GPS Machine Control Creates Opportunity in the Surveying Industry

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Technological innovation always shakes up an industry, and the surveying industry is no exception. All throughout surveying, machine guidance systems are gaining acceptance. The increased adoption of this technology by the industry is renewing the importance of surveyors. Machine guidance systems require skilled workers to calibrate and operate, and surveyors are in the best position to do this job. In order to capitalize on the opportunity, surveyors will need to learn to use machine guidance and promote their new skill.

GPS Machine Control Creates Opportunity in the Surveying Industry

Machine Guidance Is Taking Over the Job Site

Machine guidance technology, commonly referred to as GPS, has been used for navigation in our cars for years and has more recently appeared on our smart phones. The technology is now a popular fixture on the job sites of heavy construction companies. It’s easy to understand why the technology is so popular; it improves the accuracy of billing and scheduling and improves grade accuracy.

How the technology works is actually pretty straightforward. The machine control system automatically surveys a job site and tells excavators where to dig. Based on these calculations, the system indicates where to position a blade, or does it automatically.


This effectively automates the traditional role of surveyors. Excavators used to rely on surveyors to determine the position of stakes and the grade of the dig. Now this information is automated and sent to the machine driver in real time. This essentially makes staking obsolete, but it doesn’t make surveyors obsolete. Surveyors are the best candidates to manage and operate machine guidance systems.

Modern Surveyors Can Coexist with Technology

Surveyors should learn three main skills immediately.

  1. They should learn how to calibrate the machine guidance system,

  2. feed data into the machine,

  3. and make sure that the technology renders the proper results.

Calibrating the machine is one of the most crucial parts of the skill set. Programming the machine control system requires geodetic control. This control is used as a frame of reference for the GPS coordinates. Once this step is complete, the base must be set.

Setting the base consists of creating a 3D model that the machine control system will use. Preparing data for these systems is not an easy task, and few contractors want to deal with the hassle or take the responsibility for doing this. That means that surveyors can step in to perform this task. However, performing this task requires knowledge of paper plans and multiple 3D file formats.

Once plans are received, surveyors often have to make adjustments to the plans before building a 3D model. This is where it becomes important to know multiple file formats. Surveyors need to know how to use 3D files as well as how to build models from them. Once the model is built, surveyors have to convert the file into a machine-readable format and input the information into the machine control system.

After everything has been calibrated and the information has been uploaded, the site is ready to begin excavation. This is where it becomes vital for surveyors to oversee the operation. It is crucial that the proper grades are dug on the site. Surveyors have the most experience with grades so they are in the best position to assure that the machines are operating at an appropriate grade.

Surveyors Should Train and Rebrand Themselves

Of course, knowing about this shift and how surveyors can take advantage is meaningless if it is not acted upon. Surveyors should undergo extensive training in machine control technology. This means learning the ins and outs of CAD files and how to manipulate 3D models and then input them into a machine control system.

The most important thing is to stay on top of this technology. Surveyors should learn some of the major machine control systems on the market. Common ones are Topcon, Trimble, and GeoPac. These are the most likely systems that surveyors are going to encounter on the job site.

Land surveyors are uniquely qualified for to manage and operate machine guidance systems. They must market their skills aggressively to capitalize on the opportunity to remain relevant on job sites.

Last modified on Thu, Jan 31, 2013
More in this category: «Surveys
Houston Neal

Houston Neal is the Director of Marketing at Software Advice. Houston joined Software Advice in 2007, just shortly after the company was started. He spends most of his day writing for the company blog and getting the word out about Software Advice's resources. He enjoys researching and reporting trends in software and technology.

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