Customer Story

Construction Project Schedules Get Ahead with Drones

July 12, 2018


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Construction crews working on a 50-acre site in Texas earlier this year probably didn’t even notice that one of the project’s most valuable assets was hovering just a few hundred feet overhead. Flying a drone over the site gave project managers unprecedented insight into the project, and helped them achieve massive ROI.

Chasco Constructors deployed drones for the first time in 2017 to help it manage the construction of a 65,000-square-foot main structure—as well as 10 additional support buildings—for the Public Safety Training Center in Round Rock, Texas. The entire project lasted about 18 months, and drone monitoring helped keep everyone on the same page. And get this: the work was actually completed ahead of the estimated 18 month schedule.

Michael Lambert, VDC Manager at Chasco Constructors flying a drone on site.

Drone data helped Chasco more efficiently manage everything from initial site surveys to ongoing work in progress. In fact, the value of using a drone on the Round Rock job was so easy to quantify that Chasco is now using drones to help monitor more than 35job sites throughout Texas.

Chasco used a DJI Phantom 3 Pro drone, combined with drone mapping software from DroneDeploy, on the project. The software enabled a single technician to manage everything from flights and mapping to analysis and reporting.

An early map of the site as construction got underway.

Unlocking Faster Surveys and 75% Cost Savings

The guy who managed the drone was Michael Lambert, Virtual Design and Construction Manager at Chasco. He was responsible for integrating drone mapping tools into the project. “We used drones to monitor the progress of the work, including monitoring subcontractors and tracking materials and equipment,” he says.

One of the most significant benefits of using DroneDeploy mapping technology on the Round Rock project was improved site surveying efficiency. “It was about a 75 percent savings by using the drone to perform some surveys that were very time-consuming, but where thousandths of a foot was not absolutely necessary,” Michael says. This lead to tremendous ROI overall.

What would have taken surveyors about eight hours took me about two hours, and you also have the cost savings of paying one person instead of a three-man crew.

Michael Lambert, VDC Manager, Chasco Constructors

Using drone imaging analysis enabled Chasco to capture and analyze much more granular site detail than a ground-based survey team could collect. At the same time, it freed up the surveyors to focus more on what they do best, such as high precision layout, bluetops, and cut sheets for utilities.

This drone-generated 3D model was captured with DroneDeploy and processed in just a few hours in the cloud. It was used to monitor work in progress and keep stakeholders informed.

Monitoring Work in Progress with Photos, Videos, Maps, and 3D Models

In addition to proving invaluable for survey work, the drone enabled project managers to keep a watchful eye on both their own work teams and subcontractors. Using DroneDeploy, Michael collected aerial imagery to make high-resolution maps and 3D models of the site.

Once the site was cleared and stripped, drone mapping was used to conduct a pre-construction topographic survey that defined the base ground control point (GCP) footprint for the life of the project. Michael used half a dozen fixed GCPs and several temporary ones to monitor ongoing project work, such as excavation and embankment. GCPs are particularly valuable because they allowed Chasco to transform the data to the local site control. This kept them in sync with the GPS used to determine accurate positioning.

During the excavation phase of the project, the drone made weekly flyovers of the site. Once vertical construction started, Michael collected drone data every other week.

A key piece to Michael’s workflow was made possible with DroneDeploy’s newest feature,Progress Photos. It automated the process of capturing aerial shots to monitor work progress. It also made it easy to incorporate that data into progress reports for key stakeholders.

The photo reports were particularly helpful in keeping the City of Round Rock aware of the progress made on site. As a result, the photos and 3D models ultimately allowed the city council to provide greater transparency to tax payers on money well spent — an added benefit Michael never saw coming.

Using DroneDeploy’s built-in annotation and measurement features, Michael was able to measure stockpile volumes, drop annotation markers, and attach notes and ground-level photos.

Cost-Effective Data Collection

As companies like Chasco have discovered, drones are a cost-effective data collection tool that provide a lot of bang for the buck. “Because drone hardware is relatively inexpensive, you can collect data every single week, or and even multiple times per week,” says Andy Putch, project manager at DroneDeploy.

Software helps convert that drone data into actionable business intelligence. For example, Michael used DroneDeploy’s annotation and measurement features to measure stockpile volumes and comment on maps shared in project status reports. “It’s easy to summarize project progress using the annotation marker,” he says.

Data from the drone also helped Chasco identify a potential issue related to excavation for a roadway.

One of the major milestones is what we call reaching sub-grade. When we surveyed the sub-grade, it wasn’t entirely correct. With the help of the drone, we were able to easily visualize the areas that were high or low.

Michael Lambert

Ultimately, Chasco’s project managers decided that no modifications were needed. This eliminated the “mobilization costs” that would have otherwise been required to complete additional site work.

Looking ahead, Michael predicts that using drones will become a no-brainer for every major construction project. “I think the vertical aspect and the use of infrared will grow immensely,” he says. “As drones become more accurate, they also will become an even better tool for civil construction work.”

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