Everything About the Next Generation of Laser Levels Explained

Laser levels aren’t anything new to the construction industry - they’ve actually been around since the 1970’s, and the very first version was patented in the late 1980’s. Since its inception, laser levels have been saving contractors time, errors and costs, as they meant that you didn’t have to repeatedly walk to the laser to check the traditional level bubble to see if it was still accurate and in place.

Since then, lasers in construction have been developed and refined and have now made leaps and bounds in technological evolution. Companies such as Topcon and Faro began to revolutionise surveying equipment using electronic self-leveling, rotational devices, computer powered systems and BIM integrated technology - moving step by step towards the comprehensive and high power laser level instruments we see on the connected construction side today.

Fast forward a few decades, and high-tech laser levels are commonplace on a construction site. No matter how big or small a contractor is, or what their needs are, there is laser technology available that will improve their construction process significantly and help to deliver accuracy and ROI.

In this blog, we’ll outline the different types of laser levels available in modern construction, some of their best features, and share a case study Surveyor Mike Cutfield of Fletcher Construction who utilised the FARO Focus3D high speed laser scanner when working on the Waterview Connection with Alice the Bore.

What is a Laser Level?

In short, a laser level is an electronic device that emits a laser beam to gauge a reading and provide data that helps to determine the height and depth of large or small stretches of terrain. Typically, the device is placed on top of a tripod, and depending on the level of technology, will do anything from distance measuring using a laser pointer, to a full 3D scan and capture that can be integrated with BIM software and offer accurate readings of large spaces - both indoor and outdoor.

In general, laser levels are used for leveling and aligning vertical, horizontal, square, angle, grading-slope and point-transferring applications, and are useful products for anyone from a laborer to a landscaper.

What Types of Laser Levels are Available?

There are varying degrees of laser level types, which are best suited for different scale operations. For example, if you are a contractor working in typically smaller, indoor spaces a basic fixed laser level might be best suited to your needs and budget. Alternatively, a large scale construction firm working on varying terrains, indoor and outdoor at large ranges would likely require a high-tech and higher budget rotary level laser. Here’s a breakdown of each type and overview of what they each do best.

  • Fixed Laser Level

Fixed laser levels feature a laser diode attached to a spirit (bubble) level that serve as a pointer. The vials are used to level the dot or line. These lasers are used for small-scale jobs that do not require great range or accuracy.

  • Self-Leveling Laser Level

Self-leveling lasers are more advanced than a fixed level laser, offering a much higher level of accuracy. Most self-leveling lasers have an internal Pendulum that does the leveling, while some (known as automatic-leveling lasers) have electronic servo motors that do all of the leveling for you. 

  • Rotary Laser Level

Rotary laser levels are usually placed in the center of a construction site, so that they’re able to cast a laser beam around the entire site to complete a 360-degree reading. These devices use a mechanical gyroscope to sense the center of the earth and an electronic servo motor to establish the leveling of the laser emitting diodes.

The main benefit of the rotary laser leveling systems is that you’re able to capture a reading at a much further range, and capture 360-degree uninterrupted lines.

Featured Laser Level: Faro FocusS 350 Plus

At Synergy Position Systems, we’re huge fans of the Faro Focus range of products. One of the most impressive rotary laser scanners we’ve seen is the Faro FocusS 350 Plus.

FARO®'s latest ultra-portable Focus S 350 Plus Laser Scanner enables you to capture fast, straightforward and accurate measurements of complex objects and buildings. With a range of 350 metres, this scanner was specifically designed for outdoor settings - and thanks to it’s 8 mega-pixel, HDR-camera - construction companies are now able to capture complex and detailed images even in challenging environments, such as tight locations, dusty and humid terrain, rain and direct sunlight.

The scanner itself is small, extra lightweight and extremely portable - perfect for moving around the site with. It also offers remote scanning as well as almost limitless scan data sharing via SCENE Webshare Cloud (check out our BIM blog to read more about this solution) and is truly a state of the art model and example of modern laser level technology.

Case Study: Fletcher Construction & the Waterview Connection


waterview connection

The uses of next generation laser levels are vast and impressive, but one of our favourite examples of scanner technology is the Waterview Connection Auckland. We caught up with Surveyor Mike Cutfield of Fletcher Construction to find out how he utilised a FARO Focus3D high speed laser scanner for monitoring work around the tunnel portals on the enormous Waterview Connection ‘Roads of National Significance’ project in Auckland.

The Waterview Tunnel, stretching for 2.4km under Auckland’s western suburbs, was very much the centrepiece of the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) - however Mike Cutfield saw the size of the project as a key benefit to using FARO’s Focus3D high speed 3D laser scanner.

To complete this project, Fletcher Building used a 14m diameter custom-built Earth Pressure Balance Machine (EPBM) called ‘Alice’; which was in fact the 10th biggest tunnel boring machine ever built. To ensure the construction work went ahead smoothly and safely, Mike relied on the FARO’s Focus3D.

“We’re primarily use(d) the FARO laser scanner for monitoring the trenches where the portal to the tunnel is, essentially to check for structural movement. The soils there are alluvial, so a lot softer. We started to dig out but are using diaphragm walls to sheer everything up. They’re actually expecting the d-walls to deflect by up to 80mm each way during the initial stages. That’s where the laser scanner was crucial again, because we needed to monitor those deflection percentages to make sure everything remained structurally sound.”

The end result is that Mike can leave the site office with nothing more than the compact FARO laser scanner in its hard-shell briefcase to head to the tunnel’s entrance.

The data Mike collects can then be downloaded via SD card into the Scene software that comes with the FARO Focus3D. The three dimensional picture Mike gets of all elevations of the portal can then be ‘sliced’ at certain levels and compared against data from the previous week’s monitoring programme.

Because the FARO Focus3D takes photographs as it scans, colour can be added to the scan to create an accurate, hyper-realistic 3D image of the environment. It’s clever tech, but for Mike, there were a couple of simple factors that saw him championing the purchase of the FARO Focus3D.

If you’d like to read more about Mike’s experience with the Faro Focus3D, you can read the full case study here.

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