On the Rise

 RISE OF THE MACHINE 01Drone tech is revolutionizing the construction industry.   

By Francis Vierboom

No matter the industry, real-time feedback allows people to respond quicker, make better decisions, and do a great job faster and more often. The right tech allows teams to react to events as they happen. Instead of manually checking if something bad has happened, they can rely on the system to notify them.

Every moment a problem goes undetected, it worsens. That’s as true in a bank as it is on an excavation project. But, until now, technology hasn’t delivered the same efficiency leap for the construction industry that is has for other sectors. 

That’s not to say technology hasn’t transformed some aspects of construction. For example, CAD software has revolutionized design, planning and engineering. 

Accurate, detailed designs and plans can hugely impact a project’s success. But as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until I punch them in the mouth.” In other words, there’s a big gap between creating designs and plans, and adapting and reacting to new information as work happens. Whether it’s unexpected bedrock, surprise utility lines, or a subcontractor dispute — some construction projects really have a way of punching you in the mouth.

In the survey world, lasers and GPS let sites get precise with progress and layouts. Machine control elevates this, helping carve designs into reality — but these systems are expensive to purchase and operate, putting a low ceiling on adoption rates.

Many tech solutions have fallen short, especially for earthmoving and site preparation teams, because they couldn’t relay what was happening on site quickly, completely or cheaply enough to make it worth the effort. Enter drones.

Drone Survey Data Means Real-Time Feedback 

Drones are the first technology in a long time to change the game for field teams. When deployed with the right technology that can deliver accuracy, they make it easy, safe and affordable to capture site survey data as often as anyone wants. Simultaneously, smartphone technology has made it possible to put that information in everybody’s pocket. 

At Scheffer Andrew, an Alberta-based major land development team, Ray Penner has spearheaded drone adoption. The key factors: drones are fast, accurate and safe. According to Penner, “Once the earthmoving work has been completed, running the topo survey would require the site to shut down for a day. Now, it only takes 15 minutes.”

That speed and data availability changes processes and outcomes throughout entire projects — from pre-bidding to operation.

Get a Clear Picture 

Getting accurate baseline data has benefits across a project’s lifecycle. It starts with getting estimates and planning done accurately. Compared with conventional methods, drone-based survey data offers detailed information faster. 

For Colorado survey firm Lange Land, drone survey data allowed them to provide precise topography on a land development project, which helped their client avoid over $180,000 in losses on planned sale prices by identifying material movements not covered by budgets or estimates. 

Additionally, cloud-based 3-D visualization platforms made it simple to see problems in an understandable way for nontechnical staff. For Ray Penner at Scheffer Andrew, “Consistency is a good thing, but Propeller also elevates the shape of the stockpile so you can see it in three dimensions. And then you know you have a result that you can trust, because you can see it.”

That kind of clarity is quickly becoming an industry standard. 

Better Results Throughout the Build

Rework and variations on earthmoving drive costs and delays. By drone surveying a site regularly and providing a clear, sustained information feedback loop, teams can avoid costly mistakes and spot emerging problems.

Hamzah Shanbari is manager for construction technology and innovation at Haskell, a major construction group headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., where he’s led the company’s drone adoption. Drone imagery and data visualization software “helped us recognize issues with the work our subcontractors were doing and correct them before they became expensive,” Shanbari said. 

In one instance, a subcontractor made a simple error in a conduit’s placement. With a cloud visualization clearly showing the real site’s misalignment against design, it was spotted quickly. Plans were updated to avoid a major conflict with the plumbing layout, which would have cost many thousands of dollars if not seen sooner.

It’s a similar story around the world. Cheshire Contractors, an Australian civil contractor team, provides earthmoving for state and private development. Shannon Cheshire uses drones to track project progress every two weeks. Why? “We’ll know if we’re making or losing money much more quickly, and if there is a problem we can fix it straight away instead of letting it fester.” 

Delivering and Working With Transparency and Confidence

Drone surveying makes it easy to capture and see a detailed record of the whole build. As things reach delivery time there are fewer disputes and less time wasted on arguments. 

A major civil contractor in California spent $2M+ every year on unplanned haul work, simply because they couldn’t accurately track progress to prove the dirt was outside their scope. Tracking discrepancies as the project progressed and submitting data-driven change orders increased net profits by $2.5M, a 50 percent increase. 

Adding the power of drone survey data to construction means transparent, real-time tracking; more projects delivered on schedule; and more teams capable of making better decisions based on better information. Importantly, it helps deliver satisfaction all stakeholders can share — that of seeing a job well done. 

As the co-founder and CEO of Propeller Aero, Francis Vierboom has been at the forefront of developing the commercial drone industry. Identifying the opportunity for industries like resources and construction to have collaborative access to quality site data, Francis and his co-founder Rory San Miguel have built Propeller Aero into an Australian Drone Tech success story with more than 20 employees and thousands of customers in over 70 countries. 




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