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IN THE FIELD

By Lucy Perry

Flying Beyond Aerial Surveillance Ideas for using drones in steel construction applications

GW Decking used drone images to chart the progress of the VA Hospital construction project in New Orleans. For progress reports, an image may be taken several times a week to capture an aerial view of project development. Photo provided by Gardner-Watson Decking Inc.

D

rones are quickly finding a place in steel construction operations. Many say it’s not a matter of if the technology is mainstreamed, but when. As Dave King, CEO of Steel City Drones writes, they’re becoming a fixture in the construction field where their upside keeps growing. Traditionally, drones have been equipped with video streaming technology for aerial surveillance. In the construction industry applications include daily reporting of job progress; monitoring jobsite safety; and promotion. When Gardner-Watson Decking Inc., Oldsmar, Fla., began using drones four years ago, the technology was primarily considered a marketing tool for gathering job site photos. Now the company is also using video Lucy Perry operates WordSkills Editorial Services in Kansas City, Mo. She has spent 20 years following the North American construction industry. She can be reached at wordskillseditor@gmail.com.

captured by drones for monitoring projects and conducting safety inspections. For progress reports, an image will be taken one to three times a week to capture an aerial view of development on the jobsite. “Because you have a limited view on the ground, an aerial image offers a more accurate picture of progress,” says Will Nichols, project manager. The company has also found value in the technology as a safety tool. “We can go over the jobsite without workers ever knowing we’re there. We can do a true, surprise safety audit. It’s a good way to make sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he adds.

Ready for takeoff Until recently, the use of drones for many business reasons was illegal, notes Building Design & Construction magazine. To regulate “unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS) within national airspace, two years ago the FAA

22 | THE STEEL ERECTORS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA

issued rules allowing the commercial use of drones, with limitations (see sidebar). The FAA rules are a good starting point, and pilot licensing has it place, but it may be too soon to talk about drone operator certification because the technology is changing so rapidly. “People are still trying to get FAA certification, which just came out two years ago,” says Nichols. For one thing, he says, the devices are getting smaller and smaller, and the capabilities are ever evolving. From Nichols’ perspective, the technology’s moving target makes nailing down trade-specific certification impractical for the time being. As a stop-gap measure, the drone industry itself does a decent job of educating its customers. Online, users can find information on operations, maintenance, and best practices. One site Nichols likes is DroneDeploy.com, which he says is an excellent resource for aerial mapping. A drone software platform developer, DroneDeploy offers unlimited flying, mapping, and sharing capabilities.

Profile for The SEAA Connector

Connector - Fall 2018 issue  

In the Fall 2018 issue: Common Sense Collaboration; Tools for Improve Workflow; Drones in Steel Construction; Effective Meetings: Your Co...

Connector - Fall 2018 issue  

In the Fall 2018 issue: Common Sense Collaboration; Tools for Improve Workflow; Drones in Steel Construction; Effective Meetings: Your Co...