Drones have been a huge topic of discussion for the past decade or so. There are even now full articles (with photo galleries!) about the most beautiful photos taken by drones, and Amazon — which famously debuted a potential drone delivery service on 60 Minutes a year ago — now has a patent out for drones to be able to recharge on street lamps. There’s even a Kickstarter project to use drones to rid the world of landmines in 10 years.
Instead, we’re going to discuss the role of drones in field service. Drones have a myriad of uses in field service, and those vary by the type of service organization you run.
A plumbing company, for example, might have less use for drones than someone who has a contract to manage heating and cooling (HVAC) systems for a big company’s factory.
Especially for HVAC companies, drones often represent a cost savings. Because of the reasons we’ll discuss below, the usual alternative to a drone’s level of access is often a helicopter rental. As drones are usually cheaper than helicopters, this is perhaps the only time you shouldn’t heed Arnold’s command to “get to the chopper.” Though drones seem futuristic and inaccessible, the cost savings they offer make them worth a look.
If you run an HVAC company, then, how can drones benefit you?
1. Drones can survey large areas.
It’s impossible to survey on foot the area that a drone can cover. You could use a car, but your vantage point is restricted to a certain height. A drone’s bird‘s eye view gives you a comprehensive understanding of your area.
In HVAC, when you have enterprise-level clients, they often have far-afield factories or compounds with multiple heating and cooling devices. Walking the compound will waste time, and driving the compound doesn’t always give you a complete picture of what’s happening. An aerial view is quicker and more comprehensive.
2. Drones can survey dangerous places.
If you work with chemical companies, for example, it’s not always safe to have your HVAC technicians walking or driving around an outdoor factory or a complex full of machines.
A drone can be piloted remotely, which means those technicians can get the same information and feedback — and maybe even more than they would on foot or in the car — without putting themselves at risk.
3. Drones are cloud-connected.
When you walk or drive around a client site, the information you get is usually recorded either by hand or on your phone/tablet/wireless device.
In the by-hand example, that information still needs to get back into your central system (your field service management software).
In the phone/tablet/wireless device example, ideally the data is uploaded to your FSM software directly.
In a drone example, it definitely is.
Drones are typically cloud-connected. You can align them with your FSM solution or CRM. Whatever the drone sees and records, it goes into that set of customer information in your management software. Now all the technicians that work with this client will have access to that information instantly.
4. Drones enable infrastructure monitoring.
Drones have high-resolution cameras that can record video and quickly snap photos. That means they can usually get quality imagery of any HVAC infrastructure issues, like a cracked pipe or machine.
Technicians can then look at this high-quality feedback and use it to make decisions about how best to approach the repair process.
We’re still a little way off from drones fixing the machines themselves. However, in smaller repair jobs, that is happening with some field service shops.
The future isn’t necessarily about drones flying everywhere and delivering goods to your home while fixing problems at your business. We may be decades from that, if not more. But in field service, drones provide a good cost savings and can do work that traditional approaches to client management simply cannot do. They’re a great investment — or, at the very least, a substantial consideration.