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Key Construction Sees Immediate Results After Launching Drone Program

Drones help project manager save money, stay ahead of emerging issues, and salvage a subcontractor relationship on a $10 million project

We can all agree on one thing: drones bring a lot of value to a construction site. But it can be hard to conceptualize what that value looks like on a day-to-day basis — especially when you’re trying to sell a drone program internally to your colleagues.

At Key Construction, early efforts to create site-level buy-in for drone mapping led to significant results. A drone mapping project at a $10-million outdoor swimming and recreational facility helped a project manager stay ahead of emerging issues, saved thousands of dollars in survey costs, and ultimately salvaged a long-standing subcontractor relationship.

An orthomosaic map of a 23-acre swimming and recreation facility in Kansas. A project manager at Key Construction used drones to address drainage issues and hold a landscaping contractor accountable.

The Importance of Creating Early Buy-In at all Levels of a Construction Team

When Steven Wells introduced drones at Key Construction in July of 2017, he understood that for the technology to take hold, he needed to create buy-in not just from the top down, but also from the bottom up. In other words: he had to help site-level staff conceptualize drones in their day-to-day workflows.

“Until you get this stuff in your hands and start using it,” Steven says, “until you see the ROI on a project that you’ve been a part of, it’s hard to see the impact it can make.”

Through a series of lunch-and-learns, Steven introduced drone mapping technology to project managers and site engineers and talked about the ways drones are impacting other major construction companies around the country.

It wasn’t long before staff across the company began calling on Steven to create drone maps to solve problems, including two emerging issues at a 23-acre outdoor swimming and recreation facility in Kansas.

Drone map of a baseball field illustrates how landscaping subcontractor flew less than the required seeding passes.

Drone Map of Baseball Field Holds Landscaping Subcontractor Accountable

A landscaping subcontractor was hired to complete four passes of seeding on one of the facility’s baseball fields. But when the grass emerged in patches, the project manager suspected that the contractor, in a rush, had seeded less than the specs required. When confronted, the landscaper denied it.

The project manager needed a way to prove the patchy grass was the result of poor seeding, not just poor emergence. But from the ground, it was impossible to visualize the seeding pattern. He called Steven and asked if a drone map could help.

High-resolution drone map shows subcontractor seeded grass less than the required specs. It is even possible to see where he changed directions midfield.

The very next day, Steven mapped the baseball field. It was clear from the high-resolution orthomosaic maps that the subcontractor had seeded in two directions — not four — and with no particular method. It was even possible to see where he changed directions midfield.

Although it was too late in the fall to reseed the field before winter hit, the project manager used the information to develop a clear plan of action and get a commitment from the subcontractor to complete the job come spring.

The drone map helped site staff to stay ahead of the problem, but it also salvaged a relationship with the landscaping subcontractor, who up until seeing the drone map had relied on his employee’s word about the seeding job.

“You can lose somebody’s business for life over something like this,” says Steven. “When we gave him the evidence, it was a complete 180. It saved the relationship.”

Drone-generated elevation data, overlaid with AutoCAD files, helped troubleshoot drainage issues along baselines of this baseball field.

Drone-generated Elevation Data Helps Troubleshoot Drainage Issues

When drainage issues emerged along the baselines at a second baseball field at the recreation facility, drones again proved to be an essential tool.

Steven flew the field with ground control points (GCPs), then exported the elevation data into Autodesk Revit, where he measured the elevation differences between various points on the field. Steven completed this in just a few hours, without the need to hire a survey team — saving his team time and money in the process.*

Overlaying the drone data with the AutoCAD files of the original site plans, it was easy to see what was causing the drainage issues and how to fix them.

If they had called a surveying team to the site, it would have cost several thousand dollars. Instead, it took just two hours total to set the ground control points, map the site, and generate the overlay.

Key Construction uses DroneDeploy’s Enterprise Solution to Build a Company-wide Drone Program

Currently, two Key Construction staff are Part 107 certified. But the hope is to certify four or five more in-house drone pilots by the end of the year. “We just launched a superusers program for a few different technology initiatives that we’ve put forth. We’ve already had three or four guys ask about taking the test and getting certified,” said Steven.

Earlier this year, the company’s drone program took another significant step forward by signing on for DroneDeploy’s enterprise solution.

“Signing on to DroneDeploy’s enterprise solution was a huge step in expanding our in-house drone program. Now we can easily get this information out to our guys, and they have access to measurements, annotations, and everything that makes the platform useful.” — Steven Wells, Key Construction

About Key Construction

Steven Wells mapping the recreation facility project with an Inspire

Key Construction is an industry leader regularly recognized in the ENR Top 400 Contractors and as one of the fastest growing, high-quality contractors in the country, with offices in Wichita, Fort Worth, and Tulsa.

Steven Wells started his career at Key Construction as the Operations Technology Manager. In September, he transitioned to General Manager of the Dallas Fort Worth office. He was instrumental in developing the in-house drone program at the company.

Where to Learn More

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.

*Note: Because Key Construction’s map of the baseball field with drainage issues was used for internal reference only, it wasn’t necessary to have a surveyor sign off on the data. For more information about “survey grade” accuracy, see our post on accuracy in drone mapping.



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