Drones. You’ve heard about them and seen them everywhere. Whether flying around a room or capturing unique aerial footage, drones offer vast possibilities and applications — even in the world of construction.
In the past few years, drones have become one of the most compelling construction trends. The industry has experienced a 239% growth in drone use year over year, higher than any other commercial sector. Their aerial vantage point and data collecting abilities make them a viable tool, offering benefits ranging from on-site safety to remote monitoring.
In particular, the benefits of drone technology have revolutionized the entire project life cycle, from inception through project closeout. Drone photos, videos, and imagery are used to scope out projects, track building progress and provide real-time updates.
As the industry grows and construction projects become more complex, the use of drones in construction will continue to skyrocket. Read on to learn more about how these futuristic devices are transforming the industry.
How Are Drones Used in Construction?
With their real-time data recording and unique aerial advantage, drones can improve efficiency, cut costs and streamline workflow. Here are some of the ways drones are used in construction.
1. Topographic Mapping and Land Surveys
Consulting topographic maps is essential when planning complex, large-scale construction projects. They can reveal costly blunders in designs ill-suited for certain terrain. Although topographic maps are helpful, they are expensive and take a lot of time to produce. Because of this, maps are not always updated during the start of a job.
Due to their ability to map vast quantities of land, drones can exponentially cut down on time spent visualizing a site’s topography. This helps to keep the project on schedule and on budget and ensures accuracy before the project is initiated. Gathering this information can help determine feasibility and assist with design.
Furthermore, the high-resolution images produced by drones can be manipulated into 3D models, allowing the construction crew to pinpoint challenges during pre-construction and spot mistakes in the scope, saving time and money in the long run.
2. Equipment Tracking
It’s a problem nearly every project manager has faced — losing track of where equipment is located at each job site. There are usually a ton of lengthy spreadsheets involved that can quickly turn into an Excel nightmare (unless you have rental management technology).
With a drone, that same manager can do a flyover and quickly assess whether the equipment is where it needs to be. They can also quickly recognize if a piece of equipment that should be terminated is still on-site, preventing expensive accidental extension charges.
Equipment malfunctions are another common issue. Drones’ recording functionality could be used to identify issues remotely and provide visual representations that aid in communicating those issues. Operators can easily send recorded data to repair technicians at equipment rental companies for quicker and more accurate diagnostics before they even make it to the worksite.
3. Remote Monitoring and Progress Reports
Another valuable feature of construction drones is the visibility they can provide for clients. Drones can produce impressive aerial views and give clients a grasp of the project’s progression, especially when they cannot be physically present on a site. This helps assure clients that their spend is being utilized efficiently.
In addition to client communications, drones can improve internal collaboration for teams by sending information to connected software during flyovers. Design teams, engineers, construction managers, workers and owners can access the data simultaneously, follow the project and catch any mistakes that may have occurred. Drones can also create a valuable trail of documents that teams can access later.
4. Security Surveillance
If you’ve ever had a piece of equipment stolen from a site, you know how devastating it can be. Having a boom lift or excavator stolen can leave you out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to the National Equipment Register, over $300 million worth of construction equipment is stolen from job sites every year, with less than 25% of it recovered. Equipment security is thus a very important component of managing a job.
A drone operator can conduct a flyover to quickly see if a piece of equipment is in a secure enough location. They can also use the surveillance camera to see if unauthorized individuals are on the site. This can help prevent damage or theft and identify any trespassers.
5. Personnel Safety
Worker safety is one of the top priorities of most construction companies. Falls in particular account for 34% of worker fatalities. Workers often have to climb to unsteady platforms and navigate around hazardous conditions when taking manual measurements. Drones can replace workers in these situations and mitigate the risk construction workers face on the field.
Construction managers can also use drone video cameras to monitor the job site for safety concerns, ensuring workers are properly balanced and that no structures or equipment are loose or unstable.
6. Structure Inspection and Photography
Replacing heavy machinery and bulky scaffolding, drones can provide a crucial inspection. They can be flown around structures to check stability and fine details, and take high-resolution imagery for analysis. Thermal sensors can detect heat leaks, cold spots, and any electrical issues. This level of quality assurance helps with client relationships in the long run.
Drones can also be used for planned maintenance of larger-scale structures like bridges, towers, roofs, and scaffolding. A task that would take an entire team of surveyors to do would only take a few hours with a drone operator.
Types of Construction Drones
While there are many types of drones, commercial drones are the standard used in construction. Some models are fixed-wing, while other models have rotating blades. The main differences between them are their design and usage.
With their airplane-like design, fixed-wing drones can glide along a set path and reach higher altitudes than other types of drones. This makes them efficient for pre-construction processes like mapping topography and surveying large areas. However, they are only able to fly forward, so they don’t work well in areas with a lot of obstacles or tight spaces.
Rotary drones have a rotor design that allows them to hover in place and remain stable, making them easier to control than fixed-wing drones. These drones are a good option for aerial inspections, structural scans, photography, and surveillance over short distances.
Drones are equipped with multiple features to help capture key data on building sites, including cameras, GPS units, thermal sensors, and infrared sensors. The information they collect can be sent to a computer via drone software, allowing users to analyze, interpret and organize collected data. These features improve efficiency in project management and allow for more thorough inspections.
While drones in construction aren’t new, construction companies are adopting them at a faster rate than ever before. Whether they are being used to conduct land surveys or to keep track of equipment, drones have proved invaluable to the field.
Drones also have direct benefits to the construction lifecycle. Their capabilities allow them to cut costs, time, risk, and labor, all while improving workflow, accuracy, communication, and efficiency. All these lead to more confidence and certainty when working on a construction project.
While the impact of drones in the construction industry is developing, they are already revolutionizing the sector and changing the way construction projects are handled. As long as the technology is able to pass federal aviation and zoning hurdles, it is safe to say that the commercial drone is here to stay. For more information, see the infographic below.
The Future of Construction Drones
While drones in construction aren’t new, construction companies are adopting them faster than ever before. Whether they are being used to conduct land surveys or to keep track of equipment, drones are proving invaluable to the field.
As technology advances, drones will be able to take on more construction tasks than ever before. In 2020, Kaizen Aerial Solutions introduced their new xFold industrial drone capable of lifting up to 1,000 pounds. This drone can transport construction materials and other heavy loads on worksites thanks to its high lifting capacity. It also comes with optional attachments like 3D mapping sensors, robotic arms, and fire-extinguishing ball droppers.
Drone technology is advancing in other areas as well. In the future, drones will likely be able to direct and guide autonomous vehicles. Amazon and other manufacturers have tested systems that pair drones with self-driving cars and delivery trucks, and similar technology could aid in transporting building materials and directing construction vehicles.
Drones’ current capabilities allow them to cut costs, time, risk, and labor while improving workflow, accuracy, communication, and efficiency. If these technologies are implemented on a large scale in the future, they will only further streamline the construction life cycle.
While the impact of drones in the construction industry is still developing, they are already revolutionizing the sector and changing the way construction projects are handled. As long as the technology is able to pass federal aviation and zoning hurdles, it’s safe to say that the commercial drone is here to stay. For more information, see the infographic below.