This is a guest post by Patrick Hogan, CEO of Handle.com.
According to the United States Drone Market Report 2019, the US commercial drone market is growing rapidly and is expected to quadruple its current size in 2024. As more businesses look to take advantage of the commercial opportunities that drone technology brings, commercial investment in this tech segment will continue to grow.
The many features of drones, including precise controls, computer vision, object avoidance tech flight planning, GPS capabilities, geofencing, huge carrying capacities, and artificial intelligence, make the industrial-grade models capable of fulfilling many commercial construction purposes. When deployed properly, drones can easily perform a wide range of roles that were previously considered labor-intensive and time-consuming.
When deployed properly, drones can easily perform a wide range of roles that were previously considered labor-intensive and time-consuming.
One particular sector that is one of the first to harness the benefits of drone technology is the construction industry. In fact, drones are quickly becoming regarded as vital to improving construction site safety. Let’s take a look at the role of drones in solving safety issues on construction sites.
Site inspections are an important part of all phases of a construction project, starting with the pre-construction phase. This process is crucial to ensuring that everything proceeds smoothly and safely to the next project phase. Site inspectors have the vital job of identifying potential hazards that are present on the site before giving the go-ahead signal to contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers. However, this job can be quite dangerous to humans as some areas are unstable or simply difficult to access.
Drone technology makes the job of site inspectors safer as they can conduct inspections remotely without entering hazardous areas. In addition, drone inspections are faster and cost-effective. A human-led site survey can take weeks to complete, especially on large construction sites. Drone inspections can be done by one person offsite in a relatively short time, reducing the cost of additional personnel and other expenses due to delays. With 3D mapping software, near- and far-infrared cameras, and laser range finders, drones can provide precise measurements without the need for repeat inspections.
Construction Site Monitoring
As construction projects increase in both scope and complexity, so do the sizes of construction sites. In fact, one of the biggest challenges in construction project management is monitoring a large construction site.
There are different key monitoring areas at each stage of a construction project. During the initial stages of a project, project managers need to monitor field workers digging in deep to lay the foundation. During the ground construction stage, project managers focus on monitoring field workers working atop scaffolding. Other monitoring areas include site security surveillance and generating overall project progress reports.
Thanks to drone technology, all of these monitoring functions can be done faster, more efficiently, and most importantly, more safely than ground personnel can. There are plenty of safety hazards on a construction site, especially during the initial stages of a project, and monitoring by ground personnel requires sufficient preparation. With drone technology, humans no longer need to navigate dangerous areas to monitor a site. Construction site personnel can simply deploy drones on-site to send real-time video footage of site conditions to project managers. This video data can be analyzed and transformed further into a 3D-mapped model of the site, which can then be compared to the initial plan forecast to determine if the project is progressing within schedule.
Construction site personnel can simply deploy drones on-site to send real-time video footage of site conditions to project managers.
Aside from these, drones can also track moving elements on construction sites, including people, material supplies, and equipment, giving project managers important information to determine optimal employee schedules, maintenance dates, and material supply levels.
Tall structures such as skyscrapers, towers, and bridges pose a risk of falling from a great height to construction workers, not to mention the arrangements needed to access them can be costly. Drones can replace human inspectors and carry out planned or reactive maintenance inspections of these high structures. The data captured by drones during the construction phase can help plan the maintenance of the structure and help building owners renovate and upgrade certain parts of a structure. With thermal imaging, drones can detect leaks and even identify areas where leaks can happen, giving owners the ability to proactively maintain their facility.
The Future of Drones in Construction
The construction industry is swiftly embracing technology in its pursuit of efficiency and innovation--from automation in back office functions like accounting, lien filing and management, and marketing to field functions like safety and risk management where drones play a huge part. The role of drone technology in improving construction safety has no sign of diminishing any time soon.
While drone technology brings many benefits to the industry, there are some risks involved. The presence of a drone in close proximity to construction workers creates new hazards that need to be studied further. Operator errors, unstable flying conditions, and hardware failures all pose a significant risk to employees working on site, which is why proper training and development of drone pilots is crucial to a successful drone program.
In just a few years, drones can be as common as forklifts and cranes on the construction site.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires commercial drone pilots to obtain a remote pilot airman certificate. It is important that industry leaders follow this regulation and other FAA regulations, such as not flying drones directly over people, to minimize the risk drones may bring to the site. Only those who are trained to operate drones should be allowed to do so, especially for monitoring and inspecting construction sites. In addition, operators should have a firm grasp of the construction site and consider the obstacles that the drone can crash into, such as temporary walls, materials, and equipment.
That said, drone technology is a huge leap forward for the construction industry, especially with its reputation for being one of the least digitized sectors in the country. In just a few years, drones can be as common as forklifts and cranes on the construction site. The sky is the limit for the potential of drone technology in improving safety in the construction industry.
About the Author:
Patrick Hogan is the CEO of Handle.com, where they build software that helps contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers with late payments. Handle.com also provides funding for construction businesses in the form of invoice factoring, material supply trade credit, and mechanics lien purchasing.