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How Construction Firm Brasfield & Gorrie Evolved Their Drone Program
October 13, 2020
reduction in time required to create a Digital Elevation Model
saved in rework costs on one project
flights in 2020
Brasfield & Gorrie, ranked among the top 25 contractors by Engineering News-Record, started using DroneDeploy in 2015. Since then, they have seen their drone program grow to include 32 drones, and they’ve trained more than 60 people as Federal Aviation Administration-certified pilots. With 200 active job sites and many projects in the bid process at any given time, drone data has become integral to winning bids and improving inspections and safety on site. Below, we check in with Brasfield & Gorrie on how their drone program has changed over the years and how they’re using the latest technology and software today to improve operations.
Brasfield & Gorrie began exploring opportunities for drones on construction sites during a 2014 proof-of-concept partnership with a nearby university. The company’s Virtual Design + Construction (VDC) department was already using laser scanning, modeling, and other technology to simulate the construction environment and identify potential issues before construction starts. It was natural to explore then how drones could build on this work.
Brasfield & Gorrie began trialing DroneDeploy in 2015. Mapping job sites by drone with DroneDeploy software is a less expensive, faster, and safer way to conduct inspections. DroneDeploy also makes it possible to visualize places on site that are not easy to view safely, and it’s easy to share information within the team and with other stakeholders. Brasfield & Gorrie determined DroneDeploy was the right tool to scale their drone program.
Today, Brasfield & Gorrie project teams can request a drone and receive hands-on training on the job site. The company now uses drones and DroneDeploy at every stage of the construction project lifecycle, including:
Quality Assurance/Quality Control
The company’s VDC and Innovation teams support many pre-construction needs:
Quantifying site work
Site logistics plans
Site surveys can be complex and time-consuming, so using drones for topographical surveys was an obvious opportunity for process improvement. While cost savings and safety concerns were the primary motivators, Brasfield & Gorrie discovered by using DroneDeploy on multiple projects that they could capture more imagery as compared to other methods.
A field engineer will often shoot a site’s elevation during construction and compare progress to the final design drawing. On a healthcare project in Apopka, Florida, Brasfield & Gorrie piloted using DroneDeploy mapping to produce a Digital Elevation Model observed a 75% reduction in time required for this task. Additionally, after this information is uploaded and processed by DroneDeploy, it allows the user to see the existing grade compared against the final grade—an objective, guaranteed assurance.
Brasfield & Gorrie also uses DroneDeploy’s automated cut/fill analysis during earthmoving, which can help issue resolution internally or with trade contractors. DroneDeploy data continues to be useful as the company begins to install MEP systems through the underground package.
On another job site, Brasfield & Gorrie used project design plan overlays with their CAD drawings to verify work done on a handicap-accessible ramp. Only 10-12 hours before the concrete pour, they discovered that as-designed was different than as-built, saving a potential $10,000-plus in rework costs.
DroneDeploy’s PlanGrid integration helps Brasfield & Gorrie team members when reviewing data or processing requests for information. Since the entire company uses PlanGrid, workers can annotate maps, add teammates, and share projects with customers or owners in-app. Frequently, Brasfield & Gorrie uses the integration to layer DroneDeploy’s maps as base plans and measure against design files. Together this integration saves the team countless hours locating information and brings context to every job.
Brasfield & Gorrie’s streamlined process requires images to be captured starting on the first day on-site and taken throughout the entire construction process. In the future, the team hopes to see a world where drones are entirely autonomous, flying jobs with minimal instruction so that workers can focus more on communication, issue resolution, and validation—and less on data capture. Until then, they’re continuing to use drone data and 360 videos and photos to monitor site progress, share information with stakeholders, and validate their team’s or trade contractors’ work. Brasfield & Gorrie has a diverse portfolio of active jobs, and the technology they leverage must be flexible to meet those varied needs.
In 2020 so far, Brasfield & Gorrie sees more demand for drone data and an increase in individual pilots, with over 1,900 drone flights. Comparatively, they flew a total of 1,400 in 2019.
By giving project teams access to drone data, DroneDeploy enables our office personnel to virtually visit our sites more often without increasing their personal travel. Having more experienced eyes on our projects, in turn, makes our jobs safer and more productive
Hunter Cole, Innovation and Operational Technology Manager, Brasfield & Gorrie
DroneDeploy, plus their hardware partners, enable Brasfield & Gorrie to revolutionize some of their daily operations. In an innovative move, they’ve begun piloting other robotics, including the agile mobile robot Spot by Boston Dynamics, to perform building walkthroughs and inspections. When outfitted with a 360-degree camera, Spot allows workers to autonomously capture data from building interiors and take close-up photos for the bid process or inspection. Brasfield & Gorrie collaborated with DroneDeploy and Boston Dynamics to build a unique workflow to automate construction documentation, not only piloting this use of technology but also contributing to its development. DroneDeploy’s ability to process and visualize 360-degree videos and photos gives Brasfield & Gorrie's superintendents and project managers the interior and exterior data they need to obtain a comprehensive view of their job site.
By combining robotic automation with DroneDeploy’s interior and exterior progress documentation process, we’re able to more consistently capture data about the complete project. As a result, we’re able to make more informed decisions while allowing our team members to focus on tasks that require their expertise.
Russ Gibbs, Director of VDC, Innovation and Operational Technology, Brasfield & Gorrie
Brasfield & Gorrie has also added the Skydio 2 drone to its fleet. Skydio 2 allows for autonomous data capture, and when used with DroneDeploy, it provides comprehensive data processing and digital reconstruction of job sites. Skydio and DroneDeploy help with complex mapping when sites are in urban environments, during walkthroughs where the drone can follow the project team member and capture video, and for detailed inspections capturing assets like underneath overhangs and roofs.
The advanced obstacle avoidance features on Skydio 2 with the DroneDeploy flight app have enabled our teams to explore new types of drone missions that previously were unable to be executed safely, such as indoor flight and confined space inspections and automated flights on sites with active tower cranes.
Ryan Hittie, Innovation & Operational Technology Specialist, Brasfield & Gorrie
If you’re interested in learning more about drone solutions for construction organizations, watch our webinar on leveraging drone technology throughout the construction lifecycle, or read some of our other construction articles.