This is an article contribution from Zach Pieper, director of operations at Quantum Land Design.
Propeller showcases thought leaders from the construction, aggregates, and mining community through collaborative content creation. We’re asking real people on the worksite to write about real problems they’ve encountered, and to share the practical solutions that have made life easier.
Drone data can change your business—or so you’ve been told. In this post, I will share examples of how it did for several contractors, but first, let’s take a look at a few questions you should know the answers to before you jump into drone surveys.
Questions to ask yourself:
What information you expect to derive from your drone flights?
Do you just need to measure a few stockpiles? Maybe you need to quantify earth moved for monthly pay applications. What gap in your current processes are you trying to fill? Keep in mind a drone is a versatile tool but may not be the best solution for the problem you are trying to solve.
Can you leverage construction technology you already own to get the answers you need?
Or can you use it to enhance your drone data? More than likely, if you are looking into drone surveys, GPS machine control is already a big part of your operation. Can you use your base and rover in conjunction with your takeoff software to multiply some of the benefits you expect from drone data? Often, a hybrid technology solution can save you the most time and money.
What needs to be done to make sure your new technology will fit into your existing workflow and information streams?
Think about how you can get data from your drone to work with your takeoff software, CAD, GIS, and even your project management software. It’s usually best to get the most out of the software and hardware you already own, rather than starting over with new tech that comes with its own learning curve. Making sure that your drone data will mesh with your other tools is a very important, and often overlooked, aspect of the technology.
Now let’s take a look at a few real-world project examples to help you understand how drone data can fill some gaps in your current processes.
1. Documenting the difference before and after earthwork
A small family-owned contractor we work with was in the process of starting earthwork on a new subdivision project. The contractor flew the project before and after earthwork was completed. Here is what the contractor learned from just two drone flights on this small project:
- The total volume of cut and fill earthwork on the site.
- Excess dirt moved for a change order to upgrade the home lots to allow walkout basements.
- The volume of excess cut dirt left over on the property for future use or sale.
- The orthophoto and topo provided much of the information required by the city’s as-built requirements.
- A pre-construction topo for the next phase of the subdivision.
- Finally, the volume of woodchips generated from site clearing operations.
Remember, all of the information above was derived from two drone flights. The drone data was easily loaded into the contractor’s takeoff software and compared to their takeoff and machine control model.
2. Faster, safer stockpile measurements
Demolition is an application that is less often mentioned when it comes to drone data. Surprisingly, there can be a lot of benefit derived from a single drone flight.
One of our contractors was challenged by a developer to provide an estimate to crush all of the broken concrete on an old industrial site. Normally, the contractor would have used his GPS base and rover to survey the piles. In this case, it was not safe or practical to walk dozens of piles. A drone flight was the only option.
Once the drone survey was complete, the photos were processed and a 3D surface of the existing site was generated. The contractor was able to use the 3D surface in his takeoff software to determine the quantity of broken concrete to be recycled. They also presented the developer with a preliminary earthwork estimate for the future development.
3. Hyper-accurate measurements when it matters
This road improvement project was almost all fill, requiring a significant amount of earthwork. The original topo was based off of years-old lidar data. As the contractor was paid by the cubic yard, it was important to have an accurate topo of both the road and the borrow pit. They used their GPS system to measure ground control before flying the road project and the new borrow pit. Once the drone data was processed into a bare earth surface, they were able to derive several pieces of important information.
First, the drone surveys was compared to the machine control model to determine how many yards needed to be moved and where material needed to be placed to build the road. Second, the borrow area was evaluated to ensure it could provide enough fill. Third, the contractor used these flights in conjunction with future drone flights to measure production. By accurately measuring production they were able to fine tune their bidding and earthmoving processes.
As you can tell from the examples above, the key to getting the most out of your drone data is making sure it will work with other information you use to manage your projects. For civil construction contractors, this probably means that the drone data will need to mesh with your takeoff software and machine control models. (Don’t forget to take a deeper look at the construction technology you already own, too. More than likely, it may be able to supplement or even improve the data derived from your drone flights.)
Just remember, before you bring a drone into your operation be sure to understand what information you are trying to obtain and how you will get it to work within your existing workflow. You never work alone, and your drone data shouldn’t either.
Ready to improve your reporting with drone surveying?
Download your free guide and learn how drone surveying makes construction site reporting easier, faster, and more understandable
About the author
Zach Pieper has (nearly) 20 years of experience in the earthmoving and heavy equipment industries. He grew up operating equipment and setting grade for his family’s excavating business. He later spent six years with Caterpillar in Global Mining and Heavy Hauling Systems, and now leverages his experience to help contractors understand and apply the latest technology to their operation at Quantum Land Design.