Geo Week News

October 29, 2013

Building documentation industry reveals top hardware tech manufacturers



Latest survey shows ‘prime opportunity’ for hardware tech rental business given ‘amazing’ growth rate

For professionals in the fledgling U.S. building documentation industry, choosing the right tools – laser scanners, GPS, total stations, levels, ground penetrating radar (GPR), digital photography – to get the job done is vital to achieving return on investment (ROI).

And, understanding what tools professionals in the industry buy, who they buy it from, and why they buy it, are just as critical in helping to propel the industry into the mainstream.

To that end, the U.S. Institute for Building Documentation (USIBD) on Tuesday gave this reporter an exclusive look at the results of its second issue of the Cornerstone Report, which asked the industry’s opinion about hardware technology and associated peripherals currently on the market and in their toolbox.

The Cornerstone Report is a quarterly review of select aspects of the building documentation industry based on results of online surveys the trade group conducts to help professionals identify where the industry is positioned and where it is heading. Survey responses were a bit light in the survey for the first Cornerstone Report over the summer, but industry participation in the second survey increased by more than 60 percent to 106 total responses.

Most popular laser scanner makers

The latest survey results showed 55 percent of respondents recently purchased scanning equipment and 33 percent bought survey equipment. USIBD said a “much smaller fraction” purchased other equipment such as photogrammetry, photography, GPR, and other products. 

Out of the hardware available to industry professionals, 79 percent said laser scanners were the most often deployed in day-to-day operations, followed by survey instruments (total stations, levels, robotics, etc.) with 75 percent, and field measurement devices (hand – i.e. disto, tape, etc.) with 60 percent. Photography hardware got 49 percent and photogrammetry hardware garnered just 27 percent.

So, keeping in mind that survey respondents can list any and all hardware tech manufacturers they purchase from, who are the most popular manufacturers for building documentation professionals?

  • Leica Geosystems – 60 percent
  • FARO Technologies – 38 percent
  • Trimble Navigation – 29 percent

All other manufacturers mentioned in submitted responses added up to less than 10 percent.

Who are building documentation professionals?

Survey respondents identified themselves in two major groups – surveyors (60 percent) and service providers (23 percent). These were followed by seven additional groups of professions each totaling under 4 percent – software manufacturers were third with 3.7 percent. Architects and contractors each represented 2.8 percent of respondents, while asset owners and engineers were each less than 1 percent.

The respondents described their positions in their companies as:

  • Technician – 21 percent
  • Manager – 33 percent
  • Executive/Owner – 44 percent

The survey showed just over 33 percent of respondents hailed from the southeast U.S., followed by Canada with 17 percent, and 16 percent from the northeast U.S. Nearly 55 percent of respondents came from firms with 1-25 employees and 25 percent were with companies employing over 100.

Hardware of choice by profession

When asked whether specific professions within the industry prefer a specific hardware manufacturer, the survey showed that surveyors had a Leica hardware product more than twice as much as any other manufacturer’s brand. Outside of the surveyor respondents the top spot is almost an even split between Leica and FARO, according to the survey results.

And, when using hardware from more than one manufacturer, respondents said the most common pairing was hardware products from Leica and Trimble.

Open to outsourcing

Interestingly, building documentation professionals were willing to outsource work when hardware technologies, not in their toolbox, were needed. Photogrammetry and surveying work led the pack when it came to attributes they looked for when outsourcing, with 38 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Laser scanning was a strong third outsourcing option with 31 percent.

“I think that the overwhelming support for outsourcing to augment hardware capabilities was very interesting,” Ted Mort, USIBD Technology Committee chairman told this reporter. “I’ve always assumed that we as an industry were more reluctant to recognize a solution for our clients that we didn’t control in house.”

Rapidly evolving hardware tech

The rapid evolution of hardware technology keeps industry professionals constantly assessing what they have in their toolbox. ‘Is what I own robust enough?’ ‘Is the next best product just around the corner?’ Concerns that the competition will grab their business with the latest and greatest hardware has a huge impact.

Nonetheless, 86 percent of respondents feel more empowered than threatened by advancement in hardware technology. Of that group, nearly half said they were very empowered by the advances in technology.

However, the survey showed, a surprisingly 73 percent of respondents are “at least worried” about technology purchases becoming obsolete prematurely. In fact, 36 percent said they were “very concerned.” Just 5 percent were not concerned at all, and 2 percent were “alarmed” by the prospect of their technology purchases becoming obsolete.

Rental opportunities

But, perhaps, therein lies opportunity.

“I think the hardware technology side of the building documentation industry is growing at an amazing rate, especially within the imaging sector,” Mort said. “Couple that with the large cost of investment, and companies start to worry about getting ROI for their equipment before the ‘next best thing’ comes out and rocks the boat. It seems like a prime opportunity for the rental business.”

For sure, 84 percent of respondents said they rent or plan to.

Still, the vast majority of respondents, 81 percent, said it was important to own new hardware technology. Within that segment, twice as many respondents believed possessing the latest and greatest hardware products “was imperative to success.”

Meanwhile, just 14 percent said owning such equipment was “essential” to their operations and 6 percent said they could care less.

When it comes to upgrading to newer hardware technology, half of respondents do it every three to five years, and 30 percent of professionals wait five years or longer before upgrading the tools in their toolbox.


Okay, so what about return on investment? Is there is enough revenue potential to justify the cost of hardware technology?

A resounding 66 percent said they were already achieving ROI, while 22 percent said not yet but expecting to. Just 8 percent said the cost of hardware purchases were not justified in terms of ROI.

Maintenance agreements

When building documentation professionals purchase maintenance agreements for jobs are they getting their money’s worth?

According to the survey’s results, 54 percent of respondents said the added cost adds value only “occasionally,” the other 46 percent were split between the value “often” and “not at all.”

Here’s the breakdown: 


  • 35 percent of respondents said they always buy a maintenance agreement
  • 38 percent said they were selective when picking up coverage
  • 27 percent said they have not purchased a maintenance agreement

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 53 percent of respondents believe tolerance statements are in line with goals
  • 30 percent believe tolerance statements are too vague
  • 17 percent said tolerance were limiting or excessive

Over 60 percent of respondents team up with others to augment capabilities, 20 percent do not.

3D imaging focus of first Cornerstone Report

The first Cornerstone Report was released in July and shed light on the industry’s use of 3D imaging technologies – or non-use, as over 75 percent of respondents to the first survey said their clients used 3D imaging in just 25 percent of projects.

Still, nearly 75 percent of professionals responding to the first survey said they expect client use of 3D imaging to increase by 50 percent within the next year.

“If we could show clients how to raise the value of the products we deliver from 25 percent to 50 percent, you’ll see the beginning of an industry explosion,” said Ted Mort, USIBD technology committee chairman. So, where are clients learning about 3D imaging and its benefits? Mort said there’s really no formalized introduction to it. Many clients learn about 3D imaging through word of mouth.

One question from the first survey provided a glimpse into the attitudes of building documentation professionals toward hardware and software manufacturers.

The first survey also asked industry members about their level of satisfaction with hardware and software manufacturers. A majority of respondents said they were “satisfied” with the balance of respondents evenly split on “very satisfied” or “not satisfied.”

Here’s some of the most common comments about hardware and software manufacturers from the first report:

  • Improvement is needed in customer service
  • Overstated capabilities
  • Software price point is too high
  • Interoperability is deficient

The USIBD’s mission

Formed in April 2012, the USIBD’s goal is to establish and promote building documentation as a “distinct industry” by developing industry standards for ethical business practices to be codified in a manual.

The plan is to use the manual in establishing a Certified Building Documentation Professional (CBDP) certification program by 2017 for service providers based on a core set of principles and best practices.

Other documents will be developed such as RFP Templates and Specifications for Owners to use for procuring building documentation services, along with a Bid Scoring Guide.

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