Market for GPS machine control systems growing fast

The sector for machine guidance systems is growing fast as contractors become more and more aware of the benefits of using this technology. Increased speed, working accuracy and cost effectiveness are key benefits of this technology, with just three firms, Trimble, Topcon and the Hexagon Group, dominating the market. The Hexagon Group is perhaps the newest entrant to the sector, having acquired Leica Geosystems and Scanlaser in recent years. John Fraser is sales and marketing manager at Scanlaser, and expla
Measurement, Survey, Design & Software / February 14, 2012
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The sector for machine guidance systems is growing fast as contractors become more and more aware of the benefits of using this technology. Increased speed, working accuracy and cost effectiveness are key benefits of this technology, with just three firms, 2122 Trimble, 342 Topcon and the 1227 Hexagon Group, dominating the market.

The Hexagon Group is perhaps the newest entrant to the sector, having acquired Leica Geosystems and 1433 Scanlaser in recent years. John Fraser is sales and marketing manager at Scanlaser, and explained that the Hexagon Group's aim is to continue growing its presence in the market. He said, "They want to be the number one measurement technology company and not just in the micro field but in the macro as well. The overall strategy for Hexagon is to be a major player in positional measurement."

The Leica Geosystems technology is well accepted in some sectors of the market and Fraser explained. We joined the macro sector when we bought Leica Geosystems."

Despite the various acquisitions made by Hexagon, the firm is keen to retain the brand identity of each company and Fraser said that Leica Geosystems is a strong name that is well identified as being a sign of quality products. Hexagon is also being careful not to overshadow the brands by stamping Hexagon on all the various products and systems. Using the various brands and building on their success in various local markets also helps develop Hexagon's overall market penetration. Growing by acquisition has been an important strategy for Hexagon. He said, "It was deemed that the best was to acquire Scanlaser."

The acquisitions of Scanlaser and Leica Geosystems are also introducing economies of scale and Fraser said, "We achieved leverage in research and development." The company is developing its sales and support operation too but will use different methods depending on the market. Fraser said, "There is no specific strategy to own the distribution channel or to sell directly." He said that instead the firm is using a combination of both methods, "...whatever fits best for the local market and the segment the business is operating in and the economic situation." He explained that the approach is to find the best solution for each market. In Europe the machine control products are now sold under the Scanlaser brand and under the Leica Geosystems name in the US for example.

The aim is to boost the Hexagon Group's presence, however on a worldwide basis compared with Trimble and Topcon Leica Geosystems was later into machine control technology. However there is a dedicated team within the Hexagon Group that is developing the firm's position in this key sector and in Europe, the firm has a good position through Scanlaser.

Concrete paving is one market where Hexagon has a particularly strong presence through Leica Geosystems, which has been developed over several years. Fraser said, "We work closely with all the manufacturers. We're strong in accurate machine control."

By comparison he said that Trimble and Topcon are strong in markets such as earthmoving and extraction with equipment for dozers, graders, excavators and haul trucks. Fraser explained that Leica Geosystems has been well positioned to capitalise on the concrete paving sector. He said, "The relationship started because we made the most precise total station." and he continued, "We started in machine control at the highly accurate end of the market whereas Trimble and Topcon came from the laser guidance end."

Using the 3D software model as the document of record for a project is the next step in machine control technologies. Fraser said that the Leica Geosystems' equipment is able to work off the 3D software models from the latest generation packages. He said, "You can position a machine into the model."

Given that the Hexagon Group has a good position in the concrete paving sector, Fraser said that asphalt paving represents an interesting market for which the firm technology proven in similar applications. Machine control can be used to level the ground and ensure that the sub-base is to grade, although Fraser said that using sonic controls to guide the asphalt paver when it laying the surface materials can provide a good solution. Machine guidance technology also allows for effective planing operations. Fraser said, "If you take up the road with a milling machine it gives you a clean and precise surface. It is more cost-effective to use it on a road structure and the sub-base." He explained that this will reduce the risk of the contractor using asphalt to ensure that the road is made up to grade, which would be highly expensive.

Looking to the future the Hexagon Group will continue to develop its presence in machine guidance, both through key acquisitions and organic growth.
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