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Visual Setting Out – the 5 Reasons Why

19 October 2020

How would you like to complete five times the amount of work, with just 1 operative?

More construction contractors are realising the value of visual setting out with robotic total stations. They’re seeing firsthand the gains in speed, efficiency, and accuracy. These benefits translate to reductions in rework, schedule delays, and other costly problems, all of which contribute to a robotic total station’s ability to pay for itself many times over.

What is Visual Setting Out?

But not all robotic total stations are made the same. While prism pole layout is the norm, some robotic total stations also offer a laser pointer. Using a laser is referred to as visual setting out, and it works especially well in structures and buildings that are already erected. When you use a robotic total station that allows you to do both prism pole layout and visual layout, you get the ultimate in flexibility and versatility. Here are five reasons to take a closer look at visual setting out.

Reason 1 – SPEED

When conditions permit the use of a laser, you’re able to speed up the setting out process considerably. You can turn on the laser and stand back as it automatically points and measures, reducing the time needed to position and locate the prism pole. Integrated software in the robotic total station, like Trimble FieldLink, guides you to each point and allows you to switch between surfaces, such as from the floor to the ceiling. You can eliminate extra steps, which cuts the time needed to complete set out significantly, while also gaining greater precision. 


Reason 2 – ACCURACY

To get an accurate measurement with a prism pole, the pole needs to be perfectly plumb. Even a slight misplacement could produce a measurement that’s a few cm off. This type of human error is difficult to avoid when you’re relying on manual processes. But when you rely on Trimble’s patented visual set out technology to let the robotic total station do the adjustments and calculations for you, you can achieve much greater accuracy.

The precision of visual set out is especially beneficial for MEP contractors. Pipes and floor drains, for example, have to be accurately placed to drain correctly and pass inspection. Electrical work, HVAC, and sprinkler systems have to be placed accurately at the right elevations to clear other systems and avoid clashes. With the accuracy the laser provides, you can have greater confidence that your work will be set out and installed correctly.


Manual setting out is a time-consuming process that can take weeks or longer depending on the size of the project. It also requires that you have enough pros available to complete the work—a challenge given the construction skills shortage. With a robotic total station, though, only a single operative is needed to operate the instrument, whether using the prism pole or the laser. And because of the automated capabilities of the laser, fewer steps are needed to set out points, which significantly reduces the amount of time needed.

In fact, in many cases, you can complete 5 times the amount of work with one person. You’re able to deploy the setting out resources you have more efficiently and across more projects.


Reason 4 – SAFETY

Busy jobsites tend to be full of potential hazards, and performing set out in the midst of these hazards can be risky. With the visual setting component of a robotic total station, you can shoot the laser over 100 meters, which means you don’t have to physically make your way across the jobsite to measure a location. You’re able to avoid trip hazards or other potentially dangerous areas. You can also reduce the use of ladders, which pose one of the greatest safety risks to construction workers. 



Because you can perform setting out more quickly with the laser, you’re more likely to meet the project schedule. And any time you can stay on schedule, you’re improving your likelihood of staying on budget. In addition to performing set out, a robotic total station also allows you to create a record of work performed. Should you receive an RFI or have to resolve a dispute over charges, you can reference this documentation to show what you did and why. This same feature lets you quality check your work as you go so you can identify and resolve problems before they turn into profit-robbing rework

See our full range of Robotic Total Stations for Construction, and other BIM tools.

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