Five years ago, very few people had heard of drones and even fewer could imagine how many people would buy them and use them just for fun. However, now there are drones everywhere.
The average person can purchase a drone for a few hundred dollars and fly them, race them, capture video and photos and much more. Now that drones are so readily available, how can drones be used in construction? Specifically, how are they applicable in the heavy civil construction space? They have many value add applications that address key challenges and there are three major areas that drones can be used by heavy civil contractors.
The traditional method of tracking inventory is flyovers and the infamous educated guess. Flyovers can be expensive and time consuming and educated guesses inaccurate. Most companies only perform a flyover with a third party once a year to true up inventory for the annual audit. Now that drones are available, a company can perform monthly flyovers of locations and volumetric analysis performed by a third party to keep more regular, accurate inventory. This method combined with some volumetric phone apps can provide heavy civil contractors a more realistic, timely, cost-effective inventory.
Volumetric measurement and grade control on large dirt projects
The traditional method of volume measurement and grade design on such projects is to use a survey team. Now drone flyovers are being performed on jobsites, capturing material volumes and feeding those volumes to CAD designers who then build that information into their 3-D models. These models are used for automated grade control on the equipment in the field. Along with automated grade control, volumes captured by the drones are used to true up reported quantities on the job. This method allows for a more accurate percentage, complete tracking and cost controls. Integrating drones into the survey process allows for better grade control and quantity tracking.
There are multiple reasons to perform flyovers on the job. The first is to track changes/progress on the jobs and have high quality video and images to showcase the company’s work. The second reason is to review and find potential safety risks on the job and to document for the DOT/Owner proper traffic control.
Stockpile inventory, volumetric measurement and grade control, and job flyover are only a few examples of the use of drones for a heavy civil contractor. As with any new technology the application and value is just beginning. Beyond inventory and quantity tracking, machine control and flyovers, the sky is the limit. Take the time to embrace new technology as it will shape the way construction is performed in the future.