How Drones Are Being Used Across the Construction Project Life Cycle

Drone U
Drone U
May 26, 2018 · 4 min read

In our previous blog post, we talked a bit about the usage of drones in construction. Construction is one the least digitized industries. Reliance on traditional planning tools has led to inefficient use of resources. Maybe that is the reason why construction litigation is so common in construction (more so for large, complicated projects with numerous stakeholders)

We dive deeper into this topic and explore various drone uses across the entire construction project life cycle. I have divided the construction project life cycle into 5 stages:

1. Planning and Design

2. Contracts/Bidding

3. Procurement

4. Construction

5. Close Out

Let us start by discussing drone uses in the construction planning and design stage.

1. Planning and Design — Time Lapse, Site Surveying, Site Evaluation

It is important to recognize the interrelationship between planning and construction. Better data in the preliminary stage of the construction cycle helps you prepare a more accurate roadmap. And faster data helps you keep your project costs in check. You can use a drone for a preliminary site survey. Using photogrammetry you can create beautiful lifelike models. And you CAN get highly accurate survey grade data using photogrammetry. If you use a high zoom camera like Zenmuse Z3, X5 or Z30, you can capture minute site details as well.

In the planning and the design stage, you can start taking images which you can eventually use for the creation of a time-lapse video — an extremely effective marketing tool. However, do note that production and post production for a time lapse video is a tricky process. We recommend you shoot on slightly overcast days. Shadows can result in a shoddy end product.

2. Contracts/Bidding — Quantity Estimation and Project Risk Analysis

Drones can help you put in more accurate and competitive bids for construction projects. Creating a 3D drone model will let you accurately assess the amount of soil that needs to excavated. You can even make your own measurements using a 3D point cloud with a mesh overlay. Normally a UAV pilot makes his deliverable using SolidWorks or AutoCad.

3. Procurement — Site Insurance

Using a drone can help you monitor if health and safety practices are being implemented properly. Moreover, having real time visuals will help you further streamline your health and safety practice. And subsequently reduce site risk.

Are employees wearing necessary safety equipment? Are your excavations shored up properly? Having an eye in the sky and getting real time data is a great way of mitigating site risk and assuring safety. This can help you reduce your site insurance costs also.

4. Construction — Site Safety, Progress Reports, Better Communication

You can get really innovative with drone applications in the actual construction phase. Let us explore one such use — how drones are making it safer and easier to install Post Tension cables.

The use of post tension cables in construction is gaining in popularity. PT cables permit the pouring of thinner and longer slabs of concrete which can significantly bring down construction costs. However, the actual laying of the cables and pouring of concrete can become tricky. As the name suggests, the “Post” Tension cables get into tension after concrete is poured.

Now, drilling after the concrete has been poured is problematic. Why so? Because the PT cables tend to displace slightly when the concrete is poured onto the slab. The contractor needs to ensure that these cables are not hit during drilling as this can compromise structural safety.

Using drones, contractors can get an idea of the extent to which the PT cables have been displaced. Thus they can drill safely without worrying about hitting a cable. Sure. You can resort to concrete scanning which can take you up to 14 days. A drone can accomplish this task in 3 hours!

Pro Tip — Drones equipped with thermal sensors can easily detect heat lost due to improperly installed insulation or electrical joints.

Drones are a far more systemic approach for monitoring construction progress. Using photos is an outdated method which results in less than ideal communication among stakeholders.

5. Closeout — Time lapse, Documentation

During project closeout, a UAV pilot can provide you with a finished time lapse video shot from beginning to end. This can provide a great push to your marketing efforts.

Drones can also provide photographic evidence to show that the project has been completed. Ease of data collection results in invoicing accuracy. And this would make it simpler for the contractor to get payments on project closeout.

Conclusion

Low digitization and the ensuing resource wastage makes a strong case for using drones across the construction project life cycle. Contractors should hire a good UAV pilot with strong photogrammetry as well as 3D mapping skills — and someone who understands the construction industry and its various pain points.

Civil contractors should strongly consider using drones right from project inception. They will have better data which will lead to greater insights. And SMARTER business decisions.

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