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Drones will come into their own as industry pressure mounts

Over the past six months we’ve seen unmanned aerial systems take on new applications as more industries recognise their uses.

These UAS are making a difference all over the world, from the film sets of Hollywood to archaeological dig sites.

The construction industry typically tends to be more conservative when it comes to adopting new technology. With so much pressure to deliver projects on time and to budget, professionals can be hesitant to move away from tried and tested methods they’ve grown to trust.

However, as contractors are forced towards more modern working practices due to new regulations such as the BIM mandate, there are a growing number adopting UAS.

Safety benefit

One area where UAS are making huge differences in the construction industry is health and safety. Site inspections, for example, are much easier and safer when using UAS.

Inspections on dangerous or difficult-to-reach areas, such as scaffolding or cranes, can be carried out in half the time by a single operator who is safely on the ground.

Recording progress on a construction site during a build is another area where UAS can benefit health and safety.

“Using a drone meant Caintech could survey the entire mountain region without risking the safety of its teams”

Providing accurate status updates to clients is costly for contractors and requires additional people on site for longer periods of time. Introducing aerial mapping onto a project means one operator can quickly conduct a reliable and accurate analysis of the progress – and then analyse the information safely off site.

Say a company wants to know exactly how much material had been excavated during a project. By quickly loading a predetermined flight plan to the UAS, the unit can be launched and in less than half an hour and data collected from the site’s footprint.

In the comfort of the office, the information can be used to create a 3D model that accurately shows the volume of material that had been removed.

Highland example

It’s not just mid-build where aerial mapping can make a difference to safety, however.

The initial stages of a project can be extremely dangerous, as civil engineers and build teams are often subject to hostile environments and hazardous sites where carrying out surveys can be particularly challenging.

An Inverness-based surveying company Caintech recently worked on a project to create a new cable track in the Scottish highlands at elevations over 860 m. For survey teams using conventional methods, surveying would have required weeks in the field, working across tough terrain and in extreme weather conditions.

Using a drone meant Caintech could survey the entire mountain region – at an altitude of around 1 km above sea level – without risking the safety of its teams.

“As the pressure mounts, contractors will have to consider how technology can make a difference to project budgets and timescales”

The health and safety implications of the UAS on that particular project were huge. Without the possibility of aerial imagery, the workforce on a job of this scale would have been vast – and exposing that number of people to extreme weather conditions can be very dangerous.

UAS meant Caintech could reduce the number of people on the ground from three survey teams to just one operator, and what would have previously taken a few weeks took five days.

Over the next five years, the construction industry will be tackling huge infrastructure projects and widespread housing shortages.

As the pressure mounts, contractors will have to consider how technology can make a difference to project budgets and timescales.

With their potential to make construction faster, more cost-effective and safer, it can only be a matter of time before UAS are commonplace on all construction sites.

Mat Kellett is mapping & OEM sales manager at Topcon GB & Ireland



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