Drones – A Great Enabler in Prefabricated Steel Building Construction

Use of drones in the construction industry, especially in prefabricated steel building construction, has seen massive progress in recent years. With drone technology enhancing every passing year, the continued momentum will help construction even more over the next decade.

Observer Research Foundation (ORF) research highlighted that in FY2020, India’s UAV market was valued at $830 million, which is projected to grow at a CAGR of 14.5% during 2021–2026. In tune to changing times, the global construction industry has registered 239% growth in drone use year-over-year, showcasing the penetration of drones in the sector over any other commercial sector. In fact, recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi used drones to review the Light House Projects (LHP) under the Global Housing Technology Challenge-India (GHTC-India).

But what has made drones so popular in the construction market? These tech toys have literally become the eyes of the companies for them to keep a closer look at the progress of their projects and provide an aerial view of either existing sites or potential sites with ease, alongside saving developers’ time and money. In a way, drones have revolutionized the planning of construction, along with land surveying and data capturing. Before the advent of drones, large companies used to deploy aircraft to get such an aerial view, which entailed a huge cost burden on them. Today, even smaller firms can keep track of their project status and carry on with their plan in an efficient manner, with the help of drones.

Benefits in plenty

Drones come with a multitude of innovative functionality and accessibility features. Some of the most significant advantages of deploying drones in construction include:

Initial site survey and measurement : The two main features of drones – accessibility and accuracy – help prefab companies in surveying and reproducing accurate measurements of sites. This is particularly important for initial surveys when access to all parts of the site by the personnel can be challenging or sometimes even impossible. In that regard, footage from initial surveys helps them in getting the right assessments and providing historical records.

Building surveys: Earlier, inspecting roofs used to be difficult, expensive, and at times, dangerous, but thanks to drone technology, the task has become easier, faster, safer, and cheaper. Now a drone can perform the task of providing live video in real-time, which alleviates, to an extent, the need for scaffolding. Inspecting roofs in such a way also dramatically improves health and safety on-site.

Construction mapping and 3D modeling: Alongside surveys, innovation in drone software systems has facilitated companies to produce accurate contour maps and 3D models, based on the drone footage and data gathered. The process of high-resolution aerial imagery (Orthomosaics) 3D modeling happens in various formats, enabling images of the whole project area to be captured and merged into a comprehensive model of the area. Additionally, based on the mapping technology, 2D images can also be generated.

Drones Integration With BIM: Drones have proven to be an asset for the data-driven approach and have effectively undertaken numerous tasks to aid the BIM (Building Information Modelling) workflow. Apart from providing an aerial perspective in the creation of the initial BIM, drones also offer scalable point cloud scanning and photography at different stages of construction.

Progress monitoring: Real-time monitoring feature of drones has enabled prefabricated construction companies in ensuring enhanced security and augmenting real-time evaluation, response and planning capability. Drones empower construction companies by ensuring the production of weekly progress maps is quicker, easier, and less costly. They also enable greater and easier information exchanges between construction companies and their clients, enhancing overall efficiency and communication.

Security and maintenance of construction sites: Drone surveys facilitate ease of logistics and asset management of construction sites and boost overall security. With drones, security breaches, if any, can be quickly reported, which can avert any potential mishap. Enhanced drone features, such as thermal imagery, can assist PEB manufacturers in resolving challenges such as out-of-hours security, overheating, or fire incidence almost immediately. Additionally, the data captured by drones can assist in audit trails during on-site maintenance. Besides, drones are a far better alternative for providing a real-time evaluation of any area, such as dangerous structures, areas where hazardous materials are leaking, or where there’s a risk of fire, where it may be risky to send in personnel.

A step-by-step approach

First, prefabricated construction companies need to be acquainted with developing technology and understand its implications for the construction projects they are involved in. Next, they should review current data gathering processes, tools, and how data can be used, to gauge where and how drone data can facilitate saving time or money, and ultimately, empower them with greater productivity, safety, and quality of information gathered and used.

Once all these considerations are carefully made, the prefabricated construction companies should decide whether to invest in hardware and training of registered on-site staff for drone use, or whether to use commercial drone services to make the most of drone technology for their existing & future projects.

As a step in the right direction and to keep closer scrutiny on the timely completion of projects, The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has recently mandated the use of drones for monthly video recording of all national highway projects during their different stages of development, construction, operation, and maintenance. NHAI has mandated the contractors and concessionaires to carry out the drone video recording in the presence of the Supervision Consultant and upload comparative data of the current and last month on NHAI’s portal ‘Data Lake’, capturing all project-related developments in a month.

With such a paradigm shift, drone usage is only going to grow from here on. The key lies in putting it to the use that the companies intend to and garner benefits in the long run. Steelion has always been an early adopter of technology that can benefit the company and its clients by enabling faster and more efficient construction. Drone usage will go a long way in ensuring that construction work is completed safely, smoothly, and effectively within stipulated deadlines and adhering to client budgets.

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Dr Sanjay Lunia

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