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DISTO™ – High precision in Digital Engineering

BK: Welcome back to HxGN Radio. I’m Brian. Thanks for joining us today. DISTO Tools empowers people who rely on precise measurements or who need to measure things in hazardous situations and/or inaccessible areas to transform their jobs. With me today is Johannes Hotz-

JH: Hello.

BK: … Business Director for DISTO Tools at Leica Geosystems, and in today’s episode we will be discussing the role of a simple laser distance-measurement tool in the world of digital engineering. Thanks for joining us, Johannes.

JH: Thank you for the invitation. Really nice to meet you guys.

BK: Great to have you, and we were talking before we got on the show, and we share a love for beautiful areas in the mountains and biking and all that, so that’s great.

JH: Yes.

BK: Very different here.

JH: Absolutely, especially from a guy with a strong Texas accent, as I do have.

BK: I know. I have a hard time. I don’t really understand Texans very well, so it’s hard to understand you sometimes, but …

JH: I do my very best to speak proper English.

BK: You know, we’ve talked about that. It’s amazing that with English as a second language, you actually, I think, speak better than most of us do with English. We have too many colloquialisms.

JH: Really, really, stop now. Stop now. I get a red face.

BK: No, that’s all right. It’s great to have you, though. All right, so tell us a little bit about Leica Geosystems, DISTO, all of that.

JH: Well, the DISTO Division, or the DISTO, takes care of the measuring needs of craftsmen. That’s our main focus, craftsmen like floorers, roofers, electricians, woodworkers, drywallers. As well, we support all the other professions like the surveyors—you have many surveyors here in this location—but also architects are a huge group of customers and appraisers. Basically we support everyone who has the need to do a precise and reliable distance measurement.

It was Leica Geosystems who invented 24 years ago, to be exact, in November 1993, the first laser distance meter. The idea, which is still valid for today, is to replace the tape with a precise measuring tool. Think of trying to measure a longer distance. A longer distance with a roll meter or folding tape is sometimes challenging, and we thought, “Well, there must be something better. There must be an innovation which is better helping these customers to do so.” Therefore, we have developed this little … At this point in time it was like a brick laser distance device. Since then these laser distance meter became widely accepted, and we continuously improve the size range as well as the size.

BK: Excellent.

JH: We also have in our portfolio the LINOs. LINOs are line lasers, and those line lasers are used to build perfectly horizontal lines, horizontal surfaces as well as vertical structures like shelves, floors, and ceilings. So, you see, we work in the classic construction business, but we are differentiating us quite a bit from classic power tool companies. Why is that? Well, we are Leica Geosystems. Measurement technology is in our DNA. Really, we have a passion to continuously raise the bar in achieving the best possible measuring results. We make no compromise when it comes to innovation or quality. The failure rates of our products are far below any industry standard. How can we achieve that? One of the reason is that each device, and we produce a couple of hundred thousand every year, each device is tested up to 100 times before it leaves the factory.

BK: That is awesome. Yes, that really is. And that’s not heard of very often.

JH: Correct.

BK: Yes, I appreciate that. That’s great. So, what’s the technology behind DISTO?

JH: Well, the technology behind is, simply said, it’s a laser. Simply said, it’s a laser, but there are so many other technologies and now are required to build a reliable and easy-to-use laser distance meter. With reliable, I mean it measures at high and low temperature ranges, at different light conditions. The meter, if you measure a meter, it should be in light, bright sunlight the same distance as if you go down in the basement. If you stow your device over summer in the car during the day or in winter in a cold winter night, this has an influence on the measuring performance, and we take care of it.

We are one of the very, very few manufacturers who certified our distance meters against the ISO standards. These ISO standards manage this temperature over time, temperature measuring at -20, at +50 to ensure that always the meter is a meter, different to other manufacturers, but we are certifying all our devices against that one. All of this requires, really, various cutting-edge technologies like optics, mechanics, electronics, and many, many more. Software, of course. And as consequence, our DISTOs, it’s a handheld laser device, smaller than a iPhone, they can measure up to 300 meter—

BK: Wow.

JH: —reflectorless, with millimeter accuracy. They are protected against up to two-meter drops on the floor. Two meter is something like seven, eight foot. These drops have no influence on the measuring performance. All our DISTOs are at least IP54 rated. Some of them are IP65 rated, like our X310. This means they’re also fully protected against dust and water, immersed of dust and water. That’s a short answer to the complex question, technology.

BK: That’s fantastic. It’s great to hear that, because it sounds like a very robust and accurate tool, which is amazing. Tell us about how you lead this whole thing.

JH: Yes. Well, I personally have seven values of leadership.

BK: Excellent.

JH: Some of them are more from team leading skills. Others, but I would like here to focus on three of them today. First of all, I truly believe in innovation. We, as a technology company; we as Leica Geosystems; we, as Hexagon, we have to lead and drive the market with innovations. With innovations I don’t mean a new technology that is cool, simply a great idea. You see these Kickstarter projects, some of them are brilliant ideas. I mean innovations that drive productivity of our customers, something that does not require a couple of years or a couple of months beta testing by the end user after you purchase the product until it gets version B of it. This is something that we really take care of. From day onward, our products must be really reliable to use.

Before releasing, we do rigorous testing procedures. We work closely with professionals around the globe to give us feedback on the upcoming product. In the software, since many years there’s an HL software development process existing, we have adopted this one to our hardware process as well; so we do HL hardware development process. What does that mean? Well, at any stage gate of every milestone, I want to hear from my R&D group something I can show to customers. It could be a pure mockup, how it could look like, a beautiful design, it could be a functional prototype, but with all these functions or with these prototypes, you want to go to the customers around the globe and get their early feedback and adopt the product that it’s finally meeting the needs of a customer and we are not having something cool which no one needs. So, this is the thing. And the last major innovation we have developed was the DISTO S910. That’s a tool that allows you take indirect measurements. Indirect measurements, what does that mean?

BK: Mm, yeah.

JH: So, imagine you want to measure the length of a roof gutter. So how you do it with the traditional tools? You have two persons have to climb up the ladder, holding it, fighting against tightlines, and take couple of minutes to measure this length only. With this S910, you can point the left corner of the roof gutter, then you point the right corner of the roof gutter, then we have the two distance measurements. We have a tool which we call angle encoder, so this means you measure the angle in between and then with simple mathematics, distance, distance, angle in between, you have the indirect of that.

BK: Wow.

JH: This is all in a handheld device, and this is really unique. We call this technology P to P, point to point, and this is something, yeah, which was large, big innovation. Today my team, we are working on close to 20 new products to be released in the next 12 to 18 months. I’m looking forward—

BK: Very exciting.

JH:  Yes. The second thing, innovation, the second thing is 100% customer focus. Customer focus is equally important when it comes to innovation that we develop the products, as I mentioned before, that meet market demands but also when it comes to quality. We have millions of DISTOs out in the market, and whenever I talk to a customer, the first thing I get from him is brilliant quality. I met so many customers. They own a 15-year-old DISTO, and it still function like day one. The old saying, “We want the customer to return and not the product,” is incredibly true for us.

BK: Yes.

JH: The third element is engagement and passion. My team and myself, we all have one common goal, or one passion, is to develop the best possible product for our customers. That’s a short summary of how I try to lead it.

BK: I love that. It’s great to hear, too, just the commitment that goes into it, the integrity as well, because you are producing something that not only is phenomenal, obviously, it’s doing its job—it’s making things easier for the consumer—but also, it’s well-built. We don’t see that very often anymore, so I really appreciate that.

JH: Great. You should buy one.

BK: I will. Seriously, it’s great. Tell me a little bit about the challenges that DISTO helps to address.

JH: Well, traditionally we simplify the measuring a distance, and that’s where we came from 24 years ago. We measure [inaudible 00:10:55], and when measuring [inaudible 00:10:56], it’s difficult; so very often a measuring task requires two persons take time. We do this in seconds and with one person. That’s simpler. I also have already mentioned this indirect-measurement challenge with the S910—

BK: Mm-hmm,yes.

JH: —and the roof-gutter example, but we also have invented something we call a digital viewfinder. Let me explain this one. When measuring outside, you target with a laser distance meter, you target with a red laser dot. This is the point where you want to measure. Outside, this red laser dot in bright sunlight is hardly visible.

BK: Mm-hmm.

JH: So, we solve this problem by, we have embedded into our outdoor distance a four times camera. This streams the live image onto the device, and then, like with your camera on your smartphone, you see where you target, you see the cross, and this is the point where you target. This simplifies it very much in outdoor conditions. Also today think of connected devices. The vast majority of our DISTOs are equipped with Bluetooth. So this allows a connection to powerful software packages like AutoCAD from Autodesk, or apps like AutoCAD Mobile from our partner Autodesk, and this is a great tool.

We also have our own apps, like the DISTO Sketch which simplifies the sketching of floor plans and measuring floor plans or measuring in images. But more important to say is we have about more than 250 partners around the globe that use our API, connected this to into their industry-specific application, and solve a customer problem. I think that’s huge. And these apps are ranging from professional very verticalized applications for kitchen fitters. We have a partner called a la mode who is doing appraisal software. So if you want to value your property, an appraiser comes, they use the DISTO because they have all measurement the floors and things like that, or it goes into even BIM-related digital-construction process, apps like [inaudible 00:13:04—the Autocraft]. And these are more than 250 partners. I’m always thrilled if I see this number, how many people around the globe use our technology to solve a complex thing easily.

BK: Yeah, I love that. So, now, you’ve already touched on the accuracy that these have, but is there anything else you want to share on that that we haven’t already heard?

JH: There’s a simple answer.

BK: It works.

JH: Depending what you want to invest, it ranges from one to two millimeter.

BK: Okay.

JH: That’s the two limits. One, two millimeter is the accuracy—

BK: That’s incredible.

JH: —and that’s brilliant for a handheld device. Imagine that one, years ago.

BK: Yeah. I love that. And you’ve also, a little bit, touched on the environments inside, outside, some of that, but yeah, a little bit more on that, how you can use them.

JH: Everywhere.

BK: Everywhere.

JH: I think that’s brilliant answer. There’s not a place where you can’t use it because it’s so portable. It’s smaller than an iPhone.

BK: Yeah.

JH: You take it into your pocket. It’s outdoor, it’s [inaudible 00:13:57], water, rain proof. We even, and this is one of the coolest things I see from our customer base, is using in caves. All these cave scientists who go down through the earth and go through the mud and things like that, that is a huge customer base we have for our X310, and they go down with that one down and measure the shape of this thing inside. Brilliant.

BK: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

JH: I always love to see these pictures of these people going down through. No one can see me right now, but for me it would be not the right fit.

BK: I don’t even know if I’d want to go in. I’ve been a couple of those caves, and you go … No, it’s neat, though. I like that you can go in all these different environments and use it well. So, what are some of the measurement challenges and limitations in digital engineering, and then, how can DISTO overcome this?

JH: That’s a excellent point. Over the last, I would say, one and a half years I have been in close contact with many huge construction companies. And they all have said to me is, “We want to ban the tape from the construction site.” The first time I heard it I was a bit surprised, but they have said, there’s a simple reason for that one. Using a tape to measure a distance, especially in the light of building documentation and progress monitoring, this measurement will most likely never, ever end in a digital format. So, best case, it will stay somewhere on a paper, but in order to follow this digital engineering, this digital process, the digitalization of the construction site, in order to ensure that the door is built 1.25 millimeter according to the plan and it’s not wider or smaller. There’s a company called me, they said, we are not even allowed to share what you have done. But it happens so often. In a hospital, for example, you have to build these fire-protectant doors, and if they don’t fit, they have to fill it. These fillings, they are not fire protected. The only reason is because no one-

BK: They’re allowing that.

JH: After the drywall was there, no one sees it, you know? It’s the only reason is no one ever checked the distance of this door opening compared to the plan.

BK: Yes.

JH: And the plan ordered, then, from the manufacturer of the fire, the emergency door a certain size, and it’s maybe not fitting. This is tremendous. We have to do something there. Unfortunately, the construction sector has been slow to adopt changes, adopt new processes, to adopt technology innovations. From my point of view, as consequence, manufacturers as us, contractors, owners, operators of buildings, we have to commonly work together to improve the adoption rate with the right, and most important, simple-to-use tool so that it can be used by everyone on the construction site, not only by a trained measurement professional.

BK: Mm-hmm. That’s good. Yeah, wow. I appreciate you addressing some of those problems that are, like you said, if there’s even a fireproofing issue, that’s a serious problem that could cause loss of life or other issues.

JH: True. Correct.

BK: There’s obviously a huge need for something like this, and a lot of people just think, oh, no problem; we’ll take care of that. So, I appreciate the accuracy. You’ve mentioned a lot of benefits already, but what are additional benefits, as we wrap up, of using DISTO?

JH: Well, for sure, for the simple technology to measure distances or measure a 3D model clear. But I would like to summarize on a small story what customers of ours are doing, even here in beautiful Las Vegas. The construction process must be monitored throughout the entire life cycle of a building, from planning on site through building, through construction, and later through maintenance. The BIM process, this is a very common word, is key for doing this. But to be successful, fast, and reliable, data capturing is critical.

Let’s assume an example, which happened here, by the way, here in Las Vegas. An investor purchased an old hotel, so he needs to renovate it, and he has the old 2D drawings from the floor plans, but he wants to renovate it according to BIM standards. So this means that he is aware of the construction process, about the progress; he knows where all his cables, fire sprinklers, and whatever is located in a digital element. So his first task was to get the digital model of this already-existing space.

There are numerous ways you can do. You can do it from 2D plans with all the limitations because it’s 2D and not all information is available, you can use total stations or professional surveyors or scanners in order to make this thing, or you can use a DISTO, like the S910 I mentioned before, or the 3D DISTO, to capture the 3D model in a very, very simple way. This has numerous advantages, these two products. They are portable, simple to use, provide fast result, and most important, are affordable.

You simply take them to the construction site, together with the software like AutoCAD. You can then set up in the room, measure the doors, rooms, wall openings, fire sprinklers, light switches, cables, air conditioners, walls, everything what is available as an asset. And based on that one, you explore the data from the device into a CAD format, and this is the starting point of the architectural design. From there, every time you come back, use the device, updated with maybe a [inaudible 00:19:53]distance and things like that from the wall. So you can see, over the last 24 years the DISTO have evolved from a really groundbreaking idea to a tool that is used and directly connects to the digital engineering process, so I can’t say more. I’m very proud of this. I love it.

BK: Well, that’s great. Johannes, thank you so much for sharing about this and taking the time today.

JH: Thank you very much.

BK: It was excellent.

JH: Thank you for the invitation.

BK: Of course, and you can learn more about DISTO measuring tools over at leica-geosystems.com; check it out. And be sure to tune into more episodes.

JH: Or, sorry for interrupting you.

BK: Sure.

JH: You make it easy. You go to www.disto.com. Even shorter. Thank you very much.

BK: Oh, I love that, disto.com. Check it that one out. All right. HxGNRADIO.com. We’re also on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher Radio. Thank you for listening.

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