imaging total stations combine a total station's traditional functionality with the ability to capture high-resolution images. This newer type of total station can help create 3D models or document survey sites.

Benefits of Total Stations

Total stations are a crucial tool for surveying professionals, offering a range of benefits that make them an ideal choice for various applications. Here are some of the main advantages of using total stations:

  • High accuracy: Total stations can measure distances, angles, and elevations with a high degree of accuracy — often to within a few millimeters. This level of accuracy is crucial for many surveying tasks, such as boundary marking or construction layout, where even a tiny error can have significant consequences.
  • Speed: Total stations can speed up surveying tasks, particularly compared to manual methods. A total station can measure multiple points in just a few seconds, whereas a manual surveying method may take much longer. A total station allows surveyors to complete their work more quickly and efficiently, saving time and money.
  • Versatility: You can use total stations for various applications, from boundary marking to topographic mapping. Their versatility makes them an ideal tool for surveyors working on a range of different projects.
  • Integration with other tools: You can integrate many modern total stations with other surveying tools, such as GPS or laser scanners. This integration allows surveyors to combine data from multiple sources, resulting in a more accurate and detailed survey.
  • Increased safety: Total stations can help improve safety on job sites. Surveyors can identify potential hazards and avoid accidents by accurately measuring distances, angles, and elevations. Robotic total stations, in particular, can help keep surveyors out of harm's way by allowing them to operate the device from a distance. Remote operation can be particularly useful for work in hazardous or hard-to-reach environments. It improves safety and allows surveyors to collect data from areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. 
  • Data management: Many modern total stations have software that allows surveyors to store and manage their data more efficiently. This data management can help reduce errors and ensure data is properly organized and accessible.

Overall, the benefits of using total stations are clear. They offer high accuracy, speed, versatility, integration with other tools, remote operation, increased safety, and improved data management. Whether you are a surveying professional or need accurate measurements for a construction or landscaping project, a total station can help you get the job done more efficiently and effectively.

How To Use a Total Station

Using a total station can seem daunting at first, but it becomes second nature with some practice. In addition to the general steps below, it's essential to consult the manufacturer's user manual for specific instructions on how to use your particular total station model. With practice and experience, using a total station becomes more accessible and intuitive and can be an invaluable tool for various surveying and mapping applications.

How to Use a Manual Total Station

Here is a general guide on how to use a manual total station:

  1. Set up the total station: Start by setting up the total station on a tripod. Make sure the tripod is level and securely locked in place. Attach the total station to the tripod using the tribrach and level the instrument using the built-in leveling vials.
  2. Set up the prism: Next, set up the prism, which will reflect the total station's laser beam to the instrument. Place the prism at the point you want to measure, making sure it is level and securely attached to a prism pole. Ensure the prism is within the total station's line of sight.
  3. Measure the point: Use the total station's control panel or software to aim the laser beam at the prism and take a measurement. The total station will calculate the distance, angle, and elevation difference between the point and the prism and display the results on the control panel or software.
  4. Record the data: Once the total station has taken the measurement, record the data in a notebook or on a computer. Be sure to label each measurement with a unique identifier, such as a point number or description.
  5. Repeat: Repeat the process for each point you want to measure, adjusting the total station's position and orientation as needed. It's a good idea to measure each point multiple times and average the results to ensure accuracy.

How to Use a Robotic Total Station

It's worth noting that the process for using a robotic total station is slightly different. These devices allow surveyors to work with a single instrument, eliminating the need for a two-person team to operate it. Here is a general guide on how to use a robotic total station: 

  1. Set up the robotic total station: The device should be placed on a stable tripod and leveled properly. Some of the newer robotic total stations feature auto-leveling, simplifying the setup process. With this feature, the device can level itself automatically, saving you time and reducing the risk of human error. 
  2. Connect the prism: The prism must be connected to the device before beginning the survey. Place the prism on the surveying point and secure it firmly to connect it. Ensure the prism is clean and free of any debris, as this can affect the accuracy of the measurements.
  3. Control the total station: Once the total station and prism are set up, you can begin the survey. You can control the total station with a tablet or a controller. The controller allows you to adjust the device's height and angle, and the tablet displays the data collected by the total station.
  4. Take measurements: With the prism in place and the total station set up, you can begin taking measurements. Some robotic total stations come with active tracking prisms, which allow the instrument to follow the surveyor, eliminating the need to move the device manually. Aim the total station at the prism to take measurements and record the data displayed on the tablet.
  5. Process the data: Once you've collected all the necessary data, you can process it using the software provided by the manufacturer. Some newer robotic total stations have workflows that can automate many surveying tasks, such as measuring angles and distances. Additionally, some robotic total stations have reporting software to generate comprehensive survey results reports. This feature can save surveyors hours of time and effort when compiling and presenting their findings.

Your New Total Station

With the right equipment and knowledge, a total station can help you achieve new levels of precision and productivity in your surveying and mapping work.

When choosing a total station, it's essential to consider factors such as brand reputation, software compatibility, and budget. When it comes to top-quality total stations, many professionals consider Trimble total stations the gold standard. Trimble stands out as one of the best total station brands in the market, providing reliable and accurate equipment that meets the needs of a variety of users.

Investing in proper training and support is crucial to ensure you are using the instrument to its full potential. Even the most advanced technology is only as good as the person using it, so take the time to learn how to use your total station properly and efficiently.

Make Your Operations More Productive with Field Solutions from Duncan-Parnell

Duncan-Parnell is your exclusive Trimble partner in the Southeast. We're dedicated to significantly increasing productivity in the geospatial industry through advanced, accessible, and intuitive technology.

Trimble has a comprehensive portfolio of industry-leading hardware and software solutions engineered and purpose-built specifically for the building construction industry. We use that portfolio to provide solutions for every aspect of a project, including visualization, layout, and workforce management.

Want to schedule a demo, get a quote or discuss your specific application? Contact us online today for more information.

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