Construction and surveying are predicted as the biggest growth markets for drone technology. Already widely integrated in the US’ construction industry, the UK is following closely behind. The construction industry plays a major role in our economy; according to the Government Construction Strategy 2016-20, ‘In 2014 construction output was £103 billion, 6.5% of GDP, and comprised 2.1 million jobs, 6.3% of the UK jobs total’ and these figures have only continued to rise in years since.
Thanks to drone technology, it’s easier than ever for construction companies to map and monitor their projects using Building Information Modelling (BIM). And with the UK government’s construction strategy in full force, we are finding new ways to develop BIM to win contracts, promote growth and increase employment. Drone solutions provide quick results that require less manpower, meaning costs can be reduced and projects delivered on time. Here we explore what drone solutions mean for the construction world.
HOW DRONES ARE BEING USED IN CONSTRUCTION
One of drone technology’s major outputs in construction is drone surveying. Aerial maps can be used to improve planning and design, with more accurate pre-site surveying to identify land formations, geological materials and potential hazards, both above and underground. We all know that unforeseen geological issues can be the cause of expensive changes later down the line! Drones collect data much faster than humanly possible, so that surveying can occur more frequently without breaking the budget.
Most small unmanned aircraft (SUA) for enterprise can be fitted with HD and geo-thermal cameras with infrared and LIDAR sensors. This opens the scope of drone surveying to achieve a variety of measurables including photogrammetry and LIDAR. The use of analytic software (e.g. Pix4D Mapper) allows you to build up your regular visuals to monitor progress and ensure that any deviations are swiftly rectified. You can use these visuals to provide a progression overview to clients and stakeholders. Being able to provide regular, up-to-date analytics is extremely beneficial to you and the client; not only because it instils trust and confidence, but you also potentially save the client cost of travel and yourself the time normally allocated for site visits and meetings. In addition, many software programs allow you to consolidate your data into one place, making it easier for reports to be accessed remotely by those who need them.
Building inspection is an element of construction that is increasingly harnessing drone technology. Drones can view those hard-to-reach locations that are just too dangerous for site staff to access. They can identify structural defects quickly and allow maintenance or repairs to be conducted safely. HD cameras are often used to identify cracks and breaks, whereas thermal cameras can seek out leaks and spills. Not only are drones useful for the inspection of structures, they’re fast-becoming a vital tool for conducting daily site monitoring for health & safety.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
There are multiple benefits to drone technology in construction, including improved quality of surveys, increased site visibility and progress reporting. A major benefit is that you can essentially task someone to be your eyes and ears on site. This means that you not only have better control of your project site, but you can monitor multiple sites at one time. Again, this leads to increased efficiency and quicker progression of your project(s).
To compensate for our ever-growing population, we’re increasingly seeing buildings (particularly in our major cities) grow higher. These projects involve a certain amount of risk for the individuals tasked with constructing the scaffolding, operating the cranes and inspecting the upper levels of the structure, amongst other operations. It’s true that some of these risks cannot be eliminated, only minimised. However, drone technology provides solutions to eliminate risk across multiple operations to ensure your site has better health & safety records whilst saving you time, money and manpower.
Consistent use of SUA for safety monitoring means that you are in touch with your site in real-time, it’s limitations and opportunities, so that you can get the best from your project. Drone solutions can be particularly beneficial to projects under modular construction, preventing errors early on that could have incurred huge costs further down the line.
Don’t forget that the use of drone technology can be an important sales tool, for all of the above reasons. Improved surveying, analytics and safety mean that you’re a step ahead of the game – something that’s impossible for potential clients to ignore!
THE FUTURE OF DRONES IN CONSTRUCTION
As highlighted in the 2016 McKinsey Report ‘Imagining Construction’s Digital Future’, drone solutions are the next major step digitising the construction industry. Where this industry has long been set in its ways, industry leaders are seeking out more efficient ways to keep up with demand with increased productivity. This particularly applies to the development of BIM outputs, a major focus of the UK government at the forefront of digital construction.
It’s safe to predict that we will see the construction industry’s natural progression into a more digital era, using drone technology to increase productivity and lower project costs, through the development of more efficient methods of design, construction, safety and operation.