Written by Morgan Kaenzig de Denus, AMAST Content
Drones are already revolutionizing the construction industry—and they’re only going to become more popular.
The construction industry is inefficient. According to a McKinsey study, large construction projects generally take 20% longer than expected. On top of that, they can be up to 80% over budget. The key to making the construction process more efficient may lie in commercial drones.
While the construction industry has lagged behind others in drone adoption, many companies have recently started to use drones. In 2018, the construction industry experienced a 239% increase in drone adoption—and it’s hardly surprising, given all the benefits that drones offer.
Companies tasked with constructing and managing large infrastructures, such as bridges, roads, industrial complexes, and airports, have the most to gain from drones due to the scale and complexity of such projects. However, the technology can help all construction companies. Construction companies can use drones to:
Surveying land using traditional methods often involves cutting sight lines and creating space for human surveyors, which can disrupt natural ecosystems or even destroy sites. However, using a drone to conduct topographic surveys eliminates the need to have human surveyors on the ground, meaning it’s far less invasive while still providing valuable insights. For example, drones can collect information on elevation changes, potential drainage points, erosion, and more before deciding the best locations for building, digging, or stockpiling materials.
Additionally, using drones instead of human survey teams can reduce survey costs and timelines. Instead of spending days or weeks hauling ground-based instruments across the construction site or spending thousands to rent a helicopter, companies can use drones to survey land in hours at a relatively low cost.
For example, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration significantly reduced project times and costs with the help of drones. Surveying with a laser scanner costs $5,200 and takes 6 days, while renting a helicopter could cost over $11,000. However, a multi-rotor drone could complete the survey job in just 9 hours for $970, and a WingtraOne drone managed to survey the site in 2.5 hours, costing just $270.
Drones offer construction companies, clients, engineers, architects, and design teams visibility, enabling them to monitor the build site and understand the project’s progression from afar. Instead of regularly traveling to the construction site, key players can get the information they need to make informed decisions, catch problems early on, and avoid waste and rework via aerial views taken during flyover, close-up images, and videos.
The ability to monitor sites remotely also allows for more effective security surveillance. Over $300 million worth of construction equipment is stolen each year, according to the National Equipment Register—and less than 25% of the stolen equipment is recovered, so security should be a top priority. With the help of a drone, companies can regularly conduct flyovers to check in on equipment or search for any unauthorized personnel at the site to prevent theft and damage. Plus, drones can help companies find equipment that may have been temporarily misplaced in the wrong part of the site.
Drones provide teams with real-time data, enabling site managers and stakeholders to track progress and make informed decisions from their office—whether they’re located a few miles down the road from the construction site or on the other side of the world. Instead of heading to the construction site and collecting data manually, project managers can react to changes quickly using the detailed images provided by drones and make more informed decisions.
Since collecting data via drone is far cheaper and faster than doing it manually, companies can conduct surveys on a regular basis. Site managers can quickly check and validate tasks throughout the construction process to identify where projects have fallen behind schedule and build a record of progress. They can also pinpoint differences between planned and real-time progress, monitor crew productivity, and ensure projects don’t go over budget.
Construction workers face many dangers on the job, from unsteady platforms to hazardous weather conditions to potential falls, but drones can mitigate many of the risks that construction workers face. Instead of sending a worker to climb on unsteady platforms to take manual measurements, companies can gather all the necessary information via drone, reducing workers’ exposure to accidents.
Companies can also use drones to ensure that all equipment and structures are stable and workers are balanced during construction. Even after project completion, companies can use drones to conduct inspections safely. For example, workers will no longer need to scale electric poles or walk alongside busy highways to inspect structures.
Contractors are paid based on how much earth they move, but it’s all too easy to miscalculate how much work a project will require, resulting in inaccurate estimates, project delays, and strained partnerships. However, companies can use drone data and photogrammetry software to get accurate volume measurements and run cut/fill analyses.
Companies can generate more accurate estimates and even save thousands of dollars with this information, as they won’t need to rely on their subcontractor’s (potentially faulty) measurements. Instead, they can pay according to accurate, impartial data.
Clients and other stakeholders want to know how construction is progressing, and drones make providing them with visual data simple. Thanks to drones, you can provide clients with real-time photos, videos, models, and reports, so they know exactly how things are proceeding. Whether a client wants a general overview or needs to check in on a specific area, drones will enable you to provide updates on the bigger picture and the minute details without needing to bring the client to the site or hire a helicopter to take aerial shots and videos. Plus, stakeholders will be able to review the construction process later to pinpoint if and where any mistakes occurred.
Many companies skip proper maintenance because it can be costly, but ensuring quality maintenance of assets is essential. After all, if a problem occurs due to poor maintenance, resolving it can be even more time-consuming and expensive.
Using drones to inspect assets is faster, cheaper, and safer than sending in a worker, yet no less effective thanks to drones’ high-resolution images. With the help of drones, teams can inspect assets, locate damage, and prioritize maintenance operations, avoiding potentially dangerous and costly failures down the line.
Drones can help companies save time and cut expenses, so it’s no surprise that the construction industry is rapidly embracing drones to do everything from conducting land surveys to keeping track of equipment. In the future, drone technology may even be able to direct autonomous vehicles and take on other construction tasks to help further reduce time, risk, and costs and streamline the construction process.
However, there are a few roadblocks the industry needs to overcome before the use of drones in construction truly skyrockets. Not only do drones need to pass federal aviation and zoning regulations, but more people need to become experts at operating and maintaining drones as well as processing the data collected by drones.
Despite these potential setbacks, drone technology is here to stay, and it will only become more popular in the coming years.
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