Are Drones in Construction a Good Investment for Small Businesses?

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For years, you’ve run your construction project the same way. You’ve purchased some construction management software to streamline operations but haven’t been interested in the latest gadgets.

You’ve said to yourself: Drones? On a construction site? How about I just keep building things the way I always have?

But the times, they are a-changin’, and it’s wise to change with them. Drones are one area where construction managers should sit up and pay attention, because your business’ competitors will have a huge edge if they’re using them and you aren’t.

drones in construction

Drones are more than just a gimmick—they have multiple, highly practical uses on a construction site that will help you save money.

Let’s take a look at exactly what drones are used for on construction sites, and how they can help your business right away.

What does the research say?

Just look at the data.

According to a recent Gartner survey, 72% of construction firms will either begin using drones or are considering using them within the next two years.

Analysts believe the commercial drone industry will top $5 billion by 2020, and drones are replacing $127.3 billion in labor and services value already, according to one report. That money is going right back into the pockets of drone users.

If your small construction business isn’t in the drone game by 2020, your competitors are going to start gaining an edge on you, and you’ll lose bids as a result.

Gartner surveyed 120 construction firms on whether they either use drones or plan to use them at some point in the future and found that a surprising 27% of businesses are already using drones in their projects. Thirty-one percent plan to start using drones within the next two years, while another 14% are evaluating using drones at some future point.

If you haven’t even considered purchasing a drone for your construction business, you’ve still got plenty of company. A sizable portion of small businesses just aren’t sure about the technology and whether it will be helpful to their projects; 28% reported having “no plans to evaluate” drones for use in their construction projects.

3 uses for drones on your construction site

It’s clear that while drones are growing as a tool in the construction industry, a lot of companies just aren’t convinced by the technology. Exactly how helpful can drones be on a construction project? Let’s explore three uses for drones on your construction site and look at examples to show why you should consider implementing drones at your small business as soon as possible.

1. Surveillance and security

Drones let you have direct contact with work sites, even when you’re thousands of miles away. This boosts project efficiency by letting you monitor both your employees and their progress in real time, and you can use this data to coordinate with superintendents on site.

You can also use drones to check whether the right assets and materials are on site and where they should be.

In addition to all this monitoring, drones can protect your project. Every year, anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion worth of construction equipment is stolen from job sites, and less than 25% of stolen equipment is recovered. Drones let you monitor your job sites and spot any nefarious activity.

Drones provide personal security as well, protecting you and your company from legal action by providing accurate documentation and video evidence of possible workplace incidents and injuries.

Examples:

  • Micro Aerial Projects produces small UAVs that can monitor each phase of your construction project. The company says that its UAVs are portable and flexible enough to quickly get to areas that would be tough to access otherwise.
  • Kespry offers a UAV that can measure and communicate daily progress across multiple construction sites. The company also has in-house estimating teams to provide additional support to construction managers.

2. Inspections and surveys

Construction site inspections can be dangerous, especially when workers have to access hard-to-reach areas on unfinished projects. There is a risk of falls or other accidents, which is something you want to avoid at all costs.

That’s where drones come in. Drones allow you and your workers to comfortably inspect hard-to-reach areas without putting anyone in harm’s way. They do just as good of a job, and can do it a lot faster.

Drones can also conduct surveys that help you compare your virtual design to the real thing throughout the construction process, letting you make adjustments when needed.

Accurate land surveys provided by drones eliminate human error and prevent setbacks, keeping you on time and on budget. Topographic surveys produced by drones can be completed a lot faster (and more accurately) than human estimations.

Examples:

  • DroneDeploy offers software that lets you take measurements by air, share maps to update stakeholders, and conduct surveys quickly and efficiently.
  • Industrial SkyWorks flies drones that are used for conducting inspections on oil and gas assets, and offers in-house software (BlueVu) to process the gathered data.

3. Photography

Drones can take amazing photos of your construction project, which is helpful when it comes to sales or just keeping your client in the loop. Photos can also make you stand out against your competition by adding a layer of professionalism to your operation.

The best thing about this potential use category is that you don’t need an expensive drone with specialized software to put it in action.

All you need need is a relatively cheap drone with a decent camera attached, and you can fly it yourself over your construction project to take the shots you want.

Examples: There are a ton of great photography drones that range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

  • The Parrot Bebop 2 FPV retails for $499.99, takes high-definition images, and allows you to fly in total immersion with Parrot Cockpitglasses.
  • The DJI Inspire 2 drone—which costs at least $3,000 on Amazon and can be up to $20,000 if you buy kits with it—offers high-definition video transmission, a 360-degree rotating gimbal, and too many other bells and whistles to list here.

How can you determine if drones are right for your operation?

Before you spend money on a drone (or two), you need to thoroughly evaluate whether your operation really needs one. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much time do I spend conducting land surveys?
  • How secure are my job sites?
  • Is it difficult to conduct inspections on my construction projects?
  • Do I feel connected with the job site even when I’m away from it?
  • Am I satisfied with how I market myself in comparison with my competitors?

If any of these questions leave you feeling like you could be doing better, it’s time to start shopping for a drone.

If you’re not ready to make a purchase now, you should still sit down and develop a plan for working drones into future construction projects.


Information on Gartner’s Top Technology Trends for SMBs Survey
Gartner conducted this survey in April and May 2017 among 699 U.S.-based SMBs, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded nonprofit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers, or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.

Looking for Construction Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Construction Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Dan Taylor

Dan is a content writer at Capterra, specializing in hotel management, construction and real estate. Outside the office, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, catching up with the latest offering from HBO or paying a visit to a new place.

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