Why drones are a good investment for AEC firms

March 5, 2021 | #All#Construction

One of the largest general contractors in the United States, Hensel Phelps, has managed to improve its efficiency with the help of drones from DJI. The company now uses drones to provide a greater situational awareness of the worksite, among other things.

Back in 2010, the company began to play around with the idea of using drones on its construction sites. This leads the company to hire aerial photographers with some of the most basic equipment that wasn’t enough for the job. This was when Hensel Phelps realised it would need to invest in its own drones.

“So, when drones were introduced, we knew right away they would be the perfect tools for our job sites. We could use drones to create orthomosaics and videos for better site planning, management, and monitoring. In large sites, we could easily identify strategic zones such as laydown areas or delivery rows. We could even capture site progress photos for project owners, speeding up the process of getting the spends approved from investors and financial institutions.” – Richard Lopez, the Virtual Design and Construction Manager at Hensel Phelps

From this point on, the company began to work on its in-house drone program, which needed to consider the company’s Zero Accident Safety Culture. This lead to the team deciding on DJI drones as they met the standards with obstacle avoidance sensors and robot software solutions that are reliable.

DJI P4 RTK for AEC and surveying

Lopez then shares that the company needed to put protocols into place to ensure the drones were being used safely and everything was tracked.

“We created checklists, procedures, and maintenance programs for each piece of the equipment. We developed drone zone maps and identified emergency landing sites. We roped in auditors and attorneys to ascertain we were following all the rules and regulations laid out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and doing everything in a safe manner.”

Not long after the drones were first introduced onto its worksites, the demand grew too large for its in-house team, resulting in other drone service providers coming in while it worked on expanding its own program in the background. The company now has a fleet of 22 drones and 30 in-house pilots.

“We have identified chief pilots in each district, who then have their own team of pilots to supervise. Even if we use a third-party consultant at a site, these chief pilots act as our gatekeepers and ensure every protocol is being met.”

To make things even easier, the company received a special waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly over people, which meant the drones are no longer restricted to flying on the weekends or when everyone has gone home for the day. This has also allowed Hensel Phelps to speed up its operations by using the drones throughout the days for inspections, situational awareness, mapping, surveying, and many other jobs.

Image: DJI

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