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Accuracy of Laser Levels - Industry Standards and The State of the Art in 2020
How does a laser’s accuracy change over its range?
As mentioned previously, accuracy of the laser is reflected as an accuracy score - usually presented in inches (1/16 inch or 1.5mm for example) against 100ft or 30m field. This means - that when you are receiving the laser at 30m, either against a hard surface or a laser detector or laser receiver, you can rely on it only being about 1.5mm out at the very worst. Accuracy does decline, however, as the laser extends out over its full range - and at its full range of 400m (radiating out from the centre point of a rotary laser) - accuracy could be out by 20mm either way. This is calculated by applying the accuracy measurement at 30m out to the lasers full range.
So in the case of the Topcon RL-H5A - the calculation would be 400m (full range) divided by 30m = 13.33m x 1.5mm = 20mm. So, by the time the laser has reached 400m - it could be out by 2cms, above or below the true measurement.
Our engineers and scientists at Topcon in the USA and Japan - are working hard everyday on increasing the accuracy of our already class leading construction grader and slope lasers, and extending their range to ensure we continue to provide the construction industry with the very best, and most accurate measurement tools on the market.
Construction Laser Level Accuracy
So - one of the most highly reviewed rotary lasers on the market - the Topcon RL-H5A & H5B both offer accuracy to:
+/- 1.5 mm at 30 m
This level of accuracy is the class-leading standard now for modern electronic self-levelling or auto-levelling construction lasers used on large jobs sites in Australia and overseas. Position Partners also employ laser calibration practices that are capable of increasing a laser’s precision at distance (link to the blog about calibration).
The next most accurate brand on the market is at:
+/- 2.3 mm at 30 m
Which would make a big difference at full range - however the Topcon rotary Laser offers the furthest reach by a country mile to others in its competition set.
The budget rotary lasers on the market offer:
+/- 3mm at 30 m
Most of the lasers with this level of accuracy are affordable - and are used in internal applications - rather than external worksites and surveying, and shouldn’t be used at long range if precision is critical.
Spirit Level Accuracy
Just to give you a sense of how far accuracy has come since the old days of spirit levels - a spirit level accuracy would offer the user:
+/- 15.3mm at 30 m
It's a wonder we were able to build anything straight, when you think of the level of accuracy a construction grade laser is able to provide now! The spirit level was such a big advancement in construction and building technology in its time (it was invented in its most rudimentary form in 1661) - and it was a methodology (albeit improved over time) that would prevail until the 1970s when lasers were employed and surveying equipment was innovated to resemble the devices we use today.
Digital Spirit Level Accuracy
We are talking about your run-of-the-mill, available-at-a-hardware store digital spirit level that your home handyman might use around the house. A digital level uses inclinometer and accelerometer technology (which is actually also present in our mobile phones nowadays) to display a level of the LCD screen that is accurate to plus or minus 0.1 degree. Its accuracy is almost 4 times better than a spirit level:
+/- 6.3 mm at 30 m
Some digital levels contain both a traditional spirit level and the digital level as described above. They are much more affordable than a construction laser level - and are generally all that your average weekend warrior, builder or home renovator needs for measuring and levelling in interior construction works.
Surveyors and other construction professionals responsible for large scale construction projects understand the intersection between accuracy, precision, productivity and cost. When implementing a design on a large scale outdoor construction project, or nailing the finer detail of an internal construction - getting measurements or the survey or design wrong can have enormously costly implications for sites and site productivity. Using the most accurate laser level - even if it's more expensive to purchase and maintain, can provide that peace of mind needed when embarking on the construction process.
Thankfully - technology has come a long way in laser levels and construction grade lasers, and Topcon Lasers and Aline Lasers are proud to provide the Australian construction industry with the most accurate and trustworthy construction grade lasers on the market.
Let’s compare the different technologies and options on the market.
How laser level accuracy is measured and expressed
In Australia - laser level accuracy is expressed as how many millimeters the laser could be out - plus or minus (above or below the true measure) over a defined 30m range (which equates to 100ft in the imperial system). Industry lingo is to describe accuracy in an ‘arc second’ - a 10 arc seconds instrument is +-1.5mm at 30m (we’ll talk more about this in a moment).
So, in layman's terms, this means (in the case of laser levels particularly);
That if the laser beam is projected 30m from the laser level device and hits a hard surface (or laser receiver) - it will be accurate within a 1.5mm margin for error, which could occur as above or below the true measurement. The further out the beam goes, the less accurate it becomes. The closer the end point is to the laser level, the more accurate it becomes.
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