Drones in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sectors are often used for marketing, project progress and site observations. UAVs are a more accessible and convenient alternative to helicopters and planes.
However, there are more benefits from using drones in the construction lifecycle than just site inspection and promotion. Recently companies are exploring other potential benefits of drones to improve worksite productivity, automated asset audits, safety detection, and validating contractor claims for payment.
Drones are effective in the data collection and project tracking helping site managers analyse the project from an overarching view and ensuring that everything is going according to plan.
There’s plenty of tangible benefits that can be delivered from incorporating drone data gathering into your construction workflows and decision making processes.
Here are 5 ways drones can help AEC projects improve on site productivity and ensure project success.
1. Capturing unique site insights
Drones can survey hundreds of acres in a couple of hours. These aerial cameras collect more site data in a shorter period of time that can be used for land surveying and to generate 3D models and maps. These 3D models are crucial for engineers, architects and construction planning helping them in almost every stage of the construction project. These maps and models are used to identify issues, help in the design engineering and public infrastructure, report on project progress and even to showcase the eventual construction in 3D space or virtual reality (VR) to stakeholders.
Drones are well suited to quickly survey and scan buildings, bridges, towers and large construction site areas. You can fly drones both indoors and outdoors to capture the entire site area, including underground, high rise buildings and more.
Some companies are also using cutting edge payloads (thermal cameras and LiDAR) for up close, aerial asset inspections to identify structural defects and resolve them in real time.
For engineering companies, drone inspections ensure maximum value for site planning and maintenance activities as there is more detailed information on existing conditions easily gathered using drones that can avoid wasted time and resources for maintenance activities that are not required or can be delayed until a later date.
For some construction companies drones are providing significant savings in logistics planning and operations by scheduling deliveries just in time using drones to inform site activities and inform schedules on a daily basis.
These are just some of the innovative ways the AEC industries are utilising drone technology but there are plenty more use cases emerging everyday.
2. Improved On-Site Safety:
Safe Work Australia is a government body that develops national policies relating to work health and safety and also records fatalities across all sectors in Australia
According to the reports by Safe Works Australia, about 16% of workplace fatalities were in construction, with the sector employing 9.2% of the workforce.
Most construction workers lose their lives on site by falling from high rise platforms. Other causes of on site casualties include, being crushed under heavy machinery, electric shocks, asphyxiation etc.
To prevent such fatalities on the site, companies are opting for drones to replace manual inspections and fixed CCTV camera installations. Instead of sending workers into difficult working conditions you can use a drone to inspect down pipelines or up high towers and buildings. Its alot safer and faster to just use a drone for the job in many instances.
For inspections, drones aid automated defect detection through aerial asset inspection, helping contractors identify and eliminate risks thereby improving workers safety, informing repairs and maintenance and having more information about the existing conditions.
3. Reduced Downtime
A construction site is nothing short of a battlefield with so many things happening at once! It is very difficult for project managers to keep track of everything happening onsite at anytime.
In construction projects, the onsite risks are both physical and economical. Injuries are not only damaging to the individual but also to the company, its culture, project completion and ultimately affects the bottom line.
Drone technology helps contractors reduce operational downtime and cut down on project costs.
They help project managers with asset management, stockpile inspection, and keeping track of raw materials, staff and machinery onsite. You can keep a record of every brick, steel girder, cement bag and plant at the site and see exactly what goes where or easily check what is not where it should be.
This prevents workers from decreased productivity and ensures that you are not overcharged by your contractors for claims for payment. It’s surprising that many companies don’t have a proess to validate contractors’ claims for payment on large construction projects. When it really can be so simple to check.
I would recommend you hire a professional team of drone experts to help you with site data collection and analysis. The drone data is only as good as the specific insights that an industry-specific company can provide with detailed analysis and reporting. Its of little use to have hundreds of photos of a construction project, but can be essential to have surveying drawings and accurate sitemaps of the project to share with site engineering and project teams.
It can be confusing to understand the difference and navigate those that can deliver accurate, measurable and repeatable data versus those that can really only deliver you pretty pictures and videos. Its important to partner with a company with the industry-specific understanding, experience and analysis to turn drone data into meaningful project insights.
A few things that the competent drone service provider will consider on your project requirements:
- What is the data to be gathered and to what specifications?
- How accurate do you require the measurements to be?
- What CRS and datum are to be used?
- How often do you need this data supplied?
- How and where are you using the supplied data and for what purpose?
- What systems and GiS applications will you incorporate the data into?
4. Preventing Expensive Mistakes
Contractors often use drones to conduct the preliminary site inspection before commencing any construction activities on the location. It is very cumbersome to manually inspect every corner of the site to ensure that it is ideal for the construction project.
With drone surveying you can cover a large area, capturing the topography and environmental attributes of the site. Identifying issues and site planning requirements to ensure the project starts and continues with little disruption.
This drone survey also gives you a holistic idea of the neighbouring locations, surrounds and local environment etc. Using this information, you can gauge the cost of procuring and transporting raw materials from one location to the site, including planning access and minimising costly delays.
Site analysis and drone surveying is extremely effective for road construction projects as it plays a major role in engineering, planning, issue detection and ultimately preventing expensive mistakes.
The images captured by drones are geo-tagged and can be live streamed to project managers for accurate real-time insights. This kind of immediate feedback helps to identify immediate challenges, obstacles, design flaws, potential accidents onsite that can be managed and avoided.
For instance, you can check out this short video to explain how we use drones to monitor and report on a road construction project in Victoria.
5. Transparent Project Updates
Drone data can be manipulated and processed into a multitude of products and easily into more accessible file formats.
The drone gathered data combined with other onsite techniques can be validated and converted into 2D maps, 3D models, images, videos, virtual reality visualisations etc. depending on your project requirements.
The most common format is to feature the drone footage on your website, social media and company communications or business proposals.
When professionally edited, drone footage combined with some visual storytelling skills, presents the project in an easy to understand and impressive format that your clients, investors and stakeholders can easily understand and consume. This often builds trust and confidence in the company and its staff and can help a business in securing larger contracts in future.
Construction projects often stretch over longer periods and stakeholders and clients need regular updates to ensure that the project is on schedule and key milestones are met. Using drones to capture onsite activities at key stages of the project helps with transparent project reporting and giving your clients and stakeholders immediate updates on the project success.
The bottom line
Drones have only emerged as useful tools in AEC industries over the last 10 years and have proven to be an absolute game changer for the AEC industries who are adopting this technology.
If you are new to drone technology, I’d recommend you hire a professional drone services company to ensure you optimise the use of the technology for more than just the basics.
Drone experts are well versed about the CASA regulations and have the necessary training and licenses required to fly drones commercially in Australia.
About the author
Chris Patchell is the General Manager and Director of Operations at AVIAN Australia. He is
an avid drone enthusiast and loves innovative technologies. Chris is highly motivated with a hands-on approach to drones, surveying and laser scanning and his goal is to create awareness about drone
technology in Australian AEC industries.
On his days off, he is often scouting locations for photogrammetry and laser scanning as a hobby.
These days you’ll find Chris in Melbourne, Australia using his drones and laser scanners
to capture and recreate the real world in digital space for a range of clients and innovative applications.