Principal Thoughts: The Use of Drones in Construction

Posted on: 2018-08-06

Welcome to the latest edition of Ashley Wheaton’s ‘Principal Thoughts’. In this edition, Ashley provides his insight into the growing use of drones in construction and the benefits they bring to the industry, and speaks with colleague Jonathan Hubert, Programme Leader, Architectural Design Technology, about how UCEM is incorporating this into its teaching.

Drones have already begun changing the way the construction industry operates, and these changes will have continued and lasting effects. It is predicted that by 2030, 76,000 drones will be used in UK construction which could save the sector a massive £3.5bn.

Currently, drones are assisting in surveying land as they can greatly reduce the labour and time involved in producing accurate reports and eliminate any potential human error in the process. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), can capture data much more quickly than traditional methods, saving firms time and money. This will enable contractors to bid on more ambitious projects, confident in their ability to complete the work in smaller timeframes.

Employees’ health and safety, and security on construction sites, is being improved thanks to drones. They can be used to safely survey potentially dangerous locations, which eradicates the need to risk employees’ safety in such situations, and they can be deployed to monitor any outside threats to the site itself. The ability of drones to transport goods aerially can reduce the number of on-road vehicles needed on a construction site, creating a safer environment to work in.

Drones can access hard-to-reach or inhospitable areas, providing images which previously would have been difficult to produce. When utilised correctly, they can improve productivity and efficiency which could be crucial in easing the skills crisis which the UK’s construction industry is currently experiencing. With the technology continually advancing and getting cheaper, it is expected that they will be used far more frequently as construction technology becomes more commonplace and sophisticated.

It is inevitable that drones will become more and more commonplace within construction. They are practical, adaptable to challenging environments and bring about benefits to organisations’ health and safety, and security operations. In addition to this, they are also becoming relatively inexpensive.

Despite the obvious advantages of using drones within construction, some companies are reluctant to adopt and invest in them. This is largely due to the time and cost needed to train workforces in using drones. To make the most of the technology, employees must be skilled in using the equipment and be able to identify when to use it and what to do with the results.

The long-term gains of using drones outweigh the short-term expenditure and use of resources which can deter firms from fully utilising the technology.

At UCEM, we are equipping the next generation of surveyors and construction managers with the skills required for the workplace and, as part of this commitment, we delivered a CPD course on drones at our Shinfield Grange building last year which provided six hours of formal training to professionals in the industry.

Additionally, we currently offer a two-hour course on drones in the workplace which provides an introduction to drones and how they can be used within the Built Environment. It runs through the regulation of drones in the UK by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and introduces the qualifications required to pilot a drone safely. The course also explores the potential for drones to develop detailed photographic images and 3D mapping.

I spoke to our Architectural Design Technology Programme Leader, Jonathan Hubert, about whether drones are unfailingly positive and what plans there are to embed drones within our learning resources…

“Drones are the future. You want to survey a building on a busy road? With the appropriate permissions, send up a drone. The alternative is closing off a road and getting a cherry picker to go around the building, with all the extra hassle that involves.

“Drones can do it in half the time. They are cost-saving too, but what do you lose by not using your eyes and ears on-site? For example, tapping a pipe during the survey is currently good practice but can drones do the same thing?

“There are pros and cons. Drones are not 100% a good thing. You have to assess the advantages and disadvantages. You have to interpret what the drones see and what you are not seeing.

“On the whole, however, they are quite rightly a firmer fixture within construction. Surveyors need to get a handle on them. The cost benefits are there and larger companies are buying into this.

“There are robot drones you can send into small spaces in ductwork – it’s extraordinary technology.

“We want to include drone surveys as part of our teaching, both for students’ own surveys and for providing case studies. We will be showing the pros and cons of what drones can do. We want to make students question the value of the technology.

“Teaching on drones will take place on my new programme which will be introduced in 2020 and will be phased onto the other programmes as the influence of the technology increases in the sector. The impact of drones will be felt across the Built Environment.”

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