The use of drones on construction sites
According to a Tech Nation Report published in 2018, the UK tech sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the rest of the British economy. However, when it comes to the construction sector, the industry has been slow to implement new or emerging digital technology strategies. It is estimated that if the construction industry got up to speed with digitisation and adoption of new technologies as standard practice, it could gain an estimated $1.6 trillion in value.
One means of increasing the value and productivity of the sector is the use of drone technology, which is now branching out of the recreational space and into the commercial sector. It is estimated that adoption of this technology within the commercial sector will expand the GDP of the UK construction sector alone by some £8.6bn in 2030.
There are a number of considerable benefits of using drone technology. For example, firms are able to capture key data to monitor the build process through the lifecycle of a construction site, from initial site establishment, to final practical completion. This allows project managers to determine whether they are falling behind on the programme, or if they remain on track or even ahead of the original schedule of works. This is key when relying on ‘just in time’ materials to be delivered to the site. Existing technology can also be used to ascertain whether all the materials ordered have arrived safely on site and in the right quantity.
This use of an aerial view allows project managers to compose site surveys in a swift manner without having a ‘feet on the ground’ approach. This avoids a considerable amount of time and money when working on larger sites, especially if senior associates have to be taken away from other key roles to undertake a survey. Building sites are an ever-changing environment, and in the majority of cases it would be possible to integrate these artificially intelligent programmes smoothly to ensure that projects remain on track.
Contractors on site can hugely benefit from this technology by harnessing both the software and drones that are already available. Right now, there is software available that allows the contractor to digitally overlay the various updated plans of the site and compare them to those that were originally drawn. With up to millimetres of precision, contractors are able to ensure that key stages on a building project, such as concrete pours, are carried out to the exact specification the first time around. Embracing and utilising technology in stages like this is could be exceptionally beneficial considering that an incorrect pour by a couple of millimetres could cause a damaging ‘butterfly effect’ of rectifying issues, resulting in additional delays and costs.
Having the availability to document the key stages of the development and build on the model of the project allows a full sense of transparency and peace of mind when handing the project over to the ultimate end-user or occupier. This effectively allows them full oversight of the works which have been completed, and may also assist in preventing future disputes around the quality of the works or general site oversight.
Site security and health and safety are additional areas that drones could assist with. By surveying on a real time basis, it is possible to ensure that those on site are respecting safety measures, including the latest Covid-19 precautions. Additional examples of this real-time surveying include the monitoring of dangerous works on site such as ‘hot works’. Utilising thermal imaging technology allows regular monitoring to be in place to prevent the potential risk of fire breaking out on site. Thermal imaging can also be used when surveying for theft on large sites, in particular in difficult to reach and high risk areas.
While drones can be an incredibly positive disrupter for the construction industry, there are reasons why the industry has perhaps been slow to adopt or fully utilise this technology. Frequent near misses with airplanes and members of the public have been a cause for concern. Combining this with the health and safety issues that can arise out of a potential impact with cranes and other operators on site, it is understandable why the pace of adoption may be lower than anticipated.
Moreover, the cost of adopting and embracing this change can cause hesitation as there may be large, upfront outlays required to implement, manage and operate the drone technology. This applies particularly if the required hardware is limited in availability, or if there are issues around compatible software. Ongoing training can also be a major expense.
In general, the construction sector tends to take a cautious approach to change. While this could create an initial barrier to progress and prevent the immediate adoption of exciting technologies, this cautious approach does not represent a lack of interest. Over time, once the safety is assured and the compelling benefits clear, we will start to see a sharp rise in the adoption of this technology, enabling more modern and efficient methods of construction.
These advancements will continue to benefit the construction process by saving on costs and boosting productivity; a significant win for all involved.
For more information, please contact:
Stephen Higgins | Construction Executive
Lockton Global Construction Practice
T: +44 (0)20 7933 2417
M: +44 (0) 7769 937040
Cameron Owen | Account Handler
Lockton Global Construction Practice
T: +44 (0)20 7933 2557
M: +44 (0) 7876 651620
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