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Five ways drones on construction sites can help reduce costs and increase efficiency

6 min read / November 22, 2022 / Staff writer

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As technology continues to change the construction industry, a potentially dynamic investment companies can make isn’t iron on the ground, but a drone in the sky.

Drones are more accessible than ever with relatively affordable prices and simple operating controls, which make it possible for any organization to start drone operation. Plus, Komatsu offers training and support.

“We can provide basic training to help the user understand the interface, navigate it, be able to add people to their portal, set permission levels, do their measurements, and get their data in,” said Komatsu’s Jim Petry, Smart Construction Solutions Manager. “Any questions or problems that come along in between, we can help them out with that.”

Petry added, “With drone packages, they can get extra drone training as well, so they can be successful and make their flights. They're getting support in the beginning and through their usage. These platforms can support the customer with technical things, and they're doing new developments behind the scenes to work to make the platforms better.”

If you’re ready to expand your fleet, here are five ways drones can help reduce costs and increase efficiency on your job sites.

1. Streamline communications

Being able to streamline information and connect your entire staff can help increase your workplace and job site efficiency.

With a timeline function, drones can take photographs from the same coordinates during the duration of a project to provide a timelapse of the progress. This can keep everyone up to date on the project’s status.

“The drone technology allows us to have somebody go out and drone sites two to three times a week,” said Greg Sutton, vice president of operations at Aspen Earthworks Inc. in Reno, Nev. “Even if I can’t get out here and see what production has happened on a site, I still feel like I visited the job site through the drone technology.”

Cloud-based drone interfaces can make data easily accessible across a company.

“Drone solutions can provide interfaces that make web-based collaboration very easy,” said Petry. “Anywhere from the field guys all the way up to owners or supervisors in the office can have access to drone information. There are no passing files around or buying different software licenses.”

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Cloud-based drone interfaces can make the data easily accessible across a company.

Quick data collection with drones lends itself to faster data processing with the cloud.

Petry added, “With a cloud-based interface and data processing, you don’t need special hardware to be able to process all that information. You can simply share it. Some cloud-based interfaces can have data from surveying begin processing immediately after being loaded into the interface and can have a relatively fast turnaround.”

2. Spend less time surveying

Depending on the site, conventional surveying can take days — with drones, it can take minutes.

“I think the greatest change after adopting drones or being exposed to drone usage is using the high accuracy survey grade data that they provide,” said Jason Anetsberger, the director of customer solutions at Komatsu. “Instead of having to walk a site or drive a site to map it terrestrially, they can now fly the site in a much larger area, in much higher resolution, in much less time, and get a highly accurate survey of that terrain. It has opened a whole new world for contractors to extract value from utilizing a drone.”

Anetsberger added, “The speed and the ease of drones opens the opportunity to measure much more frequently as a powerful solution to augment that traditional terrestrial measuring capability.”

With a drone, a company can quickly and accurately collect objective data of its job site, and that information can be used to help increase productivity and efficiency in the field.

“You can maximize the productivity of your operation by tightening up your management,” said Anetsberger. “Making sure there are no ways to rework a job site allows you to possibly complete a job faster and get on the next job earlier, potentially even picking up a new job that is more than you would’ve normally been able to do.”

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With a drone, a company can quickly and accurately collect objective data of its job site, and that information can be used to help increase productivity and efficiency in the field.

3. Get accurate material estimates

Having the incorrect number of materials for a project can waste time and money. On construction sites, drones can quickly provide a precise representation of the area, so you can get an accurate estimate of everything you will need for the project.

“Drones not only give you great pictures, but you have data you can measure with like areas, your footages and volume metrics,” explained Anetsberger. “That data can become the truth for the job site.”

During a preconstruction flight, you can compare the real site to the engineer’s model, which allows you to fix any miscalculations.

“We had a customer recently who realized they had to move 40,000 cubic yards more than what the engineer quantities were saying they needed to do at the beginning of the job,” said Petry. “For them, that was a big revelation. That was the first time that they used a drone. They quickly found a lot of value in it. They can see where their cut and fills are on the site, where that is taking place, and if it’s a large site, they can make better decisions on equipment.”

By correcting those errors, companies can quickly see a return on investment.

“Being able to find that you have extra cubic yards of material that you were not planning on that the drone helped you identify — there's real value that can pay for drone solutions by avoiding a potentially costly mistake,” said Anetsberger.

With more accurate measurements in the early stages of projects, companies can adjust their fleets accordingly to help increase production and have more precise data collection throughout the process.

“Komatsu’s Smart Construction Drone has enabled Aspen Earthworks to reach new levels,” said Ryan Dustin, owner of Aspen Earthworks. “With day-by-day information, it’s enabled us to really dial in our estimating and our production rates that I believe have helped put us near the top of our market, and it was incredibly easy to get started. With that moment-by-moment information and real-time data, we can work with our project manager and superintendents to help us reorganize and redo the way we approach our dirt and utilities projects to increase efficacy.”

4. Connect clients to every site

You can also use drone technology to quickly and accurately connect beneficiaries to the job site, which can help save time, avoid future headaches, and secure repeat clients.

“With drones, you can give clients confidence that they're getting the production that they're paying for,” said Anetsberger. “That could help the contractors secure future business. There's more trust in that relationship if you're feeding them near-real-time data or opening a digital twin, so they can follow alongside.”

Plus, drones can reduce the amount of time spent providing documentation for invoices.

“Instead of spending a day doing that conventionally, you're doing the flight in just a few minutes and can accurately compare that against the last flight to be able to put their invoices forward and get paid as progress moves along,” said Petry.

5. Create dynamic marketing content

Aside from using drones for surveying, they can also be used to collect photographs and videos on job sites, or even at the office, that can be used for marketing, recruitment and public relations campaigns.

The maneuverability of drones can create dynamic photographs and videos that a person on the ground simply cannot easily replicate. Also, you don’t have to cut into your marketing budget for a camera.

While any drone can adequately survey, photograph and record a job site, Anetsberger and Petry recommend a robust model if you want high accuracy with good stability to get the most out of your investment.

Learn more about drones and the Smart Construction suite of solutions.