08–10 OCTOBER 2019 | NEC | BIRMINGHAM News
Drone Use In Construction
While drones have been a luxury item for some time with prices being so high for just a domestic solution, in terms of the commercial uses, drones haven’t become a mainstream tool as of yet. But having the use of a drone or two means can be handy, to say the least. Deciding whether a is drone worth the investment is something you’ll have to be sure of. The integration of drones for the world of construction signifies a change, a leap of faith into the world of technology. They could change the way we do things forever, save money and cut construction times.
Using drones to track the progress that you’re making on a job site would be a brilliant way to utilise their features. Having KPIs and milestones for an onsite project is important. They help to determine whether or not you’re on time or if you need to work a little longer to get that specific task up to scratch and on time.
In order to maintain a good timeline and monitor the progress of a project, taking photos is a necessity. Using a drone could help to speed this process up and offer a number of different angles that other construction firms would otherwise not be able to achieve. This would allow for your business to have a nice selling point, providing visual updates for customers, shareholders and stakeholders alike. Having the ability to offer different perspectives from start to finish may also offer a nice presentation to be hosted on your website.
In the future, as technology develops, we may see that drones are used to monitor the progress exclusively which would mean that there’ll be no need to have surveyors walking around site checking what progress has been made. Instead, with machine learning, we could set a drone to check data points all around the construction site, whether that's stockpiles, safety measures or even security.
Using drones for security might sound a little futuristic but depending on how many you have and the setup, you could be looking at a great way to keep tabs on your work site. Having the ability to pre-plan a simple flight path offers a setup that needs little human interaction. For example, you could create a flight plan that covers the perimeter of the site and set the drone to follow it every half an hour or so.
Using a drone when surveying a site could means that the process is likely to go a lot smoother and not take as long. If you need to take a look at parts of a building that are high up, it would make more sense to send a drone up there, instead of having to get yourself and/or others up to that hight. Whether it’s scaffolding or by any other means, it can be expensive.
More importantly, having a drone survey a large amount of land means that the time involved lowers dramatically. You‘ll be able to cover more ground in a short amount of time which also means you’ll be cutting costs and running a more efficient business. So, cutting costs and time is also likely to be an incentive for other companies to work with you.
At some point in the future, we’d like to think that using drones to transport materials to a job site will be a viable option. Though this means it isn’t necessarily a reality at the moment, it’s likely that this becomes a reality soon. Having essentially an un-maned helicopter would mean that construction companies would be able to miss traffic and have all of the material that they need arrive on time instead of getting a call telling them a shipment will be late because the lorry has hit M1 traffic.
Similarly, companies could expect to have the ability to move materials around a job site instead. This would allow for easy transport of goods from one end to another. Using a drone would have an impact of vertical manoeuvrability too. Instead of having to hire a crane and get the required permissions it would be helpful to simply allow a drone to take the materials up there. Even if they’re used to hold steel beams in place while a workforce attached it to a structure.
A drone, at this time, would be too small to lift anything heavy so using one to transport goods and materials wouldn’t be a viable option as of yet. But this is just one of the things that we can look forward to.
With our ever-developing world of technology, the quality of the video and photos that drones can capture is astonishing. The industry standard resolution nowadays is 480p (which is still low considering the fact that we have 8K TVs), but most drones will surpass this and by a very large margin too.
At the time of writing this, the “DJI Inspire 2” is capable of recording at up to 5.2K resolution which is complemented by their gimbal system which stabilises and moves the camera for smooth, professional photography.
Capturing Your Work
One of the most obvious and beneficial aspects of a drone on a construction site would be using it to take pictures of the work you're doing. After this, taking photographs of the completed work means that both your clients and you can feature the images on their websites and social media accounts. Having beautiful, high-quality images means that you can impress potential customers too.
“We’ve been using drones on our worksites for a while now, mainly so that we can feature our work on Lee Jackson Air Conditioning's website. Showing potential client’s what kind of work we can do is important to us and using something that can offer high-quality photos is only half of the solution. Making sure that we capture the installations we’re doing can be tricky sometimes, especially in a commercial environment. Using a drone means that we can simply take the pictures and go rather than having to set up a camera.” - Lee Jackson, Director, Lee Jackson Air Conditioning
“Taking pictures of the jobs we’re doing is fine, as long as they’re inside. Unfortunately, due to the nature of our business, taking pictures of the exterior of a loft conversion isn’t easy unless it’s up a ladder. Even then, the image is close up and you can’t appreciate the work we’ve done. We’re lucky enough to have a company close to us that offer drone photography so we can see what the outside of the loft conversion looks like.” - James Credgington, Director, Manor Loft Conversions Nottingham
“Taking pictures through our renovations and installation process is something that we’ve been doing for a long time. The nice thing about this is that although we’ll get a professional photographer in sometimes, with camera technology getting better and better, we can simply use a flagship smartphone. The fact that most of what we do is inside anyway means that we don’t always have a need for aerial photos. However, if the drone technology continues to advance, and smaller ‘inside drones’ become a more mainstream application, that could be something we’d be excited about.” - Richard Yeo, Director, Advanced Commercial Interiors
“Many of the services we provide are on an industrial scale and most of our clients will either have a professional photographer take images of our work or we’ll hire someone. Our work on the McLaren manufacturing plant, in which they produce their carbon fibre chassis, had the photography organised by McLaren themselves. We’ll usually take pictures of the processes/ stages of manufacturing, but this is done by ourselves with no need of photos from a drone.” - Robert Gavin, Director, Aluminium Bending Specialists
With all of this in mind, we need to look at how having a drone might hinder a construction site. While there are a number of reasons that a drone is a useful tool that could prove an effective piece of equipment, there are also a few drawbacks.
The cost of a drone is something that most people will overlook and then reluctantly pay. The price of the aforementioned ‘DJI Inspire 2’ is at £3,059. DJI also offer an industrial range; one of which is called the ‘Matrice 600 Pro’. This doesn't come with a camera and still costs £5,199. That might not be a high cost for a large company but for a start-up or even just a small business doing local work, that is a lot of money. While there are cheaper options out there that may satisfy your needs, for now, you'll need to decide if it's worth it or not. A more affordable option would be to make a one-off payment to a company that specialises in drone photography.
The next issue that most people will have with a drone is the battery life that a drone has. This is an understandable complaint because according to the DJI website, the ‘Inspire 2’ will travel for only 23-27 minutes. This could mean that if you have a large construction site you’d like to survey, you might have to change the battery halfway through.
Similarly, DJI’s ‘Matrice 600 Pro’ has a flight time of 35 minutes, maximum. So, if you pay £5,199 for just the drone, they say that you could fly for around 5km before the batteries start to run out.
So, to summarise, are drones a particularly good piece of equipment for a construction site? The answer is; it really depends on the reason you're purchasing it. If you're looking to survey land and get a good look at what you’re dealing with, it could be brilliant. But you can't fly one for extended amounts of time. Having a drone to take aerial shots or images from a birds-eye-view angle, they’re fantastic and you won't even need to invest in an industrial grade drone. The images look fantastic and will definitely give you worthwhile material to help you promote your business.