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Digital surveying is no rocket science, but it offers chances for gardeners

  • 11 min read

This article has been published by Vakblad De Hovenier in July 2021.

Hoveniersbedrijf Rick Veeken holds digital measurement tools up to the light

Due to the sharp price decreases of digital measuring equipment, an investment in this technology is becoming accessible to the horticultural sector. Time to have two systems tested by the men of Hoveniersbedrijf Rick Veeken. Is this technology interesting for the Dutch gardener? And what advantages and disadvantages do they see in the systems?

The men of Hoveniersbedrijf Rick Veeken test two digital survey tools

As a trade magazine, we heard more and more often about digital measurement tools. In the past year alone, for example, two participants of the Green Accelerator business coaching program bought such a system. Our interest was aroused. Previously, digital measuring equipment was very expensive; prices soon reached 20,000 to 30,000 euros. That was not only too high an investment for the horticultural sector; often this type of equipment is also aimed at the professional surveyor. So you mainly saw them in the civil engineering sector for large-scale projects. Now that the system is becoming more price-friendly and the software more user-friendly, the system is also becoming accessible to gardeners. Tools that make work easier, faster, and more streamlined are always welcome.
We decided to have two digital measurement tools tested by landscape gardener Rick Veeken and his collaborator Stijn: the systems of marXact and Surveyour. Veeken recently completed the Green Accelerator business coaching program and is serious about professionalizing his company and its business processes. A digital measuring tool had therefore been on his wish list for some time. Hoveniersbedrijf Veeken is active in the higher segment, and it is precisely there that he sees opportunities for digital measurement. Veeken: ‘I now visit gardens where it is not so easy to work with a tape measure. I was looking for a solution, and these tools had piqued my curiosity before.’ Veeken has the honour of examining both systems for one week for the trade magazine De Hovenier. What are his findings?

‘I visit gardens where it is not that easy to work with a tape measure, and digital surveying systems had already aroused my curiosity’

marXact and Surveyour

After the test week, we meet Veeken at his office. He is enthusiastic about the technology, but immediately states that it is not interesting for every gardener. marXact and Surveyour both have a digital GPS measurement system that works on the basis of satellite data. When you work against a wall, or, as is often the case with urban gardens, surrounded by buildings, the reception of satellite signals can be reduced, so that the direct survey is much less precise and easy. ‘With a tape measure you are better off in a city garden,’ says Veeken. But, he continues: ‘In a medium-sized garden with quite a few trees, digital measurement is a lot easier and faster. With these measuring systems you can measure trees more easily and you are ready much faster than with the tape measure. In addition, you can load the garden directly into your drawing program, which also saves time.’

Rick Veeken

User-friendly

Veeken also noticed that Surveyour is a more precise and comprehensive tool. This has its advantages, but for Veeken it sometimes felt more like a disadvantage. ‘Surveyour was sometimes a bit complicated for us.’ Perhaps the limited test time of one week plays a role in this; that is also what account manager Alex Groenendaal of the company wants to pass on. Groenendaal: ‘One week of testing is not enough to master our tool. With the guidance we offer, you can easily apply our system.’ As far as user-friendliness is concerned, Veeken fell for marXact: ‘We found marXact a lot easier to work with. It works very intuitively, perhaps also because the program runs on Android, while Surveyour runs on Windows 10. The advantage of marXact is that I can send all my staff members on the road without having to give them extensive instructions first. Due to the intuitive operation, I trust that they will come back with a usable drawing when using marXact. I wouldn’t be so quick to do this at Surveyour’, says Veeken. Groenendaal notes in this regard: ‘Our system runs on Windows 10 precisely because this is the same operating system as on a laptop or PC and many digital people find their way through it faster.’

A major advantage of Surveyour, Veeken thought, is that it is possible, for example, to draw up a ground balance. If you excavate a lot of ponds, this is a great option. Groenendaal adds: ‘This is a very useful option that is highly appreciated by our customers. Certainly with the current pfas and nitrogen regulations, it is a must to have as little soil displacement as possible.’

marXact’s account manager, Jürgen Everts, later joins the conversation. He points out that, although it looks easy, marXact also has several other, hidden options. Everts: ‘Precisely to make our system look easier and more intuitive. But if you search and familiarize yourself with our system, you’ll find more options to do more complicated jobs if you want to.”

With both systems there is always enough satellite range

Pole first

The GPS measuring poles of both systems are very similar. Surveyour’s pole is extendable as standard, marXact’s is a two-piece. But both companies indicate that this can be changed if a landscaping company has a preference for the other stick. Veeken prefers the marXact pole, because it is a bit more compact, but Surveyour has a better center of gravity. ‘With marXact, the center of gravity is higher on the pole, so in strong wind it is more difficult to keep the pole vertical.’ And a perpendicular stick is important for correct measurements. That seems to be easier with Surveyour.

Furthermore, Surveyour has the option of correcting angle measurements up to 30 degrees. This allows you to measure directly against buildings. An advantage, says Veeken. With marXact this can be a bit more difficult; you cannot hold the pole directly against facades. marXact reports that this feature is on the company’s development list, so there may be such a tilt feature in the near future. However, the lack of the tilt function is not a huge loss, according to Veeken: ‘With marXact, you learn a skill in no time that allows you to measure buildings. You just put the pole anywhere one meter from the building. This way you can keep your pole straight and you can draw in the building that way.’ He does have another criticism of marXact: there is no sound that confirms that the survey has been completed. Veeken: ‘If you hear such a sound, you can work a lot faster, because you don’t have to check whether the measurement was successful.’

Tablet

A tablet is supplied with both systems. With marXact this is a Samsung Galaxy Active Tab 3. Veeken thinks it is positive that marXact runs on Android; this makes the system a lot easier to operate, he says. He does have a small critical remark: ‘The screen of the tablet is a bit on the small side. Sometimes I can’t see the drawing completely and have to scroll.’ Account manager Everts of marXact also indicates here that you are not bound by the standards. ‘We recently delivered our systems to a water board on larger Apple tablets. So that’s also possible.’ The Surveyour tablet is somewhat larger, which is nice, according to Veeken, because you have a bit more overview on the screen. Surveyour has an industrial dust and waterproof tablet. With both batteries you can work a full day. Due to the larger screen, the Surveyour tablet is 0.5 kg heavier: 1264 grams, while the marXact tablet weighs 758 grams. An advantage is that the battery with Surveyour is exchangeable, whereby the tablet even remains on. An extra battery and charger are also included. So if you are without a battery on location, you can always use the spare battery. With marXact, you can always measure with your smartphone if you run out of battery.

Account manager Jürgen Everts of marxact: ‘The tilt function is on our development list’

Weight specifications

SurveyourWeight
GPS860 grams
Tablet1264 grams
Pole1335 grams
Total weight (rounded)2400 grams
marXactWeight
GPS882 grams
Tablet758 grams
Pole940 grams
Total weight (rounded)2600 grams

Service

Veeken is also very complimentary and satisfied with the service that both companies offer. Veeken: ‘You can always contact them even with simple questions; that applies to both companies. This is very nice, because at least in the beginning you are often fiddling with the operation of the tools. If you really can’t figure it out, both Surveyour and marXact can take control of your tablet remotely and you can watch exactly how it works on location. Also in terms of reception, both systems are not inferior to each other, according to Veeken. ‘There is an equal amount of satellite reception with both systems, sometimes a bit more at marXact, then again at Surveyour.’ Both are continuously around 20 satellites, a good score to make precise measurements. The reaction speed of both systems is also the same.
Employee Stijn does not come from the landscape gardening profession, but from ICT and has delved into the various systems: ‘Seven or eight satellites can be lost; then you have enough satellites left for correct measurements.’ Stijn is especially a fan of the marXact interface, and also of the option that marXact offers to put measurements directly in the cloud. ‘With two presses of a button, the measurements are in the cloud. Then I can download them afterwards on my PC; I like working that way.’ Veeken’s landscaping company used the SketchUp program for digital drawing. A disadvantage of this drawing program is that it cannot be linked to digital surveying systems. Veeken has therefore decided to switch to Helixcad, also to make maximum use of the time savings and the convenience of digital registration. Surveyour notes that it can also offer numerous cloud solutions within Windows 10 that enable file sharing, such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

Employee Stijn is testing extensively

Price

A few years ago, digital measurement systems still required an investment of 20,000 to 30,000 euros, both of these providers are now much lower. At marXact, the device costs about 3500 euros, excluding the annual costs of 1500 euros. At Surveyour, the investment is around 8450 euros; this includes all accessories and excludes the annual cost of 1,600 euros. Surveyour notes that they also supply simple systems, similar to that of marXact, for around 5000 euros. But according to them, a professional landscape gardener benefits more from the system that has been tested by Veeken. The annual costs of 1,500 and 1,600 euros respectively seem on the high side, but at both companies that includes (additional) training, good service and a subscription with which satellite data can be made accurately. This subscription alone costs 1500 euros per year for individuals. The (additional) training is given at marXact in the form of monthly additional training days at the marXact office, and an explanation is given for about two hours upon delivery of the system. Surveyour offers in-house (additional) training, two times three hours. In this way, the entire team can learn to use the system. Surveyour’s system comes with a generous three-year warranty, including three-year breakage service to ensure continuity. Account manager Everts says that marXact offers a 1-year warranty, but is flexible when that limit expires.

During the test period, Veeken became convinced of the added value of a digital measurement tool for his company

Final verdict

According to Veeken, both systems are well matched. During the test period, he himself became convinced of the added value of a digital measurement tool for his company. ‘Certainly if you are already somewhat advanced as a landscape gardener with the digitization and automation of your work, digital measuring can be a nice addition to this,’ says Veeken. Veeken himself proceeded to purchase marXact and at the same time switched to Infogroen’s Helixcad drawing program.

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