October 20, 2008
Acquisitions Drive Trimble into New Markets
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Acquisitions Drive Trimble into New Markets

By Susan Smith

Trimble has been in the news quite a bit lately with their acquisitions. Each acquisition adds to the total direction Trimble is taking, according to Ken Spratlin, director for strategies and business development for Trimble.

The most recent acquisition, that of RolleiMetric from Rollei GmbH of Braunschweig, Germany in an all-cash transaction, brings RolleiMetric metric camera systems for aerial imaging and terrestrial close range photogrammetry into the Trimble family of offerings.

"RolleiMetric complements our existing integrated surveying, spatial imaging, site positioning, mapping and GIS, and mobile mapping solutions. Our focus is on integrating these solutions to streamline the collection and maintenance of high accuracy as-built drawings for the transportation, civil engineering, and utilities and energy transmission and distribution industries," said Spratlin. "As part of the Trimble Connected Site solutions, high accuracy as-builts enable advanced process and workflow integration from the design phase through construction to the subsequent maintenance phase—delivering significant improvements in productivity."

Two weeks ago, Trimble announced they would be closing a deal on TopoSys, GmbH of Biberach an der Riss, Germany in an all-cash transaction, who are RolleiMetric customers. TopoSys provides aerial data collection systems comprised of LiDAR and metric cameras.

All the areas that Trimble addresses are positioning-oriented businesses, focused on determining where something is, and measuring location. The integrated survey and spatial imaging is their survey division, and site positioning refers to the GPS and Total Stations that are used on the construction side, and mapping and GIS.

In 2003, Trimble acquired Applanix of Toronto, Canada, adding inertial navigation to GPS navigation and now subsequently GNSS navigation, which provides continuity in urban canyons and other environments that are more challenging. “That provided the capability then to go mobile as opposed to static survey or static mapping,” Spratlin pointed out. In early 2007, Trimble acquired a company called Inpho who specialized in photogrammetry, processing aerial imagery for orthophotos and DTMs. In early January, 2008, Trimble acquired Montreal-based Geo3D, a company that specialized in the collection of roadside imagery for asset management.

“For example, they can take pictures and find all the road signs in the picture and put that into a GIS database,” explained Spratlin. “Today customers buy all these solutions from a variety of companies and then they face the challenge of integrating them. They really only want to manage a piece of infrastructure and they don’t want to spend time integrating all this technology. These five acquisitions together provide Trimble the ability get into the aerial market, the land mobile market and add that to the existing capabilities of the survey, construction and mapping and GIS divisions. Our vision is to pull all this together and allow our customers to use their survey, mapping
and GIS data and their land mobile and aerial data all together integrated into a database that allows them to build models of their projects, whether it’s a road, highway, pipelines, powerlines, airports, etc.”

Spratlin recounted a classical survey or construction situation where the user typically measures how large a site is or where it’s located, then often a different worker goes out to that same site and collects all the attributes. “They might go out with a Trimble handheld and collect, not where everything is but what the condition of it is. So you might collect attributes on power lines or a pipeline or something, so multiple steps are required. So one person surveys it, one constructs it, another collects data during the maintenance phase.” The data isn’t collected often enough, and Trimble is looking at getting the office workers and the field workers all in synch with the
Connected Site. “We want to collect all this information more on a daily basis than on a monthly basis and allow our customers to use that to drive productivity to reduce rework and reduce mistakes that are made on the site,” said Spratlin.

Each of these acquisitions had one focus, as in the case of RolleiMetric, they focused on a medium format camera, whereas TopoSys focused on one particular type of LiDAR system. Individually, the tools could be used to do multiple tasks. Spratlin said Trimble will keep the same staff, customers and products and allow the tools to continue their tasks, but Trimble will allow them to apply Trimble’s knowledge and business partner knowledge to the vertical markets. The majority of Trimble is in the engineering, construction, forestry, utilities and office in the field aspect for all of those segments.

“Over time we’re going to have the acquisitions focused on our customer set as opposed to a more generic horizontal focus as they have today,” said Spratlin. “We’re going to ask them to build solutions specific to our customer needs. So within those areas, there’s an enormous number of applications that the products can have.”

Spratlin said that Trimble aims to change the economics of aerial imagery, which is very expensive to collect. It is good for generic mapping for Google Earth and Virtual Earth, but he points out, it’s not used throughout the lifecycle of a building or airport or highway. When you’re building a highway, for example, it’s too expensive to collect imagery to allow you to monitor what’s going on on the site. By changing the technology Spratlin said they can change the economics. Currently the large cameras for aerial mapping are around $1 million per camera – not even counting the airplane.

A big focus for Trimble will be on software in the coming future. The industry is a highly manual business today, said Spratlin. “The sensors are getting better and better, you’re getting these very large cameras that collect over 100 megapixels at one time. Then you take the data back to the office and you need to extract information to allow you to run your business. Today that’s largely offshored to these large factories in Asia, where most of this work is done manually.”

The model, while it works great for updating a map once a year, doesn’t work if you need to take a picture of a worksite and see what’s happening today and what effect it may have. For some, the ability to measure progress, find the mistakes that were made during the day and replan for the activity tomorrow, would be a real plus. “The software is the biggest challenge,” said Spratlin. “It’s easy to build large cameras, it’s easy to take very high resolution pictures of a construction site or a forest, but today it takes months to get the information, and we need to reduce that to weeks or days.”

Inpho is the only real software company among the acquisitions, while RolleiMetric has some software capability. Trimble wants to create the ability to collect the data rapidly with the sensors and automatically generate deliverables that each of these market segments needs in the form of information. Toposys has georeferencing and software for use in the office for postprocessing the data to determine the location, orientation and to georeference all the pixels in the picture or the LiDAR in the point cloud.

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Review Article
  • Nice reading October 21, 2008
    Reviewed by 'A weekly reader'
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