Software Review: Trimble Business Center
Professional Surveyor Magazine - September 2011
by Fred Bermudez, PSM
Trimble Business Center
(TBC) version 2.4 is Trimble’s latest survey data-processing solution. It is such a complete package that I have time only to write about a small portion of what it offers.
TBC is a start-to-finish survey-data processing solution, focusing on measurements and data integrity. Surveyors can use TBC to import and adjust their survey control, process topographic and location data, create digital terrain models and contours, and review all their data before taking the survey to their preferred CAD package for completion. TBC will process topographic survey data, machine control data, and 3D point clouds, to name a few. This review concentrates on the processing of control-survey information from GPS, bench levels, and traverses.
TBC begins at the “start menu” where the user can create a new project, open a project, edit settings, and also run through the tutorials that will be most valuable to new users. They are well written, easy to follow, and progress in a manner that covers the main features of TBC.
While I’ve processed survey data for years, this is my first experience with TBC. I found the tutorials to be extremely helpful. They outline a clear workflow that new users can follow from data import to adjusted network. The data for the tutorials isn’t “squeaky clean,” and that’s by design. Trimble has purposely included some errors in the data to give practice in finding and correcting mistakes that sometimes find their way in from the field.
Project Settings Easy to Manage
The first step is to create a new project. TBC makes this simple by user-definable templates. These templates can contain all the appropriate settings for different types of projects, or for projects located in different areas. The project settings and parameters are grouped by tasks and are easy to manage or edit. The most common edits include the coordinate system and the vertical datum, the type of units, allowable horizontal and vertical error, and setup and centering errors.
The import of the primary control points is greatly improved by internet connectivity. TBC provides direct access to sites such as http://www.ngs.noaa.gov/
from the National Geodetic Survey (NGS). TBC will connect to these sites to download control point data sheets, precise ephemerides data, and static GPS data from the Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS). TBC reads the NGS data sheet values to import the coordinate values for a control point, so there’s no chance of an input error from a printed data sheet. The software can import precise ephemerides for GNSS including GPS and GLONASS orbits. TBC reads the project date and time stamps to import the necessary data for a chosen CORS station.
GPS data can be imported from individual files, groups of files, or even directly from a zipped or compressed file. You just put all the information and field data files into a directory and point TBC to that location, and the software reads and extracts the information it needs. This simplifies the effort of managing multiple files from different rovers and reference stations. It also makes it handy to import data zipped and emailed by out-of-town crews. You can also simply drag and drop data files into the TBC project window. The software supports import of geo-referenced images as well, so it’s easy to place a background photo beneath your measured data.
All baselines—independent and dependent—are calculated upon the import of the GPS data. Baseline processing is fast and fully automatic. The dependent baselines are easy to select and remove from the adjustment by their time stamping. Any calculated point or baseline that exceeds the project settings is automatically flagged by TBC. The flagged points are shown in red in plan view and project explorer and are highlighted in red in all the project reports, which are output to either HTML or PDF formats.
Traverse and Bench Levels
TBC also imports and adjusts traverse and bench level data. The level editor automatically calculates a closure of a level run that begins and ends on the same control point, or one that begins and ends on two known vertical control points. Separate level runs can also be merged and adjusted as a single run. The adjusted height values can be locked from further adjustment.
A traverse adjusted by software running on a Trimble field controller can be imported to TBC, which will adjust a
traverse network by least squares. The imported traverse data can be edited in TBC, and the imported data and files can be easily reviewed in the project explorer window. It shows all calculated points, imported GPS data files, bench levels, and adjusted traverses. Using the explorer, you can see all the source information about any survey point. The imported data is also clear to see on the graphics screen.
All three of the survey control methods can be adjusted individually, but one of TBC’s true strengths is its ability to adjust all as one control network. The GPS data uses the bench level data, and the traverse data builds off the GPS and bench levels. The network adjustment shows all the available control points in the project and makes it easy to select a control point for the minimally constrained adjustment.
Outliers are clearly shown in red on the adjustment report that TBC displays in your internet browser. Selecting an outlier in the report selects it in the project’s plan view, where you can make any necessary edits. TBC can automatically calculate and adjust the error estimates for the data in the project. With the minimally constrained adjustment completed, the remaining control points can be added to calculate the constrained adjustment. A new addition to TBC is the ability to set different weights for individual control points. This is helpful when using control with different levels of accuracy.
With the field measurements combined and adjusted, the next step is to process the feature codes that were assigned to each point during the field data collection. This produces the graphic features (linework and symbols) as well as descriptions and other attributes. Photos attached to points can be viewed at this stage as well. The processing is based on a feature definition file. When TBC encounters an unknown feature code (often a simple keystroke blunder in the field), you can edit the point to correct the code or define a new feature code as needed. Once the feature codes are processed, the system offers an assortment of tools for linework and point management, simple coordinate geometry (COGO) calculations, and layer control.
TBC provides import and processing for point clouds generated using the Trimble VX Spatial Station. The software manages photographs captured by the instrument and embeds them into the data set, which lets you “see” the project from the instrument’s point of view. TBC supports 3D views of the scanning data and can perform surface-to-surface volume computations.
The finished data can be exported in AutoCAD DWG or DXF formats. The system also supports Esri shapefiles, XML, and direct output to Google Earth via KML or KMZ files. For moving stakeout data from office back to the field, TBC can export data into popular data-collector formats and create simple coordinate lists.
Installing the software was uneventful on my Windows 7 desktop and Windows XP laptop computer. It’s protected by a license key entered during setup or by a USB hardware lock. In addition to the well-organized tutorials, TBC provides comprehensive help and guidance. The built-in help system is extensive and based on the standard Windows approach. Additional help is in the form of workflow guides from the program start page. The TBC help menu also provides direct links to Trimble’s support website and to the real-time, online Trimble Assistant support program.
It’s important to keep in mind that TBC is not intended to be a drafting and design system. There are many software packages for those functions, and Trimble has kept the TBC focus on the pure surveying work. With its good integration to field data, rigorous computation, and flexible reporting and output, Trimble Business Center is an effective, efficient tool for many of the surveyor’s most common and important calculations.
Fred Bermudez, PSM, is a partner and senior project manager with Nobles Consulting Group, Inc. in Tallahassee, Florida, where he trains and directs office and field staff in field procedures for GPS systems, laser scanning, and processing software. Bermudez has been working with GPS control networks for the past 17 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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