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Newbie looking for his first Robotic Total Station - need advice!  

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Jamie Kossowan
Posts: 2
Joined: 2 years ago

Hello! I'm the owner of a small construction company in Vancouver, BC (Canada). We're doing more and more concrete formwork and we have normally hired a surveyor to come in and provide points on batter boards from which we pull string lines. This has worked well but isn't cheap and when we find errors, we need to call them back, incurring more expenses. I have had survey errors before which we end up paying for. 

I'm familiar with the absolute basics of a theodolite and can use them to set angles, and haven't touched a total station in 12 years. We don't want to go over the top but want to be able to layout anchor bolts and corners of formwork ourselves along with elevations. We have one upcoming project where we have approximately 200 pedestals with anchor bolts which need to be accurate for the structural steel contractor. Our projects never exceed a few hundred feet in size. 

I'm currently looking at a used and freshly refurbished and set up Trimble 5603 set up which is complete including a Trimble Ranger for a data collector for about $6,000 USD ($8000 CDN). They tell me its turn key. 

The other option i'm looking at is approximately $14000 USD (19000 CDN) and is a brand new Spectra Focus 35. I'm getting a demo on it tomorrow from a sales rep.

My questions are simple: I can get proper training on each option to perform our very basic construction layout. Will the Trimble 5603 meet my needs? We don't do as-built drawings as they need to be done by a proper certified land surveyor here. 

Thanks in advance for any input!


EDIT: Also wondering if there is a more recent data collector I can upgrade to!


19 Replies
Peter Lothian
Posts: 505
500+ posts
Joined: 8 years ago

I can't comment to the Trimble or Spectra equipment, never used either brand. For a newer data collector I would recommend any one of the Carlson branded units. The customer support from Carlson Software is excellent, and the user interface on the data collectors is easy to learn.

Richard Imrie
Posts: 1376
1,000+ posts
Joined: 4 years ago

Octa-Frequency GNSS Receiver, Quad Constellations

Jim Frame
Posts: 6187
5,000+ posts
Joined: 10 years ago

The 5603 is a mildly-updated Geodimeter 600-series instrument, ancient technology in the total station world.  It generally requires an external battery, and (I think) an external radio in order to use robotically with a Ranger, which is also way out of date.  An active prism is required for robotic use.  The cabling is a real nuisance during setup and teardown.  Not all 5600 instruments are equipped with robotic hardware -- some are just plain old total stations.  And repair parts are no longer manufactured.

The Spectra 35 is a generation newer.  I think all of them are robotic, and they use passive prisms.  The upgrade in convenience and reliability/repairability is well worth the price increase, in my opinion.

Although I own and used a Geodimeter 640 robot for awhile, I've since gone over to the Leica/GeoMax side -- first a Leica TCRA1102plus, now a GeoMax Zoom80R.  I find the GeoMax to be every bit as good as the Leica for a lot less money.  The dealer network is thin, though, so if you're going to need a lot of support it might not be a good fit.

Mark Mayer
Posts: 2809
2,500+ posts
Joined: 10 years ago

The 5603 is a good gun. I used them for many years. But it was introduced to the market as in the late '90s - almost, if not exactly, identical to the Geodimeter 600 that preceded it by a few years- and has been out of production for some time now. In fact, Trimble no longer manufactures parts for it. And it does need repair parts (principally electronic boards) from time to time.  There are rumors of service departments that still have old stock on hands, but mostly parts are scavanged from old units. Being old tech it's radio communications is rather heavy and exposed. Radio-DC needs wired connection- newer units use bluetooth. Radio battery is large and heavy. Plus, it requires the target prism to have diodes that the instrument tracks. If you were a person who was familiar with all the quirks of this instrument and needed something cheap to do you for a year or 2 while you got a business on track, it might do. IMO it's not the unit for you. 

The Ranger data collector may be nearly as old.  There have been several generations of dc marketed as the "Ranger". The most recent being also known as the "TSC3". And that one is about 10 years old now.

I have had some experience with the Spectra guns and while the data that came out of them was good, the reliability was very poor. Of 4 units that were delivered 2 o them 4 quit working within 2 weeks of delivery. After leaving that outfit I learned that they gave up on their new Spectras - due to the reliability issues -after about a year and a half and switched to Topcons. I judge these maybe OK where a solo operator will handle them with kid gloves but in a construction environment, where it might get handled more roughly, not so much.  

I currently have a Topcon PS and while I find it to be very slow, annoyingly slow, in everyday use it is very reliable. It benefits from regular collimation. Like every week. Might be a good choice for you. I was offered $10k for it with a TSC3 dc included. I might have gone for $15k (US) for that same package.  

I work a lot of construction - urban apartment buildings mostly. Most of the trades have instruments they use to layout there own stuff. I set grid points for them to use as control, they layout all there stuff from that.  All of them, every single one I've seen - and I've seen quite a few - use modern Trimbles or rebrands thereof. This in spite of the fact that there is a very active Topcon dealer in town.

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