Constructing the Future with Drones

Construction companies today grapple with a number of factors that can potentially impede productivity and make it more difficult to compete for business. Managing labour shortages, cost pressures and environmental regulations make it hard to remain competitive in an ever-evolving industry. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry was starting to experience a shift towards technology as a way to drive greater productivity. As we begin to move past COVID, technology is playing an even more important role in addressing the challenges of improved efficiencies on jobsites and across the business.

Drone technology is changing the industry. A decade ago, the average construction company could not afford to purchase or operate a drone; the cost of gathering aerial data and imagery was too high compared to traditional methods, and there was the technical expertise and time required to understand and analyze the data. Today, ease of use and affordability has made drones far more accessible.

Drone technology is advancing very quickly across multiple industries, helping companies monitor and track progress in a way never before possible. From site surveying to tracking equipment and data, drones are mapping areas and gleaning information in less time and at a lower cost than manual mechanisms.

Driving innovation across industries

Drones offer a range of possibilities for the future of mapping, surveying, inspection and data gathering. From agriculture to environmental monitoring and conservation, drones are a multipurpose tool with the potential to revamp the way some industries operate.

Forestry companies are using drones to do inventory on logs and surveying vast, hard-to-reach areas at a fraction of the cost of a plane. Farms are deploying sophisticated drones with near-infrared and thermal sensors to monitor growth, pests and stressors in a field. They are being used to create aerial surveys of buildings, bridges, roads and highways – saving projects time and cost in the process.

Drones can enhance and, in some situations, replace manual inspections and maintenance inspections of high structures, even tightening a bolt on a bridge. The data collected can help plan maintenance of a structure and with thermal imaging, can also detect leaks and even identify compromised areas, giving companies the ability to proactively maintain facilities or structures.

Collecting valuable data and insights

Greater competition and increased accessibility in the drone manufacturing space has driven costs down to where they are more readily available and affordable to all businesses. And the benefits are numerous. To start, they can survey large areas quickly and easily and generate detailed 3D imagery of the project and surrounding area. This not only reduces cost, but the data can be used to navigate the site in 3D before construction starts. Access to greater data and insights can also create sophisticated maps, allowing for highly accurate measurements of distances/depths, surface anomalies, elevations and volumes.

Getting the right data is often limited by access, surveying resources, safety restrictions or changes that occur between the time the survey was conducted and the job starts. An inaccurate estimation of work can be the difference between winning and losing a bid. Using data analytics, construction companies can now invoice and estimate a job with greater accuracy which is changing the bidding process and driving competition in the industry. The right drone and software can capture data on a typical site in hours or just minutes. Progress is then tracked against the schedule and invoices are sent to the customer immediately.

Greater customization of information and insights has also changed how data is made available and shared on construction projects. Stakeholders involved in a project can monitor progress in real-time, from any location, providing customers with immediate information and updates as often as needed.

Leveraging drone technology to minimize risk

Safety is a big driver of drone use, especially in the inspection business, which is an important part of the pre-construction phase of a project. Large sites, landfills, busy highways, mines, tall buildings or electric poles can be challenging to access and dangerous for workers. With drones, access can be quickly attained without having to send a worker in to do the job manually. Being able to monitor and inspect hard-to-access areas can not only reduce workers’ exposure to hazardous areas and potential dangers but it’s also cost-effective and faster.

Another challenge construction companies face is monitoring large sites. As regulations tighten and projects become more complex, they also mean increased hazards for workers. Drones can serve as a key tool to monitor sites efficiently and safely, sending real-time data on site conditions to project managers and other stakeholders, whether they are close by or hundreds of miles away. Data can be quickly and easily analyzed and compared to initial site plans, and track workers, materials and equipment.

Drones are changing construction and attracting a new generation of workers

As a result of technological advancements, roles in the construction industry are shifting to ones that are more data-focused. With many construction workers reaching retirement age in the coming years, companies face extreme pressure to ramp up hiring and technology like drones is providing an opportunity to attract new, tech savvy workers to the industry.

Those thinking about new ways to attract a younger workforce are already revising their training, apprenticeship and recruitment initiatives to align with technological advancements in the industry. Drone education and training programs can provide the next generation of workers with the skills and knowledge necessary to integrate the technology into jobsites, under a variety of applications. These courses not only provide training on using drones safely and proper data collection, but place workers ahead of the curve as they prepare to enter the industry.

Greater demand for drones will drive the industry forward

Drone technology is quickly becoming the latest in an arsenal of technological advancements in the construction industry and it is evident they are here to stay. But there is still much to learn about new ways of applying the technology and the capabilities. As technology continues to evolve, drones will become an even more common tool on jobsites, helping to improve workflows, increase profit margins and streamline the operational efficiencies of construction projects.

Find out more information on technology products and support for construction here.

Read the article by Bryan Rolph, product and service sales manager for SITECH Western Canada in Construction Business.