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Drones are high-flying help for projects of any size

The benefits include improved accuracy, efficiency and safety


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April 30, 2019 by John Bleasby

When it comes to real estate projects, aerial drones can provide aerial photography and videos that pack tremendous marketing punch. However, drone technology and data analytics can also provide an efficiency boost even before shovels hit the dirt.

Canadian Contractor talked with Trevor Tetzlaff, Manager of SITECH Technologies, for Finning Canada. Tetzlaff has worked with construction customers of all sizes to help them adapt drone technology from idea through implementation.

Drones are certainly popular for recreational and marketing purposes. How do they fit into a builder’s project planning strategy?
You’re right — the use of drones today is commonplace. However, it may surprise some to learn that last year, drone usage was highest in the construction industry. For builders, they are no longer viewed as high-tech gadgets. They are now being used by both large construction companies and small contractors to improve productivity and create more efficiencies on sites.

Teaming with a technology partner is key to safe drone piloting and efficient data collection

What are some of the reasons for this increase in drone usage?
Perhaps the biggest is simply that drones can help address two all-too-common concerns in the construction industry: being over time or over budget. This is no surprise, given there are so many variables to consider. Minimizing that uncertainty and creating more predictability throughout the project lifecycle is tied directly to embracing innovations in industry which includes the use of drones to gain valuable analytic insights

How do drones help address those concerns?
There are so many variables to consider, but increased worker safety, jobs that stay on schedule and budget and saving time and resources are just a few of the benefits associated with drones. For example, almost every project requires surveying, mapping, measurements and project management. Drones can help eliminate the time workers spend on these tasks, and the accuracy of the data collection means less chance of human error and a better chance of identifying problems before they become costly.

Can you give an example of how this can aid in the bidding process?
The bidding process for projects of any size is getting more and more competitive. Plans from engineers bring a number of calculations and estimates, however, smaller contractors often do not have the resources to do their own measurements. But today, a good technology partner can provide drones and data analytics as a cost-effective service to construction clients of all sizes.

Drones shorten the time it takes to survey a site manually, thus making everything more precise. This could be key to winning a new job, and getting your bid in faster. And using the analytics to get accurate measurements and plans the first time, puts you miles ahead of your competitors. Drones are particularly useful for accessing hard-to-reach areas, capturing data and aerial views of sites, which in turn can reduce risks by identifying problems before they become costly issues – or even worse, legal issues. Data doesn’t lie.

What about the use of drones after construction begins?
Using drones during the construction process means residential builders and real estate companies can focus on completing the project on time with lower costs and fewer resources, while acquiring the data need to keep the job on track and clients updated. For smaller companies and contractors, this is a great, affordable option.

You’re suggesting drones can be a customer service tool for contractors?
Yes. Contractors can take pictures and collect data remotely with drones operated from anywhere, anytime. Mining that huge amount of data and professional aerial imagery offers contractors the opportunity to send updates to clients who are understandably anxious to know the status of their project. A picture is worth a thousand words, but few contractors have the time to walk around the job site taking photos, and hiring a professional is costly. Data can provide an instant ROI while providing peace of mind for the customer.

A GPS base links with the aerial drone to gather precise site information

Buying a drone is relatively easy, but what about safety and training?
With advances in technology, drones are becoming easier and more cost-effective to operate. However, there are a lot of regulations associated with operating a drone and we would highly recommend operators get the appropriate training from a technology partner who can help them navigate the regulatory environment and direct them to the appropriate courses and certifications to fly safely and legally. Rules and regulations change quickly and it’s the technology partner’s job to keep on top of it.

What about interpreting the data gathered?
That’s the biggest challenge and the most important component — making sense of the data and analyzing the information gathered. And again, that’s where selecting the right technology partner comes in. With the right partner, you can better understand your mapping, measurements and plans, and use the data collected to better inform your job site, helping with overall business productivity and efficiency.

Can all this be scaled to smaller companies?
Absolutely. At SITECH for example, we work with companies of all sizes, including smaller contractors, to help determine the best starter package to ensure customers stay on budget, find the right training, and get the most out of their data analytics for the biggest ROI. Costs also include access to our 24/7 cloud-based system with valuable production tracking and site assessment information.

The construction industry is evolving quickly. If you aren’t on board with technology, you risk being left behind. Drones and data analytics have enabled a very traditional industry to create a whole new way of doing business even for smaller companies. The key to success for any business is to adopt and hardness innovative ways of thinking. Data is helping contractors get to the next level, providing them with insights and know-how to be better, faster and more efficient. Those early adopters who get on-board with technology can gain a significant edge in a very competitive market.

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JBleasby@canadiancontractor.ca

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