Drones have tremendous potential in infrastructure projects. They are tailor-made for a sector “where uptime is money, crews are expensive, and structures and facilities are often expected to last 50 to 100 years,” stated Skylogic Research.
Drone technologies can be used at almost every stage in infrastructure, starting from construction and investment monitoring, through maintenance and asset inventory, according to PwC.
Let’s look at four key ways that drones can boost efficiency and safety on infrastructure projects.
At the beginning of an infrastructure project, contractors use survey teams to provide an accurate reading of the site’s topography. Depending on the size of the site, that process might take weeks. Using drones, a company can get a survey-grade view of a site in a fraction of the time for about one-tenth of the cost.
Today, surveying is often a manual process with surveyors having to be constantly on-site tracking progress. It also can be a dangerous task, because the surveyors are working around the machines that are on the ground. With a drone, the same work can be done aerially with a negligible safety risk.
With drones, infrastructure contractors can take video or still images of a site in a fixed geographic pattern and at a fixed time, like every Monday morning. Then they can utilize analytics tools to track changes over time and leverage change detection to compare those changes against the project plans. The drone images can provide a very precise measurement of where a project is compared to where it should be to help keep the job on track.
Materials management is easier and more efficient when a contractor can see from aerial images exactly where materials are on site at any given point in time. On large jobsites, drones might fly over the site twice a week, for instance, to keep track of materials. The road structure used to bring materials onto the site also changes over time and optimizing that structure can be challenging. Drone imagery can help there, too.
As a job progresses, project managers can use drones to perform infrastructure quality inspections. Drones can navigate infrastructure with agility and eliminate the safety risks involved in having a person working at height. As drone-based inspections become more common on jobsites, drone capabilities are also beginning to see adoption in more complex environments, such as bridge and tower inspections, where the safety aspect is even more compelling.
Boosting Efficiency and Safety
While drone usage is increasing, there are still many contractors that are not yet deeply familiar with the what, why and how of drone use. Even if they have a drone plan in place and are doing flyovers, analyzing the data the drone produces can present a challenge. Companies often look to tap services to help them make the best use of drones and their applications and data in their quest to improve efficiency and safety in infrastructure projects.
Vice President – Advanced Solutions, United Rentals
Helge Jacobsen joined United Rentals as vice president, internal audit and operational excellence in 2012, and became vice president, operations excellence in December 2014. Previously, he was vice president – global sales operations with Avaya, Inc.