4 ways drones are changing the construction industry

22 Mar 2017 GLOBAL EQUIPMENT & TECHNOLOGY

Laura Varley, on behalf of UK-based demolition contractor Hughes & Salvidge, explains why you will soon be seeing drones around your construction site.

The rise of drones has seen YouTube and Instagram filled with footage of incredible places we will never visit and pizza delivered to our front doors without the need for human interaction, but they are capable of so much more.

Some industries are only just beginning to see the potential drones have to improve their business. In construction, drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used in a variety of ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs. In this article, we will look at how useful these gadgets are within this industry.

1)    Take aerial photos for a fraction of the price

Traditionally, whenever bird’s-eye-view photos of a construction site have been required, whether for progress reports or marketing materials, site managers have had to use a helicopter or light aircraft to do so. Not only is this option expensive, it is time-consuming too, as a photographer is needed to capture the photos from the aircraft.

Drones, on the other hand, cost a fraction of the price, and you can use them time and time again for multiple projects. Some UAVs can even map out 3D models, perfect for tracking progress on a project.

2)    Reach hard to access areas

Sometimes, you are going to be working on a project that is not straight-forward and you may be presented with out of reach areas you need to be able to see. For example, if the existing building on site is unstable, you are not going to want to send any workers in there to assess the situation, as it could be dangerous.

In such situations, a drone is ideal. They are small and will not disturb the building in any way, as they don’t need to land on any potentially unstable surfaces. The camera can capture everything the project manager needs to see, without putting any employees in danger.

3)    Detect and monitor potential hazards and issues

No matter how careful your staff are, accidents can happen — usually because a potential hazard went unnoticed or unmonitored. The use of drones can help reduce accidents, as they can be used to safely spot and monitor hazards and issues, such as asbestos or leaks.

Global safety company Total Safety has already employed drones for this purpose: the UAVs inspected flare stacks for dangerous hot spots, a job that humans could not do without the firm having to shut down a process for several hours or even days. Not only could this improve employee safety, it may save companies thousands in costs.

4)    Improve client relationships

Construction clients, particularly those abroad, want to be updated regularly on how the project they are paying for is progressing. The more detail and evidence you can produce, the better. Clients are far more likely to work with you again if you kept sending them progress reports illustrated with images, videos and 3D maps, rather than keeping them in the dark. With a drone, you can afford to provide this detail.

Plus, some of the images you capture can be used to promote your construction firm further through marketing materials. The fact you use drones will make you stand out amongst competitors — it shows you are keeping on top of any technological advancements which are beneficial to your clients.

What about the legal requirements?

If you are a construction firm who is considering implementing drone technology at your sites, it is important to be aware that there is more to it than just choosing one and purchasing it. Before you begin using it, you need to apply for permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). You also need to decide who will be piloting the device, as they will need to pass a practical flight test and demonstrate they understand aviation theory.  There are a few companies in the UK that offer UAV training, such as Resource Group.

It is important to be aware of privacy laws and where you can and can’t fly your drone. Here are a few pointers to bear in mind:
•    Drones must only be used for their specified purpose e.g. checking for structural damage;
•    Recording should not occur where images of individuals could be captured;
•    Employees and site visitors must be notified when filming is taking place;
•    You cannot use drones to monitor or check up on employees;
•    Drones must always be operated in a safe and considerate manner;
•    All images and footage recorded must be stored securely.

While drones do require some investment, when used effectively they have the potential to save construction firms a lot of time and money, as well as make sites a safer place to work. It is only a matter of time until your competitors begin to use them to their advantage, so make sure you stay ahead and embrace this fantastic piece of technology.

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