Topcon in Europe has recently undergone a transformation, having reorganized to separate from their eye care business to be fully dedicated on positioning. The new focused positioning business has grown exponentially since then. Vector1 editors sat down with Ewout Korpershoek, director of marketing and sales for Topcon Europe Positioning, to discuss Topcon’s strategy and the evolution of the surveyor’s role.
V1: Our new publication is dedicated to a process-centric approach that reveals the value of the convergence of spatial technologies. It seems that you’re on the same page as we are, with extending the power of the technology with a focus on efficiency and economic gains.
Korpershoek: Our business has been changed, transformed and developed by technology. What started ten years ago is that automation has found its way into the survey industry and changed the science of surveying. The art, science and technology of creating a map and registration out of the reality has become black box technology.
A good example is the first route optimization systems for personal navigation, that were developed fifteen years ago. These programs deliver shortest and fastest route algorithms heavily rooted in mathematics, and originated from the survey community. Now it’s simply a black box where you select parameters and your desired output. Look at photogrammetry, that has also changed from being an art to becoming an applied science.
V1: The role of the surveyor has changed, where the surveyor is becoming a data manager. With the technology convergence, the processes and workflows have changed. How does Topcon see the processes of position evolving?
Korpershoek: We look at it from our core position from the survey and positioning markets. We started as a manufacturer of survey hardware and equipment. We know the surveying and positioning markets, with a focus on the markets of construction, engineering and agriculture business from this technology background. We realize that our future is in providing complete solutions.
The entire workflow revolves around the need for a position, and we’ve started to extend beyond our core markets to focus on the value of position. As an example, we have recently set up a new business unit to focus on the mobile GPS markets that focuses on asset tracking and personal navigation .
Construction is the best example of our evolution to the solution business. We look at all processes on the construction site that revolve around position and aim to offer one seamless solution. Not only a seamless solution, but an integrated solution, because you want to make the life of the customer as easy and efficient as possible.
V1: Your SiteLink software provides a managed environment for the construction industry. Have you conducted any in-depth analysis regarding the gains in efficiency and the economic benefit of those gains?
Korpershoek: The potential benefits for this system are huge. If we started writing on the wall all of the potential benefits of this system, we’d soon run out of space and have to go into the next room.
We are now in the phase that we’ve developed the hardware and software. We know from being on the construction site what the major issues are. Today we are in the stage where we’re confirming with several key customers what the priorities have to be in determining the functionality of the product. There can be a big difference between theoretical priorities and practical priorities.
It’s very important to listen to our customers, but also realizing they’re referencing current practice. When you talk about automation, you talk about changes in the workflow. There’s a bit of a sparring that goes on with any change. We see the goal, but we need to see the most efficient route to get to that goal.
We have a large dedicated team of developers and application specialists all around the world, and it is these people’s job to continuously align themselves with the added value our products can offer to our customers daily work. If you look at the Site Link product, we know that the daily practice on a job site involves many subcontractors and sometimes there’s overlap. There are a number of people running around the site trying to coordinate all of this. It’s a lot of manual labor.
With Site Link we are trying to automate all of this to make sure there’s no unnecessary waiting times. If an asphalt truck is leaving an asphalt plant, it has to be visible to everybody. It also has to be recorded, so that when you reach the analysis phase, you can learn how to plan for the greatest efficiency. If you put all the information available into the system and provide access to the information in real-time you can realize some serious cost, quality and performance benefits.
V1: CAD and GIS have reached a plateau. Something has to shake out to take it to the next level. Survey information feeds this change. Accuracy data feeds GIS and CAD, both the modeling and design environment, and greater benefit from these systems depend on better accuracy data. What are some of the challenges in deriving value from greater quality data?
Korpershoek: We live and work in a 3D reality, and this reality is getting more crowded on a daily basis. Overview, recording of spatial data is becoming more important on a daily basis ; for production, management and maintenance purposes. The major challenge is to provide our users with technology that allow them to do that as fast, efficient and cost-effective as possible. In the end that is what we believe is our core business.
The future of positioning is in automating traditional processes, but it’s also becoming a commodity. The availability of geospatial information creates a lot of new opportunities.
V1: What excites you the most about the future?
Korpershoek: I’m still a technician at heart. The availability of technologies and integrating them to create new and different solutions excites me. Selling the concept of automation in the surveying industry is important. Going out with a hammer and a peg doesn’t make sense. Making our user’s life more economic, easier, and making the process more efficient is a great challenge and position to be in.
The greatest efficiency gains have to be driven from the execution side of the business because that’s where the big benefits lie. That’s going to change the way we’re working.
Traditional mapping has been determined by the technical output, only measuring angles and distances. 2D maps were the best and most intuitive that we could make. We’re looking at a future that is truly 3-dimensional. With laser scanners, we combine points with digital images, which gives you something close to a 3D model instantly. Technological developments are extremely fast, scanners for instance are becoming easier to handle, more accurate and compact, making them a practical option for the user.
Adding to these technologies that allow us to handle large amounts of data and sharing them in real time, will give us a future where 3D is the standard. Instead of stakes on a jobsite, visualization tools will provide a construction working guidance throughout the entire execution process, as if he were working in the virtual model. That would be my future view for the construction business, and you can see where that relates to other businesses.
V1: You’ve doubled your size in the past year. Is that tied to technological innovation in your product line or how much construction work is going on right now in the world?
Korpershoek: In fact, that’s a completely different story. Topcon’s core business is positioning, but we also have an eye care business unit. Until 2005 these businesses were both integrated. Within that structure, Topcon was #3 in the market. We were larger in the world, but smaller in Europe. We decided to demerge.
From the warehouse to top management, we created a team that is focused on the positioning business. We have initially focused on strengthening and professionalizing our distribution, with partners that add value. The internal organization restructuring has to provide a basis for long-term expansion, and has shown positive result already. We’re growing at a great rate.
We believe that our future is in the technology. We believe we can grow by focusing on technology and true innovations. The product takes a great importance in our business culture. During the past year we’ve introduced many new products to the market, with many innovations.
You can say that Topcon has been and R&D company with limited marketing for years. We’ve tried to change that by actively advertising the things that we’re good at and proud of, the things that are uniquely Topcon. I think we’re succeeding and customers are realizing who we are and what we can offer. It is therefore no surprise that Topcon has been recognized as one of the most innovative companies over the past few years.