Measurement and Layout Tools

By Jeff Griffin | Apr 14, 2023
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Work-site measurement and layout tools range from simple 12-inch rulers, folding rulers, distance measuring wheels and pocket tape measures to laser distance meters and robotic total stations.




Work-site measurement and layout tools range from simple 12-inch rulers, folding rulers, distance measuring wheels and pocket tape measures to laser distance meters and robotic total stations.

For most people working in the trades, the fastest way to take simple measurements is with pocket tape measures and laser distance meters (also called laser distance measurers).

Pocket tape measures

Adam Rabaut, associate product manager for measuring tools at DeWalt, Towson, Md., said today’s tape measures have more balanced retraction, longer blade life through improved manufacturing processes, ergonomic and comfortable designs, and enhanced durability through different case housing materials. There also are many options to easily read the blade, such as large fonts and fractional blade graphics for those who require tape increments.

Rabaut said DeWalt is introducing a new tape featuring a built-in LED light, durable housing that withstands a 1,000-foot drop and a blade that delivers 17 feet of maximum reach. DeWalt offers pocket tapes in 12- to 40-foot lengths. Most popular with electricians, he said, are 16- and 25-foot tapes.

Michael DeGirolamo, product engineer at Jonard Tools, Elmsford, N.Y., said today’s tape measures come in all different shapes and sizes, with various features.

“Jonard’s TM-25 25-foot tape has an auto-locking mechanism that automatically holds the blade in place for maximum accuracy and precision,” he said. “Its case is made of a high-impact plastic with rubberized housing for additional support. It has clear markings for metric and U.S. measurements. The 25-foot-length tape is commonly used by electricians.”

Jonard Tools 25-foot Mammoth Insta-Lock tape measure

Santiago Pava, product manager at Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis., said recent tape measure models feature two-sided printing to increase measurement readability.

“Great strides have been made to protect the blade and size markings from damage, including an anti-tear coating and nylon blade protection,” he said. “These features reduce the chances of the tape tearing and provide maximum blade durability. Cases are impact-resistant and constructed with a reinforced frame to deliver the best durability.”

Magnetic tape measures are frequently used by electricians to measure common materials such as EMT and steel studs that might be found on the job site, Pava said.

Milwaukee offers tape measures in multiple sizes, including 6-, 10-, 12-, 25-, 30-, 35- and 40-foot lengths, including a wide range of magnetic and nonmagnetic models. 

Milwaukee 25-foot magnetic tape measure

Laser layout systems

Laser layout systems include laser distance measurers and laser levels, and they come in point-to-point models, continuous­-line lasers and rotating lasers. Accessories include tripods, mounting brackets and targets.

According to Pava, laser distance meters offer ultimate versatility and the easiest measurements by allowing users to calculate area and volume and take indirect height and length measurements. Milwaukee’s laser distance meters include a digital auto-level feature to automatically take measurements when the meter is level and an IP54 rating for increased durability. Milwaukee’s laser distance meters come in 65-, 150- and 330-foot models.

Rebecca Luettke, product manager at DeWalt, said electricians are becoming more trusting of the accuracy of the tool and are adopting technology at a faster rate. With a laser distance measurer, end-users can take accurate, long-distance measurements without needing to pull out a tape measure or use a second person to help measure. This allows them to complete their task quickly and be more productive on job sites. 

DeWalt’s 55-foot pocket laser distance measurer is small and compact and has one-button operation.

Michael Crepps, product application specialist at Fluke Corp., Everett, Wash., said laser use ensures accurate measurements and layouts have continued to grow in a variety of industries, with each industry setting new requirements for accuracy and ease of use.

The Fluke PLS 3G three-point laser is a self-locking, three-point laser level.

“Where we once used analog measuring tapes and wheels, lasers have taken over,” Crepps said. “Much of this change can be attributed to that expansion of industries requiring precision in measurement and a dwindling experienced workforce.

“A single wrong measurement can bring a project to a standstill, costing the team or company both time and money. This risk has driven manufacturers of laser distance meters and laser levels to continue to improve their products’ accuracy and ease of use,” he said.

Distance meters previously required two people, but now one individual can use a modern meter to instantly measure up to 100 m, or 330 feet. Accuracy has improved to plus-or-minus 1 mm with instant reads and no interpretation required.

“Today’s laser levels include a diverse mix of ranges and application types to ensure accuracy for different industries,” Crepps said. “The breadth of laser level types continues to grow to meet new demands for accuracy and ease of use in emerging markets, especially around demand generation infrastructure where placement of assets is key to the success of the installations.”

Other features include laser levels being more rugged and durable today while including IP ratings for harsher environments. The pendulum lock for safe transport and locking the laser in tilt mode is more recent. Laser level devices now have rechargeable batteries.

With laser levels, there is no need for multiple measurement points with plumb or bubble level markings, either. Laser levels can be turned on, lined up and ready to go. This saves time and ensures better accuracy, which, in turn, saves money. Crepps said most laser products are fairly straightforward, so usability is of less concern than making sure the tools are appropriate for the environment and accuracy requirements.

Many laser distance meters have cut 50% of the time from a job by reducing the number of people required to use them from two to one. Because laser levels and distance meters are accurate, rework has been drastically reduced or even eliminated in many projects.

Laser tools are the best option for areas where safe access is limited or unavailable, such as in manufacturing plants with a lot of moving parts.

“We are seeing the use of laser levels and laser distance meters in the specification and installation of large solar PV systems,” Crepps said. “Solar is being installed in remote and often undeveloped terrain. And with datacom, we’re seeing how laser levels are being used to ensure these sensitive systems are installed level and remain level—especially with level monitoring systems.

“We also are seeing lasers used to demonstrate the layout of a structure or where an asset will be installed to ensure planning is accurate and allow for changes to plans prior to construction or installation. This has been another cost- and time-saving opportunity for lasers. This is especially effective when combined with computer-generated interfaces for visual identification of components, such as the location of electrical outlets or HVAC placement.”

Fluke offers laser distance meters, 3- and 5-point laser, cross-line laser, three-plane laser and rotary laser levels as well as manual slope laser levels and systems.

Robotic total stations

Bryan Williams, portfolio manager for building construction field systems at Trimble Inc., Westminster, Colo., said with the increased use of digital data, electrical contractors have migrated to using laser total station technology to better execute layouts on job sites.

The Trimble Ri Robotic Total Station makes high-end total station technology more accessible.

“Using robotic tools stations can increase productivity of layout up to 500% and improve completion of elements from 60%–70% to 95%–98%,” he said. “Some of the most common applications are for the layout of hangers for prefabricated conduit racks, trenched for site electrical and housekeeping pads in electrical rooms within code clearances.”

The newest robotic total stations have built-in calibration, level detection technology, advanced camera technology and a focusing laser, Williams said. All of this makes it easier for the electrical contractor to step up and use the total station without needing to do field checks or send it into a service. It can be operated remotely by a single operator, with the focusing laser ensuring increased accuracy of results and measurement to difficult surfaces. This leads to improved results and productivity.

”In addition, these new tools are helping to seamlessly integrate construction workflows and provide layout professionals with access to constructible 3D models created by designers and detailers along with all the corresponding metadata,” Williams said. “This data-driven approach empowers contractors to move beyond manual processes and leverage technology advances to meet the demands of increasingly complex projects, all while working faster and with unprecedented accuracy.”

Moving beyond the capabilities of past total stations, Williams said, new robotic total stations reduce the opportunity for human error and free up contractors and layout professionals for higher-priority work.

Scanning technology also has evolved to a point where it is easy for professionals with little or no scanning expertise to scan a job site and produce a comprehensive multistation view of the entire work area. The 3D laser scanners can deliver dense point clouds with color images of the space.

“Recent innovations enable the work to be reviewed and produced right in the field on a tablet as each scan is collected,” Williams said. “This data is also recorded in the system, making it easy for contractors to go back and review the scans and ensure greater accountability for their work.”

With the current workforce shortages facing the electrical contracting industry, technology can help bridge the skills gap, he said. For example, a robotic piece of equipment does not require site workers to physically turn robotic total stations vertically and horizontally to orient them to the points, and instead follow a prism held by the operator. This cuts down the number of staff required.

Trimble offers a selection of robotic total stations and 3D laser scanner equipment.

DeWalt Tough Series 25-foot lighted tape measure

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].





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