Drones have found a home at construction and engineering firms, where they have become an indispensable tool. Over the last few years, they’ve helped to improve safety, cut costs, deliver better data, and increase the speed of work.  

Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction industry has remained fairly strong. As a matter of fact, drones have actually helped some construction companies continue working while protecting workers and gathering data remotely.  Drones have proven their worth.

Some of our construction customers have been using drones for a few years, and they’ve let us know about the positive impacts. Here we’ve provided some common insights they’ve shared that others in the industry will find useful.

1. Focus on results from the start

The most successful companies are results-focused. It’s no different for a drone program. Even your first use cases should align with company goals.

Today, nearly all construction firms are looking to cut costs and reduce risk. It’s an easy place to start. Can you use a drone to minimize a worker’s time up on scaffolding? Can drones collect and analyze data faster than a work crew? These uses are ripe for time, money, and safety savings.

For example, drones can fly mapping missions to quickly create 2D or 3D digital models. Topographic surveys are being completed in minutes rather than days, and at a fraction of the cost. And workers are using drones to increase safety on active work sites.

Here are several more ways drones are being used by engineering firms:

  • Site analysis — using photogrammetry and LiDAR to do surveys
  • Construction progress monitoring
  • Estimating cut and fill quantities for earthwork operations
  • Calculating stockpile volumes
  • Measuring hazardous areas like roofs, bridges, erosion control areas, and excavation zones
  • Recording demolition projects to monitor any impact on neighboring buildings

2. Track your budget and benefits

In order to scale a drone program, you need to show executives that drones are worth the investment. They usually want to see dollar savings.

Be ready with a cost analysis. Your proposed budget should include:

  • Drone hardware
  • Equipment such as batteries and safety gear
  • Software to store and process data
  • Management tools
  • Training costs
  • Pilots’ wages

On the savings side, be sure to include things like job hours saved, worker safety, and the business value of your data. The more positive points you can accrue for your program, the more likely you are to stay funded.

As an example, general contractor Hensel Phelps was using helicopters to get footage of buildings for marketing videos at a cost of $14K to $20K per flight. Hensel Phelps first deployed drones to prove they could dramatically cut these costs. Then they ramped up their program and put drones to use in other areas.

For Brasfield & Gorrie, using drones to speed up site selection was an early use case that improved efficiency. The company uses drones to gather data, helping them assess sites in days or hours when it used to take months. And the work is done more safely — a key corporate value for the company.

3. Standardize your operations as you grow

After seeing early positive results, large enterprises often grow their drone program to include multiple locations. They may find it a challenge to track where, when, and how pilots are flying with operations spread out. Shared spreadsheets just don’t cut it with all the data that needs to be managed by diverse teams. This includes:

  • Pilot information
  • Equipment data
  • Flight data
  • Checklists
  • Operating procedures
  • Incident reports

It’s smart to consider a drone management platform part of your plan to expand. The goal is consistent, high-quality drone operations. This means planning flights, checking weather and airspace, logging missions, and tracking safety is done the same way every time. And you want this data to be visible to managers, safety teams, and execs.

Skyward helped Moss & Associates launch a drone program based on strong written practices. As Moss’s program grows and takes on more missions, they maintain high-quality operations. The goal is for every crew to follow program standards, fly safely, and get good results.

4. Look to the future: cellular-connected drones and 5G

Programs start by proving that drones are saving money and crews are flying safely. Once you’ve done that, start to look ahead to the big use cases that will help your company down the road. Preparing now can help your program be ready as tech and regulations advance.

One of the most exciting use cases coming up is cellular-connected drones. Soon, connecting drones to the network could enable drones to fly farther and transmit live data back to the office. Ultimately, this may enable a system of UTM (Universal Traffic Management), making it possible for crewed and uncrewed aircraft to safely share the airspace.

Skyward is proud to partner with our construction and engineering customers. Today, we’re happy to offer management tools, best practices, and a look into the future. As a Verizon company, we’re looking forward to how 5G could power tomorrow’s drone operations.

Want to learn more about drones in construction?

Check out our guide, Drones in Construction, for even more best practices and use cases from our customers and industry experts.

Skyward Drones in Construction eBook