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Drones Keep Construction of Manufacturing Plant on Track

Drone Mapping is a Cost-Effective Management Solution for 550,000 square-foot Project

From site engineers and project managers, to superintendents and owners, a large construction project has many stakeholders who need to stay informed about progress. But on a sizeable project, it can be difficult to keep everyone, especially offsite stakeholders, informed. Aerial photographs are helpful, but costly to take and inefficient to manage. Drone mapping, on the other hand, provides a cost-effective solution that keeps everyone on a construction project on the same page. In addition to keeping off-site stakeholders informed, drone mapping gives site engineers and other on-the ground managers real time information, helping them to make efficient, informed decisions.

Choate Construction is a $1.3 billion-dollar commercial construction company that has been in business for 25 years. Choate uses drone mapping on all its large projects, and is in the process of scaling up to include drones all of its job sites. Matthew Forster is the project engineer for a nearly completed manufacturing plant that totals over 550,000 square feet. He spoke to us about how drone mapping helped him and his team monitor progress and make real-time decisions.

Matthew Forster

Drone Mapping Fits Seamlessly into Project Engineer’s Workflow

As project engineer on the 557,553 square-foot manufacturing plant in Chesterfield, Virginia, Matthew is tasked with controlling all documents for the site and communicating with architects, engineers and project managers to make sure everyone is on the same page. As such, each Wednesday from July through January, he fired up a Phantom 3 Advanced and set out to map the site. The project is set to wrap up on February 10th, and during its construction, Matthew used drone mapping to create a regular, visual overview of progress. He appreciates how seamlessly drone mapping fits into his regular workflow.

“My favorite thing about DroneDeploy is the ease of it — just copying the map over for the next week and then just literally setting the drone out there and turning it on. It does a few pre-checks and it takes off. Ease of access, fast and real-time data that I can share with everybody.” — Matthew Forster, project engineer for Choate Construction

Each week, he flew the site, uploaded his images into DroneDeploy to create a high-resolution orthomosaic map, and exported the map in JPEG format to send to his team. He also added that week’s images to a time-lapse GIF of the entire project. From start to finish, this process took him only about fifty minutes each week.

Take a closer look at the construction site by viewing the map in more detail here

High-Resolution Maps Offer Cost-Effective Solution for Monitoring Progress

On such a large construction project, there are many moving parts. Matthew and his team must track progress on everything from steel and precast erection, to roofing and earthmoving. Having an overhead view of the entire site is an important piece that helps keep tabs on everything. “It gives (my team) a bird’s eye view of the site, which looks a lot different than being on the ground. It gives them a full picture of the entire site, which is really helpful with such a large site,” says Matthew.

If his team wasn’t using drone mapping, they would have to hire a plane and photographer to take aerial photographs of the site. At about $300 per flight, four or five times a month, the cost adds up quickly. Compare that to the less than $100 per month Choate spends on their DroneDeploy software, and even after factoring in the startup cost of equipping their sites with drones, mapping makes clear financial sense.

By having an in-house drone mapping program, instead of hiring an aerial photographer, the construction site saved about $1,100 per month, or $7,700 over the entire project. [click-to-tweet]

In addition to cost savings, the drone maps Matthew produces give project stakeholders a more comprehensive, high-resolution picture of the site’s progress. Instead of thumbing through a stack of aerial photographs, people like the project manager and superintendent can see the entire site at one glance. As an added bonus, the time-lapse GIF that Matthew compiled was a favorite with the project’s owners, who wanted to get a sense of progress, but couldn’t come out to the site regularly.

And if something requires a closer look, Matthew can easily zoom in to ground level. “I can zoom down and find my superintendent on the map,” says Matthew. “You can clearly see cars, you can clearly see people.”

Midway through construction of the 557,553 square-foot manufacturing plant

Volume Measurement Tool Allows for On-the-Ground Decision Making

On a day-to-day basis, Matthew also used DroneDeploy’s volume measurement tools to assess stockpiles and make on-the-ground decisions quickly and easily. When the client from an adjacent construction project piled all of their excess dirt onto the Choate site, Matthew’s team hired a subcontractor to move the earth. But first, they needed to know approximately how much earth they were hiring the subcontractor to move. Without drone mapping, Matthew would have had to take a few hours of his time and manually measure the perimeter of the stockpile, then factor in a best guess as to the height. Instead of this time-consuming process, he simply pulled out his iPad and consulted his most recent drone map.

“It was really easy,” says Matthew. “A couple of clicks and it instantly tells you how much [volume of the stockpile.] I can do it in real time with the subcontractor right there.” -Matthew Forster

Matthew determined that the stockpile measured around 90,000 cubic yards, and the subcontractor was able to tell right then and there exactly how much it would cost to move. He used a similar process a number of times throughout the project, measuring everything from topsoil stockpiles, to the acreage for an area that needed to be seeded with grass. It also allowed him to double-check to make sure subcontractors had moved the correct quantities of various piles.

See the site’s progress from start to finish in this time-lapse

This is the first time Matthew has used drone mapping on a construction site, and this experience has convinced him to use it again on his next project. He knows the easy-to-use tool will provide him with valuable information to help him make real time decisions, keep construction progress on track, and ensure everyone is informed and up to speed. He also wants to make sure his colleagues realize how helpful drone mapping can be for their work.

“I’m trying to get my virtual construction manager to teach everybody else about it,” says Matthew. “Because I think it is a very useful and helpful tool — it illustrates everything very nicely.”

Where to Learn More

To learn more about how construction companies are using drone mapping on their job sites, be sure to read Keeping Your Construction Project on Track with Drone Mapping. If you’re ready to get started, don’t miss our recent post outlining different perspectives on how to bring drones into your business. Also consult our support documents for more tips about using drones in construction, including:

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



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