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Sat 15 Aug 2009 04:00 AM

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If the price is right

Some of the region's leading suppliers of land surveying equipment talk about the swing towards lower end products and the emerging cheaper brands of total stations entering the market.

If the price is right
The surveying equipment market has now become price sensitive.
If the price is right
Nikon’s DMT 352 features the longest battery life in the region of up to 30 hours.
If the price is right
Spectra Precision’s Focus 10 model is easy to use, affordable and tough.
If the price is right
Trimble’s S6 range is one of the most sought after globally.

Some of the region's leading suppliers of land surveying equipment talk about the swing towards lower end products and the emerging cheaper brands of total stations entering the market.

Total stations have almost become an essential piece of equipment on any modern day construction site, but with so many to choose from, and so many different add-on functions available, are you choosing the right one?

Regional sales manager for Hexagon's Leica Geosystems Shiva Kumar says the approach to this question in previous years was to go for the best technology money could buy.

Total stations which measure precise angles to one or two arc-seconds were the most popular machines in the Middle East's construction market, but they were also the most expensive, which dictated a significant market shift with the onset of the economic downturn.

"In the last six months there has been a huge change in the trend and customers are now looking at the low- and middle-range technologies," says Kumar.

"The market has now become very price sensitive. The cheaper five second or six second total stations are moving fast. Nowdays it's a five second market."

Kumar says this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as many in the construction industry were previously purchasing high-end technology when only a construction-grade total station was required.

"It all depends on the application of what they do, you should use a one second total station to build a big road or bridge but if you're constructing a villa or low-rise building a five second or three second may be enough," he says.

"The customer needs to understand their requirement so we can help find a product, which will best suit their needs.

"This is already happening and now most customers are keen to know what each system delivers rather than having a one second or two second system, which is over-specified for the job."

Geomax, a new player in the surveying equipment market, has taken this philosophy one step further by offering customers budget total stations, which have been stripped back to the bare essential functions.

The company was formed by Swiss measurement equipment giant Hexagon as a separate entity to its aforementioned Leica Geosystems, which tends to specialise in higher grade equipment.

The Geomax range entered the Gulf market in February through UAE supplier Hillsborough Geomatics and reception of the products couldn't have been better according to division manager Intakham Alam.

"If you talk about high end instruments, nothing is selling. In our scenario, we are aiming at the upper-middle and middle segments of the industry where there is still a lot of activity," he says.

"We have not been affected by the global economic situation at all. If you look into the pricing of Geomax, I can say with confidence that we are the most cost effective brand as of now and that's the reason why we are not having any problems during the recession."

 Alam says the Geomax products, which are available in two to seven second accuracy, are between 15% to 30% cheaper than any competitors because the machines are streamlined for basic use.

"The other companies produce machines which are very high-tech and very expensive. There are so many functions which the customer either doesn't know how to use or have no need to use," he says.

"People are shifting to the three second and five second machines to save money, but second accuracy is not the only price parameter. Compared to us, the big companies are still selling at a very high price.

"Our strategy is to identify the customers need and provide a corresponding technology. We are a new company but we have really caught up with the current market requirement."

Alam says the Geomax range is offering similar prices to Chinese manufactured products which have aggressively entered the market in recent years.

"In 2000 there were only one or two Chinese companies, but today there are around 10 to 15," he says.

"They manufacture instruments in the thousands and are really threatening the top companies because their total stations can be around US $5,000 (AED18,366) cheaper.

"The problem is that their quality is not up to scratch and they have no support, they dump the instruments and run.

"In this way we feel they are no competition to us because we have the backing of Hexagon, which is a strong brand with good R&D as well as ongoing and comprehensive product support."

However, Geomax is not the only well-known company with a "basics" range of total stations in the Gulf market. Leading US manufacturer Trimble is well known for its high-end equipment, but also offers simpler technology through its Nikon and Spectra Precision brands.

The regional manager for Middle East, India and Africa Debasish Mitra says sales have been down since the start of the year but the brands are performing better than the high-end Trimble products.

The Nikon and Spectra brands are specially designed to suit areas where the standard of surveying professional is not as high as Europe or the US.

"Most people [in the Middle East] need a basic machine that is straightforward and easy to learn."

Despite being cheaper than the high-end products, Mitra acknowledges that Geomax still has a price advantage.

"We see that Geomax is very aggressively entering the market and have heard they are really on the lower (price) side than Nikon and Spectra," he says. "I'm not sure what the quality is like and how that stands in the marketplace, time will tell.

"We can stand by our quality. We manufacture Nikon products in the same locations as the Trimble brand, the only difference is we change the name, the colour and a little bit of programming."

Meanwhile Rohit Anand, Gulf sales manager for Japanese brand Sokkia, says he is skeptical that Geomax is taking a significant market share during the economic downturn.

"I think everyone has suffered, the industry as a whole has suffered and all of our competition sales are down," he says.

Anand also says the current influence of Chinese imports is having no major impact on the market.

"The Chinese brands have been around since 2008, people were tempted by the price, tried them and now reverted back to the established brands," he says.

"They found the products were used and thrown away because there is no means of supporting or servicing those products in the market.

Anand says the main demand in the region is still for high-quality total stations from a reputable supplier with an increased degree of automation and functionality.

"If you've talking of only a simple building construction site then you can do the same job using levels or a bare minimum total station, which is just measuring angles and distances," he says.

"But not when it comes to a complex structure like Jumeriah Beach Hotel, the Metro  or the Burj Dubai. When you're trying to supply equipment to a trained professional surveyor they like to have that added functionality."

Philippe Akl, regional sales and marketing manager for Japanese company Topcon, agrees.

"Nowadays, users pay more attention to speed and productivity, not only the traditional and basic functionalities like accuracy and range," says Akl.

"Increased technology will allow customers to cut costs by reducing the personnel and minimising time.

"People will never go backwards to save few hundred dollars on the projects of the size and quality we see in the Middle East."

Top selling total stations from the top brands

Leica

Model: Builder M/RM PowerSET Total Station

Whether the task is setting out, control measurements in position and elevation, in civil, structural or landscaping works: The Builder M/RM power has simplicity of operation - even for users who do not use the instrument every day. You do not have to be an engineer to work efficiently with the Builder M/RM power. Leica PowerSite, the versatile instrument software, complements the system's performance and accuracy with applications programs to accelerate your work on site.

Geomax

Model: Geomax ZTS 602LR

Never again will inaccessible points be a problem with the high accuracy reflectorless measurement technology up to 350m can be measured. The extra small EDM footprint ensures you maximum accuracy while improving productivity. Standard Laser plummet features in all models, along with plus intelligent absolute encoders, quadruple-axis electronic compensators and easy data transfer software.

Trimble

Model: Trimble S6

With silent MagDriveTM servo techology, Trimble S6 reflectorless servo and robotic total stations offer speed and accuracy. Unique features such as MultiTrackTM target for active and passive tracking, SurePointTM accuracy assurance and GPS SearchTM make Trimble S6 one of the most sought-after total stations globally. The Trimble S6 also integrates seamlessly with Trimble GNSS/GPS receivers as Trimble I.S Rover for Integrated Surveying capability.

Spectra Precision

Model: Spectra Precision Focus 10

This servomotor and robotic total station with reflectorless measurement meets all surveying needs from high-order control surveys to topographic data collection or fast-paced construction stakeout. They are easy to use, affordable and tough.

  Nikon

Model: Nikon DTM 352

With legendary Nikon optics for brighter and shaper images even in low-visibility conditions, Nikon DTM 352 is the top selling model in the region. It features the longest battery life in the industry of up to 30 hours. Lightweight and all-weather construction provides reliable performance.

Sokkia

Model: Sokkia SET520K

Series20K models have five second accuracy with a one second display. These total stations work in a wide range of applications from construction to surveying. With IP66 dust and water protection, they can withstand harsh conditions. New features include laser distance metre measures up to 3500m with a single prism - 30% further than former models, a 25% increase in battery life to 10 hours and fully illuminated display and keyboard.

Topcon

Model: Pulse Total Station GPT-7000

A versatile all-in-one non-prism total station that mounts a Windows®CE.NetTM-based data collection function in a pulse total station that is accurate and without incorrect indication. It includes data collector function, large colour display and touch panel, real-time 3D view, small diameter pin point pulse, data send receive functions and versatile interfaces.

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