How Drone Data Helps Construction Companies Improvise in Times of Uncertainty

DroneDeploy assists in better planning, more precise inspections, and detailed documentation during decommissioning

Wed Apr 29 2020 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

The construction process goes through rigorous checks and tests when it comes to planning, executing, and documenting a project. Each detail of every job site is subject to meticulous scrutiny, as accuracy is critical within the industry. One small oversight, the tiniest of hurdles, or a whisper of a setback could delay a project for days, weeks, or even months. 

Unfortunately, though, setbacks are commonplace across many construction plans, and project managers are all too aware their improvisational skills will be challenged at some stage of the construction cycle. And with many construction projects put on hold or suffering delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, project managers must quickly decide the next best course of action for their site.

Intuition and gut-feelings only go so far when tackling obstacles. So it’s not surprising most project managers are seeking a competitive edge in construction enterprises. Today, hundreds of these project managers are citing drone technology as an essential asset when adjusting to adverse circumstances. Drone data offers a comprehensive, detailed analysis that can guide project managers around any situation, and allow their improvised decisions to be more thoughtful and more informed, avoiding further setbacks and significantly reducing budget overruns. In the event of an emergency or decommissioning, drone software can assist in documenting, as well as recording a site.

Construction companies go through many phases during each of their projects, with the three primary steps being planning or pre-construction, building or construction, and documentation or post-construction.

Planning

No matter how much planning goes into a construction site, contractors are inevitably met with obstacles - sometimes small, though sometimes massive. 

In several instances, during the planning stages of construction, companies have had to pivot around their original ideas. Whether it be objects otherwise unseen by the human eye, steep slopes in hills where the building would be difficult, or severe elevation issues, multiple impediments can be challenging during pre-construction. 

Photo credit: PCIAW

DroneDeploy enables these companies to run detailed maps - in 2D, 3D, topographical, or orthomosaic - which is imperative when assessing the overall site. These tools have minimized the amount of time it takes to gather site survey data, as well as cut down the analysis time, ensuring planners are estimating costs and the time it will take for contractors to get the site ready for construction.

Building

The actual building phase of a construction project is arguably the most complex. In the planning stage, it is much simpler to make adjustments on the fly or redesign a building through maps, drawings, or blueprints. But when construction gets underway, the auditing and overall quality assurance of a project become crucial when hoping to operate efficiently and stay on budget. 

One of the most prevalent issues a construction company can face during building is water damage; this can create a major rework for all parties involved. So if a problem is detected, project managers must be able to improvise quickly to keep from holding up production. 

Brasfield & Gorrie

Brasfield & Gorrie (B&G), one of the largest privately-held construction firms in the nation, was returning work on a project that had sat incomplete for nearly a decade. When they came back to the site, they noticed what appeared to be a leak or condensation build-up in several glass panels on the 25th floor.

Using traditional methods, B&G would have had to manually inspect it, sending up a worker (or workers) on an aerial man lift. They had initially budgeted $250,000 for the manual inspection of this building. Instead, the general contractor used DroneDeploy to perform the check, resulting in the entire inspection budget to come in around $2,500 - 1% of the original budgeted cost. Using DroneDeploy also put zero of its workers at risk.

By utilizing DroneDeploy, B&G better positioned itself to make quick decisions on the job site without having to interrupt construction. The general contractor’s improvisation, combined with the detailed data pulled by drones, allowed the project to move forward, undisturbed. Drone data was truly an “ah-ha” moment for how B&G could perform its operations con the job site. Since this use case, B&G has completed over 750 successful internal job site flights and has successfully scaled up its drone program.

Post-Construction

Once construction ends, or the unfortunate occurrence of decommissioning gets underway, problems do not always subside. Frequently, owners, architects, contractors, and subcontractors can engage in multiple rounds of litigation, adding yet another project expenditure. These occurrences are so familiar it is a standard operating procedure for construction companies to build litigation costs into the budget. But since issues on the job site so widely vary, companies are not always aware which, if any, litigation will come their way. 

Rogers-O'Brien Construction Site

Take, for example, a discrepancy that occurred between Rogers-O’Brien (“RO”) and one of its subcontractors. A subcontractor attempted to charge RO more than the original quote for services rendered. In the past, manually surveying land for projects was time-consuming and inaccurate, usually resulting in the owner paying the subcontractor’s quote without the luxury of an accurate verification. But RO found they could avoid the subcontractor’s change order by using DroneDeploy’s maps as visual verification. RO could present these maps to the subcontractor, providing concrete proof the change order was unnecessary, and saving them thousands of dollars.

Realizing the benefits of such documentation, going forward, RO began using drones and DroneDeploy to produce progress photos for enhanced quality assurance, a much-needed alternative to the images they captured from crewed aircraft – which previously cost the company an estimated $6,000 per flight.

Jones|Carter, a full-service engineering firm, had a similar discrepancy. A subcontractor claimed to have completed a certain level of earthworks. But using DroneDeploy’s side-by-side feature and Cut/Fill analysis, Jones|Carter provided the subcontractor with proper visual documentation that the work had not been completed, avoiding all overages.

Examples such as these are not to say intuition and gut-feelings are insignificant qualities on job sites. Considering a contractor’s tenure and experience, they can prove invaluable. But by also deploying drones and capturing data using DroneDeploy, these qualities will no doubt be enhanced. This level of data and insight can heighten the improvisation skills project managers already possess, better positioning the team to make careful, thoughtful decisions, and saving money along the way - essential in a post-COVID world.

Interested in learning more about DroneDeploy, check out this e-book, Extending the Value of BIM
Throughout the Construction Lifecycle
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