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Finding Success Using Drones in Construction
August 13, 2019
per element inspection
decrease in inspection costs
in new projects
Many unique challenges arise during the phases of construction and building projects. Even the most seasoned site and business managers can struggle to avoid delays and cost overages, while simultaneously improving operations. Effective communication and collaboration across teams are also crucial, with construction companies constantly in search of new, innovative ways to overcome such challenges. But Rogers-O’Brien Construction (RO), a leading general contractor in Texas, has found a competitive edge in the form of drones. By utilizing drones and DroneDeploy, the company saved time, increased efficiency, and avoided costly budget overruns.
“Drone imagery has saved us thousands of man-hours in being more accurate across sites as we build.”
James Holmes, VDC Specialist, RO
RO has been providing a wide range of pre-construction and construction management services since 1969, but they had been experiencing many of the same challenges seen on several job sites. In order to ameliorate these challenges, they went looking for ways to reduce overall costs and improve quality control across operations.
In its storied history, RO has been a pioneer in utilizing new technologies. They were one of the first companies to rely on professional photographers, helicopter pilots, and satellite imagery to capture images of their construction sites. But RO also found these solutions were far from financially prudent, at times traditional aerial photography costing up to $1,500 an hour, with typical flight times lasting up to 6 hours. The company knew these exorbitant costs were not sustainable.
Another major challenge was safety across job sites. Safety is paramount at RO, and its team is well aware construction projects present a manifold of safety hurdles. With such expansive structures, workers oftentimes must traverse narrow beams in high winds with dangerous scaffolding surrounding them. “Being able to use drones to inspect parts of the building that would otherwise be challenging or risky for a person to do so, has given us such peace of mind,” says Holmes.
Because of these extreme costs and underwhelming data, RO began leveraging drone technology to augment its operations. And, over the past five years, the company has produced nearly $3 billion in construction volume. Today, on all of their projects, it is now assumed up to three drone pilots will be used to obtain aerial imagery and capture detailed data.
Soon after implementing drones in its operations, RO saw the benefits:
Greater Quality Control – RO could make sure all structures were built according to the design specifics, massively reducing human error throughout the construction phases.
Stronger Documentation and Communication – Using drone data to have a full view of sites helps open communication around constructability issues with both owners and architects, leading to stronger trust and confidence in work.
Improved Safety – RO is able to inspect intricate sections of buildings that would be nearly impossible to examine solely with a human.
RO also saw monetary benefits across its business segments. For instance, on average, a single $50 million project requires approximately 1,000 project elements that need to be verified and audited. This not only takes a great deal of time but can dip far into the budget. For the $50 million projects, RO estimated the labor costs associated with the verifications to be approximately $16,000.
For those projects, deploying drones to perform the same verifications cost RO a paltry $44.
Tape Measure/RTS – Two-man crew can verify ~10-15 elements/hour at $200/hr ($16/element)
Aerial Map – One Project Engineer can verify ~720 elements/hour at $32/hr ($.044/element)
As a result of its improved communication, greater quality control, and massive savings, RO saw more contracts come their way. Shortly after they cut element verification costs by more than 99%, an architect contracted them for two more projects - one estimated at $50 million, the other just shy of $70 million.
RO also uses the Bluebeam integration, auto-exporting maps into project folders in Bluebeam. The company is starting to test importing designs from Bluebeam to DroneDeploy and overlaying them on top of maps.
“Many people within our company use Bluebeam for site documentation - the integration with Bluebeam has saved me from unnecessary manual work. The most up-to-date images and maps are automatically exported to the right project folder. Now, when people ask me questions about any site, I know they are looking at a photo or map of reality. DroneDeploy provides us the clearest view of each of our sites, and we now have a standard method of how we visually document each site."
James Holmes, VDC Specialist, RO
The Future Ahead
RO is eager to explore added ways drones and DroneDeploy can help their job sites. The company is planning more machine learning uses, automating design and identifying issues without having to flip through multiple drawings.
The road ahead for RO appears paved with success. With a fleet of drones at their disposal, and clear and accurate data at their fingertips, the company is primed to create accurate projects in a timely, cost-effective manner.