Aerial drones are quickly becoming an important tool for the construction industry, offering significantly reduced on-ground survey time, access to remote areas, real-time project monitoring, stockpile inventory management and dramatic imagery for marketing and presentation purposes.
In fact, according to Trevor Tetzlaff, Manager of Edmonton-based SITECH Technologies, the construction industry represented the highest level of drone usage in 2018. “They are now being used by both large construction companies and small contractors to improve productivity and create more efficiency on sites.”
Yet the increased integration of drones, also known as UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), into project operations demands the careful examination of a recurring question whenever new technologies come forward; buy the equipment, or hire the expertise from a third party when required? It can pose an acute question particularly for small and medium sized companies.
At first glance, the option to buy might be attractive for those wishing to maintain internal control. After all, the cost of a basic drone appears relatively low —a few hundred dollars for most models. However a simple, lightweight recreational drone hardly scratches the surface of potential UAV use. Once one researches the variety of sizes, flight control options, collision avoidance programming, and payload capacities for carrying advanced cameras and sensors, it becomes clear that a quick over-the-counter purchase is unlikely to meet professional expectations. One is instead looking at a potential investment beginning at around $2,500 for a so-called workhorse drone, and many time that for an advanced drone capable of lens and sensor interchanges, accessories that alone can cost thousands of dollars.
Yet there are advantages to outright ownership. Thomas Morley, Senior Product Manager of Performance Solutions/ IoT for Finning, speaks about the quick response time companies can enjoy through drone ownership. Scheduling issues with a third party provider can cause delays in gathering needed data, particularly due to weather issues — drones don’t like a lot of wind or precipitation. Morley suggests direct ownership allows company personnel to initiate data-gathering missions when they need them and with much greater flexibility. Automated flight patterns eliminate much of the actual flying.
“You create the shape of flight path you want on your iPad. You tell it what overlap you want, and press the button,” says Morley. “From then on you don’t touch the controls for the entire mission.”
Another consideration are the UAV regulations governed by Transport Canada. While being re-written that recognize drones as useful tools for the construction industry, the regulations are at the same time becoming more restrictive in terms of registration and piloting for reasons of air space safety. Companies must decide if they have the resources to dedicate one or more employees to the required compliance process.
As appealing as it may be to have full internal control of a UAV program, some might consider it wiser to walk before one runs. That’s why UAV services available through third parties have grown so quickly across Canada. Partnering with companies like P. A. Miller Surveying Ltd., with offices in Stirling and Bancroft, Ontario, eliminates not only concerns having the right equipment for the job but also details regarding UAV registration, pilot licensing, flight certifications and insurance.
Processing the imagery and data captured by advanced UAV sensors has become much easier through third party services, and lowers the entry bar for many companies.
“You take the SD card out of the drone, put it in your laptop, drag and drop your photographs into the platform. The software service will then process everything. Within 24 hours, you will get an email with the 3-D imagery all done,” says Morley.
Continued technology and equipment advances, alongside the specialization offered by third party software management services, will make it increasingly easy to integrate UAV flight and data collection into one’s own operation, no matter the size of the company, state experts. The decision to buy or hire ultimately comes down to the usage a company anticipates.