Drones in construction: why to invest?

If you run a construction business, why you should hurry to invest in drones today? Read examples where drones in construction are used and what is an industry trend. Journalist Clay Dillow, in the Fortune article, provided interesting statistics and insights on the prospects of using drones in the construction industry. That encouraged me to make some research on how the construction companies are adopting this technology today. So what is the construction industry trend?

INDUSTRY TREND

Goldman Sachs research says that the fastest growth opportunity for drones comes from businesses and civil governments. Researchers expect that businesses and civil governments will spend $13 billion on drones between 2016 and 2020. Herewith, John Patterson in the article “An Aerial View of the Future – Drones in Construction” visually represents the charts which shows which industries are the largest adopters of drones according to PwC and how much of the market they control. The construction industry is included in the infrastructure sector and is between the largest drone adopters (infrastructure - 35,5% percent of the market, second largest in agriculture sector - 25,5%). On the other hand, it seems that there are no fully reliable data on how much exactly construction companies are spending for the drones today. However, proves come itself. E.g. Constructiondive portal announce interesting fact that drone manufacturer DJI is selling 1,000 drones with Skycatch imaging technology to Komatsu (Japanese construction equipment giant). DJI said that the map data will be used for Komatsu Smart Construction's new data service, which will allow for robotic earth-moving equipment to correctly dig, bulldoze and grade land autonomously, reported DroneLife.

Overall, I would say that the facts speak for themselves - the construction sector is investing in drones and definitely not because it’s a fancy toy. Where drones are used or supposed to be used in the construction industry?

LAND SURVEYS & SITE MODELING

It is obvious that drones in the construction industry are widely used to do the land survey and to create maps. They do the surveying process faster than traditional ways. Drones accurately collect a huge amount of data about the relief of the land, including detailed surface characteristics, and becomes a solid data source for a BIM software and 3D modeling.

Using drones’ collected data and adopting specific software, companies are creating high-quality 3D maps. Take a look at the video bellow, where Hoverscape explains how their clients use drone-collected data. The company claims that their maps are up to 15 times higher resolution than Google Earth and that the software enables to analyze surveyed area with a great accuracy. Well, looks pretty nice.

TRACKING OF BUILDING PROGRESS
Another popular area where drones are used in the construction industry is a building progress tracking. Despite various explanations (and some are really complex!), I would probably highlight two main perspectives to track building progress - from the contractor viewpoint and the client. Construction companies are using drones regularly to track the progress of the construction, analyzing drone created photos, maps, and 3D models. Using different software they can track construction specific details, such as compliance with a project, planned materials usage, scheduled works progress and etc.
On the other hand, most of the clients want to track building progress also. If they are not able to visit the construction site often, drones are a great option to provide building progress information. They are not only making great quality pictures or videos (even live stream!) but also they are doing it from the positions that can’t be seen from the ground. Just look at this video to get the point.
SITE MONITORING, SAFETY, AND SECURITY
Drones have necessary “qualification” to be “employed as managers’ eyes” to monitor not only construction progress on different construction areas or sites but also they help to monitor safety standards, workers performance and the use of the construction materials. As some articles point out, drones can help project managers to track different job sites and see whether the team have work and are they productive enough.
 
Also, a very important part is to make sure that all safety requirements are met. E.g. using drone you can make a quick survey of whether all workers wear helmets and other necessary equipment, is the scaffolding structures looks solid enough, have all construction parts attached correctly and so on. If something rises concerns - immediate actions could be taken. Even if an accident would happen, the quality recordings help to analyze the situation.
 
Drones can also be used as anti-theft protection. According to National Equipment Register (NER) annual estimates of the cost of equipment theft in US vary from about $300 million to $1 billion, with most estimates in the range of $400 million. That estimate is for equipment only (wow!) and do not include tools and building materials. Drones are doing a great job monitoring job sites and ensuring security. E.g. in one article it was said that using drone it is possible to make a calculation on how many soil or gravel was excavated from the quarry just by flying over and processing the data. Collected information can be sent for analysis and control, so any deviation is caught immediately.
INSPECTIONS
Inspections are an inseparable part of the constructions. And it looks, that using drones in this area is a big step forward. Imagine if you are going to renovate the 12-floor apartment and you need to analyze carefully what kind of outer wall cracks are on the 10th floor? Or if you need to do yearly inspection of the huge warehouse that your company has recently build? These are situations where drones jump in. It saves time, money and the most important - it saves construction workers from unnecessary risky works and helps easily to get to the places where access in traditional ways would be way complicated.
Drones also do thermal imaging of the buildings. It is explained in the video bellow, what was inspection findings after drone deployed infrared thermographic survey. Inspection has been done when the client reported about water entering office space.
The software that analyzes drones data also allows to mark and create a report of areas of concern during inspections (not only creating photos but also attaching records of GPS coordinates and other data). Look at this video bellow, how the drone was used for inspection on the wall that is around 600 m. long and 20 m. high - imagine doing it old way :)
Other cases of use of drones in construction
There are much more areas in the construction where drones become an irreplaceable tool. E.g. drones’ collected data is helping designers and architects to analyze view from feature building. Using drone data they can create a better building and ensure it has the best view from every single point. Drone’s created videos and photos also can be used as a selling point - high-quality video and photo information from your construction sites is a great material that can be used in sales. With relatively small costs (it is not always necessary to have an expensive drone) it is possible to present your business in an innovative way. Besides that, some construction companies already are using drones as a part of their offers and that is definitely adding them extra points to win more business.
Resume
Despite the fact that drones are not on every construction site yet, it is clear that the use of drones in construction is growing and will grow further. Taking into account a wide range of areas where drones already adopted in the construction today, also considering expensive workforce, safety regulations, rising security issues and the fact that commercial drones experiencing a high competition vs “hobbyists” drones and prices are more affordable than a few years ago, drones become an interesting and valuable investment. Maybe it is a right time to add it to your construction budget?
* Main photo by Sorasak on Unsplash

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