10 Tips for Maintaining Your Surveying Equipment

Proper handling and troubleshooting techniques can ensure accurate job site measurements

10 Tips for Maintaining Your Surveying Equipment

Technicians make adjustments to a Trimble SPS720 Total Station at a work site. (Photo courtesy of Trimble)

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Accuracy is the endgame when it comes to surveying a job site. If that information isn’t spot on, you’re bound to run into problems once it is time to get down to work. That’s where caring for your surveying equipment comes into play.

“The reason you want to care for this technology is so you don’t make a mistake in positioning when you’re out on site,” says Scott Crozier, business area manager for site positioning solutions at Trimble. “You think you’ve positioned something correctly that you haven’t — that’s when it will cost you money.”

Here are some tips on surveying equipment maintenance so you can ensure your site measurements are precise.

1. Service annually

Contractors using total stations will want to make a habit of sending their equipment in once a year to be serviced.

“We design our equipment specifically for the construction industry so that it is more rugged, robust and requires little maintenance. That is especially true of the GPS receivers,” Crozier says. “On the total stations, though, they are high-precision instruments. That’s why we recommend an annual service.”

Even if there aren’t any clear issues with a total station’s site positioning capabilities, a regular service can prevent problems from developing. 

“At a service center, they’ll go through and tune up anything that is ‘drifting off’ from the specifications and get it back to performing optimally,” Crozier says. “If you don’t do that and it starts drifting, the wear and tear on the instrument increases over time. It’s better to bring it back so it’s in its optimal state. It’s like changing the oil in a car. You wonder if you really need to get the oil changed, but if you don’t, you run the risk of something failing that may not have failed if you were keeping up on regular oil service.”

2. Calibrate regularly and check against control points

Outside of an annual service, upkeep in the field for a total station should consist of a calibration at least every two weeks, as well as ensuring positioning accuracy by checking the instrument on a known point.

“All of our software that works with these total stations has the ability to do a basic calibration on site,” Crozier says. “And whether it’s a GPS receiver or a total station, you should check it on a known control point to make sure that everything is measuring within specs. That should be done on every setup.”

3. Stay current on software upgrades

“Typically you’ll see software being upgraded a couple times a year, and this will improve system performance and usually fix any bugs there may have been with previous software releases,” Crozier says. “Anyone who uses these devices should be on some sort of software support.”

4. Use the carrying case for storage and transport

Surveying equipment comes equipped with a rugged carrying case, and it’s important to make use of it.

“They should be treated as precision devices, specifically the total stations,” Crozier says. “Any time you knock them around or drop them, they have a chance of getting knocked out of calibration. GPS receivers don’t have the same kind of mechanical precision to them, so they don’t need quite the same level of care.”

Still, that’s not a pass to handle GPS receivers roughly. 

“There’s a little bubble on the rod that tells you when the rod is level or vertical. If that gets knocked around some, it may not give you a level rod anymore, which would give you inaccurate positioning,” Crozier says.

In addition to using the carrying case, be mindful of how exactly you’re transporting the equipment. Crozier recommends keeping it inside the cab of the service vehicle instead of a trailer or truck bed. 

“If you do keep it back there, make sure that the carrying case is very well strapped in so that it doesn’t slide and get knocked around,” he says.

5. Clean with soap and water

For cleaning your surveying tools, all you need is some soap and water.

“All the devices that Trimble makes are rated at IP67 so they can handle some moisture,” Crozier says. “We recommend soap and water. Alcohol wipes are another good way to clean the devices.”

On total stations, contractors must be leery of what they use to clean the optic lenses.

“The lens cap should be used when the equipment is being transported and not in use,” Crozier says. “If you need to wipe the lens, you should use a specific lens cleaning cloth. You don’t want to use anything that can scratch the lens.” 

6. Troubleshooting in the field

If your total station isn’t positioning correctly after testing it on a control point, the first step is to check the calibration, Crozier says. “That can be done on site by the user,” he says. “If that still doesn’t fix the problem, it needs to be taken to a service center.”

The troubleshooting process for a GPS receiver isn’t as straightforward. 

“With GPS receivers, there are a number of things that can cause the position to be wrong,” Crozier says. “The bubble on the rod can cause an issue if that’s not right. The base station could be set up incorrectly. And third would be on the site calibration side. A GPS receiver is typically not going to give you a bad position mechanically, but any of those three things can cause issues.”

7. Job site conditions

Be mindful of the conditions you’re working in. 

“The equipment can be used in the rain, but don’t dunk it in water,” Crozier says. “And even in the rain, you can get a rain shield to go over the instrument in those conditions where it might be a little too much. It helps keep moisture from getting into mechanical joints. While these instruments are robust and developed for a construction environment, you do want to treat them the right way.”

8. Problem warning signs

Anything on the equipment that is looser or tighter than usual should warrant further inspection. Lack of consistency on the expected measurements is another sign there could be a problem with the equipment.

“Say you measure a point and it’s good, and sometimes you measure and get a bad point. If that variability is great, that’s a sign something is not working the way it should be,” Crozier says. “That applies mostly to total stations.”

9. Limit do-it-yourself repairs

Crozier warns against attempting to make significant repairs to surveying equipment out in the field. He recommends contractors call the manufacturer or seller of the product first.

“That would be the starting point,” he says. “I wouldn’t assume anything could be fixed in the field unless I’ve been told by them. If a screw comes loose, you can tighten a screw. But typically these instruments are not designed to be repaired at the customer level. They’re precision instruments.”

10. Machine control advice

When surveying equipment is incorporated into the machine itself, the primary maintenance item to keep in mind is wear points on wiring.

“People are putting this equipment on machines now and have machine control and guidance,” Crozier says. “The key thing to check is the wiring for any points of wear because that could ultimately cause a short or break in the wiring.”


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