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Just off level

Over the past decade of so there has been a real proliferation of suppliers selling and promoting survey instruments. Companies that have little or no history in this market are now involved. This has lead to much confusion and misinformation as they try to get market share.


April 12, 2016
By Victor Russell

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It’s not only confusing to the rental industry but to the general public as well as everyone tries to navigate the information presented. Just because a name-brand manufacturer makes a good and reliable cordless drill does not mean that this quality automatically transfers over to the survey equipment, as very different technologies are used.

In the first place, survey instruments are not power tools. They are not durable like power tools, they can’t be checked or serviced in a standard power tool service shop (without specialized equipment) and they definitely do not take a bounce like a power tool. Power tools are easy to figure out: plug them in and pull the trigger. If it runs, then it’s good; if not, get it fixed then pull the trigger and if it runs, then it’s good. All very simple.

Survey instruments are very different. They can look perfect from the outside. They can come out of an unopened box directly from the factory and they can be in perfect alignment. Or they can be out of alignment just a bit or they can be out of alignment a lot. In one case I heard of recently a new automatic level was out four inches across a house foundation. There is actually no way of telling what you‘ve got without having it checked out first, before being sold, in your local supplier’s service shop.

I do not know of any laser or level manufacturing factories that are located in Canada, so all these products are either manufactured in the U.S.A. or offshore. All these instruments must be shipped, sometimes halfway around the world. This act of shipping might use trucks, forklifts, couriers, buses, ships and planes, and with all that constant movement you can be virtually assured that after all that jostling they will need to be checked out in a service shop. This should take place before the sale and preferably in the city they are sold in.

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You need to make sure survey levels really are jobsite ready. If a level is out of adjustment just remember that too little concrete can be worked with, but too much concrete is not so good. The result will be a very upset customer. The instruments not only should be locally adjusted but should also have a dated sticker inside to prove to you and your customer that they have been checked and are truly ready to go. Your rule should be: no check, no sticker, no purchase. Also, when selling off your survey equipment, whether it is new stock or an ex-rental piece, you should have it put through a service shop so when the customer takes it to the job they can expect it to give them accurate elevations right away.

One rental shop manager (long since retired) in the lower mainland of B.C. would only get an instrument serviced if there were three complaints about the accuracy. In order to save a few dollars he said that the customers either didn’t know how to use it properly or they just didn’t want to pay for it. To save the cost of a service on the level or laser he may have lost a customer. And then there is always the possibility of that customer talking to other customers.

You probably wouldn’t buy a vehicle that wasn’t serviced in your area. Yet there is one supplier of lasers and levels that only has service shops in Ontario and Quebec. And for a while another supplier only had a U.S.A. service centre for the U.S. and Canada. Poor support like this is out there and it’s up to you to dig a little deeper and find this out. I’ve have even heard rumours of a well-known manufacturer that will not service an instrument over five years old. If you are serious about providing accurate survey equipment to your customers, you should look for a supplier with local service so you can get your instruments checked and calibrated frequently. After all, it’s your store’s reputation that’s on the line.

Service shops can be expensive to set up and operate what with all the specialized tools and training involved. Some companies, in order to cut costs and maintain a healthy profit margin forgo the initial checking and adjusting until the level is to be sent out to the rental store. We have had brand-name products purchased from large suppliers brought to our service shop by rental operators looking to get their instrument serviced. Without specific training and access to parts, it just can’t be done.  Since these instruments (especially lasers) are now getting very specialized, they need to be sent to the supplier’s shop where the service personnel have been trained on that particular brand.

 All survey equipment will need to be serviced. The question is when it will need servicing, not if. It is a funny thing with survey instruments, but they only seem to break when they are being used. You and your customer need to know the equipment can be serviced with a reasonable lead time and expense. That shouldn’t include delays and costs due to shipping to other provinces or beyond.

The main idea here is to be very careful when purchasing survey equipment and to do a bit of homework. Get the best price on the best product while at the same time making sure that the equipment is serviced locally before as well as after the sale. This might not mean the absolute cheapest product but in the long run your company and especially your customer will be far better off.


About the author – Victor Russell is a technical sales representative with Spatial Technologies in Richmond, B.C. He is a BCIT graduate in survey technology and has been selling survey equipment for over 40 years. Russell can be reached at vrussell@stpg.ca


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