The construction industry has always been open to embracing new technologies that can streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and improve safety. Drones have emerged as a powerful tool that has significantly impacted the way construction projects are planned, executed, and managed. In this blog post, we shall explore the various ways drones are used in construction and discuss the benefits they bring to the industry.
How Drones Are Used In Construction
Site Surveying and Mapping
Before construction begins, an accurate and detailed understanding of the site is crucial for effective planning and design. Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and LIDAR sensors can quickly and accurately map construction sites, generating topographical data, contour maps, and digital elevation models. This information helps with site selection, design, and planning, saving time and money that would have been spent on traditional land surveying methods.
Progress Monitoring and Reporting
Regular monitoring of construction progress is essential to ensure that projects stay on schedule and within budget. Drones can capture aerial images and videos, providing a comprehensive view of the construction site. This aerial documentation can be shared with stakeholders, helping identify any discrepancies, update schedules, and allocate resources efficiently.
Inspections and Maintenance
Inspecting structures like roofs, facades, and bridges can be challenging and dangerous for human workers. Drones offer a safer alternative by accessing hard-to-reach areas and capturing high-resolution images and videos. These visual inspections help identify potential issues, provide real-time data for decision-making, and reduce the risks associated with manual inspections.
Earthwork Volume Calculations
Accurate earthwork calculations are crucial for resource management and billing purposes. Drones can measure stockpile volumes, cut and fill calculations, and track earthwork progress with precision. This data allows construction companies to manage resources effectively and minimise disputes over billing and progress claims.
Communication and Collaboration
Effective communication and collaboration among various teams involved in a construction project are vital to its success. Drones provide real-time information through aerial images and 3D models, enabling teams to identify issues, coordinate tasks, and make informed decisions. This improved communication reduces errors and misunderstandings, ultimately leading to better project outcomes.
Safety and Risk Management
Construction sites can be hazardous, and ensuring worker safety is a top priority. Drones can monitor site safety, identify potential hazards, and ensure workers follow safety protocols. They can also be used to assess damage after accidents or natural disasters, reducing response times and mitigating risks.
Tracking and managing equipment and materials on a construction site can be challenging. Drones can help by monitoring inventory, reducing theft, loss, and downtime. This efficient asset management ultimately leads to cost savings and improved productivity.
Marketing and Promotion
High-quality aerial images and videos captured by drones can be used for marketing and promotional purposes, showcasing the project’s progress and finished product. This captivating visual content can attract potential clients, investors, and community support.
Construction projects must adhere to environmental regulations and minimise their impact on the surrounding environment. Drones can monitor environmental factors, such as erosion, vegetation growth, and wildlife activity, ensuring compliance and promoting sustainable practices.
3D Modeling and BIM Integration
Drones can capture data used to create accurate 3D models of construction sites, which can be integrated with Building Information Modeling (BIM) systems. This integration allows for better project management, coordination, and decision-making, leading to more efficient and successful construction projects.
Drones In Construction Case Studies
The Norwegian Public Roads Administration is utilising drones, specifically the WingtraOne VTOL drone, for road surveying to support their goal of achieving zero fatalities by 2024. The administration has significantly reduced project time and costs by implementing drone technology. Smaller projects that used to take up to five days with traditional survey methods can now be completed in just 15 minutes, while larger ones take only up to two hours. The WingtraOne offers enhanced coverage and efficiency compared to multirotor drones, enabling the creation of detailed point clouds for volume assessment and tracking of road construction progress. Additionally, the drone’s accuracy has proven cost-effective in reconciling contractor estimates, a process that is now faster and easier than before. WingtraOne’s recent updates, including improved wind tolerance and tipping prevention, have further enhanced its performance. As drone technology continues to evolve and improve, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration plans to expand its drone fleet and capitalise on the increasing benefits offered by the WingtraOne. More about this case study here
STRABAG, a construction company, has been using drones and Pix4D’s drone mapping software for the past four years to save time and reduce risk. They have successfully applied this technology to various projects, including infrastructure mapping, stockpile measurement, and construction site monitoring. Examples include mapping over 20 bridges in Colombia, monitoring earthworks in Germany, and mapping an area surrounding a dam in Kenya. This innovative approach has allowed STRABAG to complete projects more efficiently and quickly while integrating seamlessly with existing construction workflows. Read more about STRABAG and their use of drones here.
The Swiss engineering firm, IMPULS AG, needed to monitor erosion along the Gotthard Pass roadway and hired drone services specialist Pixmap, which used the WingtraOne drone for the photogrammetry project. WingtraOne’s VTOL and terrain following feature allowed the mission to be completed safely and effectively. The survey took one day of flying and covered 48 hectares, collecting 460 images at a resolution of 6 cm. IMPULS AG uses the resulting 3D model to locate points of interest and identify changes that might indicate a rockfall. Click here for the complete details about this project.
Brasfield & Gorrie, a construction company, has saved thousands of dollars by adopting drone technology and using DroneDeploy since 2015. The company now operates 32 drones, employing over 60 FAA-certified pilots. Drones are utilised throughout every stage of the construction project lifecycle, including pre-construction, site work, and quality control. By using this technology, Brasfield & Gorrie has managed to reduce the time needed to create a Digital Elevation Model by 75% and save over $10,000 in rework costs on a single project. Although the company envisions eventually employing entirely autonomous drones, they plan to continue leveraging drone data in the meantime to monitor site progress, share information with stakeholders, and validate the work of their team and trade contractors. Read more about this company here.
While drones offer numerous benefits to the construction industry, there are also challenges and issues that construction companies may face when implementing and using drone technology. Some of these issues include:
- Regulatory compliance: Construction companies need to comply with local and national regulations governing drone operations. These may include obtaining necessary permits, pilot certifications, adhering to airspace restrictions, and maintaining flight logs. Regulatory requirements can vary by location and may change over time, requiring companies to stay up-to-date on the latest rules.
- Privacy concerns: Drone operations can raise privacy concerns, especially when flying over populated areas or near private properties. Construction companies must be mindful of these concerns and that they are not infringing on people’s privacy rights when using drones for their projects.
- Safety concerns: The safety of both construction workers and the general public must be considered when using drones. This includes proper training for drone pilots, regular maintenance and inspection of equipment, and adherence to safety guidelines to minimise the risk of accidents and injuries.
- Weather limitations: Drones can be sensitive to weather conditions such as strong winds, rain, and extreme temperatures. Poor weather conditions may limit the ability to conduct drone operations, potentially causing delays or reduced data quality.
- Limited flight time: Many drones have limited flight times due to battery constraints, often ranging from 20 to 40 minutes. This can be a challenge when working on large construction sites, as it may require multiple flights to cover the entire area, increasing the time and resources required for drone operations. However, with battery technology improving, this will change in the future and there are industrial drones like the DJI Matrice 300 RTK and DJI M30 that have long flight times.
- Integration with existing workflows: Construction companies must integrate drone technology into their existing workflows and systems, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) or project management software. This can require significant time and effort, especially when dealing with legacy systems or adapting to new processes.
- Cost considerations: Although drones can save time and money in the long run, there are upfront costs associated with purchasing drones and related equipment, training personnel, and obtaining necessary certifications and permits.
- Security risks: Drones can be vulnerable to hacking or other cybersecurity risks, potentially compromising sensitive data or causing disruptions in operations. Construction companies must ensure that they have appropriate security measures in place to protect their drone systems and data.
Drone technology in the construction industry has revolutionised the way companies approach various aspects of their projects. By leveraging drone data and software solutions construction firms have experienced significant time and cost savings, increased efficiency, and reduced risk. As construction companies continue to integrate drones into their existing workflows and explore new applications, the benefits of this technology will only grow. The future of construction is poised to be increasingly reliant on drones, driving further innovation and providing new opportunities to enhance project outcomes, streamline communication, and improve overall project management.