When it has to be right

The success story of the Leica DISTO™ began in the early nineties when Leica Geosystems decided to develop a handheld laser distance meter which would combine its expertise for measuring distances with laser technology to appeal to a broader field of users. One of the major requirements for this new product was that within the set price target the quality would not be compromised. The company is proud that it has achieved this target, and know of many users who are still to this day using the first Leica DISTO™ models (16 years after their first introduction!).

During 2008 and 2009 it launched its seventh generation of handheld laser distance meters. Its demand for the highest quality standards still remains. Leica’s innovations ensure that it continues to remain at the leading edge of technology. The company has developed some of the world’s best surveying equipment. It is therefore its obligation to build measuring tools that people can rely on, always, with no compromises. In order to fulfill this demand it has established an outstanding test routine, not only during the development process, but also in the production of each and every single unit. The culture at Leica Geosystems ensures that it specifies products by ensuring each and every unit produced lives up to its stated specification. It prides itself on producing the best products and has a variety of tests and processes to ensure market leading quality products. The following is an explanation on how the business has accomplished this in the DISTO™ product lines.

Development tests

In the very early phase of the development of any new product, the company tests the individual components to simulate the envisaged use toward, and including up until the life cycle term of the product. For example, it simulates all possible situations for high to low temperatures and humidity factors.

Only the components that pass all defined test procedures find their way into the instruments. After completing all testing on the level of individual components the company goes one step further and tests of the various ‘subsystems’. An example of a subsystem would be the laser collimator or the automatic end-piece. The laser collimator is a very sensitive component with electronics and optics which must stay within microns in all test environments to ensure focus and therefore reliable laser quality – even at long distances. Other subsystems such as the automatic end-piece are tested many thousands of times to ensure functionality and accuracy. It is inconceivable to think that you are able to measure accurately if the measurement reference is not reliable!

You will be impressed to know that every button on a newly designed keypad for Leica DISTO™ is tested for at least 500 000 cycles to ensure quality and durability. Each key of the keypad test mechanism is manually pressed every second, translating into five years in the practical work environment!

After having chosen the right components and proven the functionality of the subsystems, the company starts producing functional models. This testing phase is very intense, with the purpose of fine-tuning the systems to achieve reproducible performance. Millions of measurements are necessary to approve this.

At this stage the company is getting closer to its finished products and starts producing prototypes in the production facility. The Leica DISTO™ model is expected to fulfill all relevant international standards, including ISO 9022, IEC 60529, IEC 61000 amongst others. It would not be Leica-Geosystems if it did not increase the requirements beyond the international norms as the company believes the standards are not representative enough for the environment where a Leica DISTO™ will be used. In a humidity test, even in this tough environment, no compromises in accuracy are acceptable.

These are really tough times for the Leica DISTO™. The company puts them in temperature chambers from -25°C up to 70°C, 99% humidity, dust bags and showers. The products are challenged with high voltage discharge (12 kV), vibrations, bumps, drops (1,2m) and much more. Some prototypes do not pass all the tests in the first run, but, the company doesn’t stop there – it continues to improve the product design until every single requirement is met and passes 100%.

Production tests

Due to the company’s extensive experience in developing the hand-held laser distance meter, it also has outstanding expertise in producing the products. The Leica DISTO™ is a measuring tool which can be relied on. The global average return rate for defective consumer products is about 5%, which is not acceptable for a Leica DISTO™. It is not acceptable that a reasonable amount of instruments will fail when used by the end-user. The return rate for Leica DISTO™, within the two years warranty, is significantly less than 0,5% – only a tenth of the industry standard. The company is proud to report that complaints regarding measurement accuracy are almost zero.

In the production line every single product is tested. In an automatic calibration station, hundreds of parameters are checked and many of them have to be adjusted electronically. Temperature tests across the products are done over the whole operating temperature range of -10°C to 50°C. If the unit model has an inclination sensor the entire inclination range will be measured on every single unit. On final inspection the laser power is double checked as well as the accuracy of distance and inclination measurements. Not one single product will ever pass if a measurement is slightly out of range.

Cameras automatically check all the displays for correct segments or pixels, and to ensure reproducible testing, all measurements are saved on a database. The analysis of this database enables the company to continuously improve product design and production process.

Not enough? The company also conducts spot checks of all products in every single production shift. Again, it tests range and accuracy of distance, accuracy of inclination, laser power, general function and also carries out optical inspections. Validation tests are performed for every type of product, which means that the company selects finished products from its stock and repeats all the prototype testing once again.

For 16 years millions of end-users have trusted the quality of the Leica DISTO™. The products are always at the leading edge of technology. The company motto says it all: “Innovation is our passion, quality is our mission.”

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