Rewriting Construction Monitoring with Drone Technology
Boots on the ground or eyes in the sky? Don’t shoot! It’s not a spy. Drones are here to rewrite how we monitor construction sites. Would you rather send out a drone to capture images or tether a human to a steep sloped roof while juggling a camera? OSHA seems to be in favor of drone use. We say, bring on the drones, but with a few caveats. It’s a new technology so it’s wise to be somewhat skeptical.
This past fall at the EMG Forum, we had the opportunity to discuss drone technology in the construction industry with featured speaker and construction management professional Mike Korman of Right Stuff Drones. For the average Joe, drones are easy to purchase for recreational enjoyment. However, for those wanting to use drones commercially, it’s a different story. According to Korman, it has challenges, including the need to be familiar with FAA regulations, licensing, and privacy protection laws (keeping those with shotguns at bay). For those determined professionals willing to invest the time, Korman believes commercial drone use can provide great ROI for commercial construction. Other industry analysts agree.
“For builders, the case for return on investment is straightforward. Drones are cheaper to fly than manned aircraft and faster than human surveyors, and they collect data far more frequently than either, letting construction workers track a site’s progress with a degree of accuracy previously unknown in the industry.” (Fortune.com, The Construction Industry is in Love with Drones)
Drones can provide detailed information in a way that that the construction industry hasn’t seen before. Let’s look at some of the applications according to Right Stuff Drones :
- Building, Structure & Industrial Inspections
- Project Planning
- Progress Monitoring
- Panoramic Photos
- Plan Overlays
- Feature Extraction
- GIS | CAD Data Integration
- Site Maps and Measurements
- Aerial Data Collection
The Right Fit for You? A Few Pros and Cons
Are drones the right fit for every construction monitoring project? 2017 is the year that will likely produce tangible data on ROI as practical use increases. To stay competitive, we predict that more and more companies will turn to this developing technology. Here are a few of my thoughts on trends and practical applications for drone use in the construction industry:
- It‘s an easy and quick way to get eyes on a project from a different perspective
- Best way to collect real time aerial images, map 2D and 3D models vs Google Earth
- It provides a high level of detail while capturing images from several angles
- It can be integrated with a software project management tool (ProTrack), providing real-time updates
- Video technology dropped into ProTrack per site
- Google mapping technology per site
- Up-to-date/live images vs. Google images – which can be dated
- Safety benefits – no need to place a person on a roof or other difficult to access location
- Shows progress to clients in an exciting new format/perspective
- Technology and scale are improving and will continue to do so
Drone vs Project Manager
Evolving technology will always be met with skepticism and here are some of the biggest concerns and questions we’ve heard:
- Drone operator’s lack of understanding of key points to assess while onsite
- Drone operator’s lack of understanding of construction anomalies
- How will the drone operator know what to look for without a project manager looking over his shoulder?
- Scalability of drone use in construction management and monitoring
- Will the technology progress at a rate that provides answers more quickly than an onsite project manager?
- Will one drone be enough at a complex site?
- Will multiple drones be needed and how will that affect the cost for assessments and monitoring?
- Drone use is still a line item on the budget vs. sending out a project manager. A project manager has intimate familiarity with the project and can address store/operator concerns, contractor issues, assess budget, schedule, and quality impacts. A drone operator is just a “technical expert.”
- Regulations are still developing and vary by state and municipality.
- What are the risks to the client if the operator is not properly licensed?
- Determining when a drone should be utilized
- Which organizations and project types would benefit the most?
Time will tell if drone use is here to stay in the construction industry. Boots on the ground or eyes in the sky? What are your thoughts?
Featured Employee – Greg Bailey, Director of Architecture and Engineering
Greg is our quiet Renaissance man. He is brilliant, thoughtful, and has a professional pedigree that astounds. He’s held the role of Director of EMG’s Architecture & Engineering Division since 2013, with over 12 years at EMG. Greg is responsible for overseeing Property Condition Assessments, Construction Services, Seismic Risk Assessments, ALTA Boundary Surveys and Specialty Studies not limited to Moisture Intrusion, Structural, Roofing, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing and Infrared Thermography Studies. Beyond those duties, Greg has led several key EMG programs and initiatives including the HUD Green Retrofit Program, FEMA Energy Program, Bureau of Indian Affairs Facility Assessment, and Washington DC Public Schools. Impressive.
The Amusement Park / Scuba Project
While Greg works on a wide range of projects, one of his favorites involved an amusement park! His work involved the underwater visual assessment of a pier structure of the park’s most popular ride which happens to be built on a system of piers extending into a lake. EMG partnered with a structural engineering scuba diving team to perform this unique assessment, during which a major structural deterioration was found. Greg was proud to be part of a complex project ultimately making a difference that protected the life and safety of park goers and alerted our client to what could have been a very significant liability.
Greg spends as much time as possible with his wife and three daughters. He describes the women in his life to be “as smart and caring as they are beautiful.” A lifelong snow ski enthusiast, you might see him at his favorite ski resort, ALTA in Utah.
EMG Shines the Light on Exterior Pole Conditions: Safety First
Let there be light! Light pole condition assessments are a critical component of an overall facility site condition assessment. The failure of one pole in your parking lot can prove to be disastrous. Facility Directors and Managers should inspect light poles during semi-annual site reviews to ensure they are structurally sound and damage is not present. Minimize risk with our comprehensive two-step approach to light pole condition assessments:
|1) Visual Check||2) Structural Assessment Comprised of Ultrasonic Gauge Test|
|An EMG project manager performs a visual inspection to rate the risk of pole conditions at the client site. This typically involves the engagement of one project manager and can take between 1-2 hours or more, depending upon the number of poles at the site.||An EMG project manager performs an assessment to determine structural deterioration compared to factory specifications. The tolerances of the ultrasonic gauge are set to a scale that determines the thickness of the pole. This process may take several hours|
Light Pole Condition Assessment Findings and Deliverables
After a Visual Check and/or an Ultrasonic Test, the Light Pole condition findings are organized by degree of risk, and provided to clients in an easy to understand color-coded format:
Red: client should take immediate action as a safety issue is present.
Yellow: pole needs further review and concerns should be addressed soon.
Green: structural integrity of the pole is in good condition.
Check out our Site Condition Assessment Tip Sheet for more details and tips.
Case Study: National Retailer Light Pole Program
EMG was engaged to perform a batch of Visual Checks and Structural Tests (Ultrasonic Gauge) at approximately 100 pre-determined locations (e.g. – extreme weather conditions) for a client.
At the pre-determined locations, EMG project managers identified poles to be replaced prior to imminent failure. EMG was then asked to provide a Visual Check across the entire chain. We were able to immediately determine Red/Yellow/Green asset categories. Through EMG’s onsite vendor interaction and light pole condition assessments, an unbiased audit of the client’s preventative maintenance contractor(s) was performed. EMG was able to relay to the client that their vendors weren’t performing duties as promised. Yellow and red category poles should have been addressed much earlier had the preventative maintenance vendors performed per their contract with the client. EMG was able to set up nationwide corrective action to alleviate potential liability to the client.