Drones Bring Safety and Efficiency to Great Heights

Drones, once seen as toys, have been embraced for their usefulness in several applications. In the construction industry, the use of drones has grown significantly over the last five years. Companies such as McCarthy, Hensel Phelps, Beck, State Farm and Shell, to name just a few, employ drones in their regular operation.

Pie continues to explore ways to incorporate drone technology into the services we offer, such as examining and documenting hail claims, façade assessments and pre-construction conditions on projects.

One huge advantage of using a drone is the ability for one person to safely view difficult-to-reach locations. Typically, steep roof observations require two individuals to set up anchor points for the ladders and rope system they need to properly access the roof. Short of having Spider-Man scale the building, other options would be accessing the valley and hugging the ridge, or hiring a third-party ladder assist company. Each of these alternatives significantly increases the time and cost of the project, and represents a safety hazard.

An argument against using drones is that they eliminate the ability of the person doing the assessment to be hands-on during these observations. The benefits, however, outweigh this disadvantage. With a drone, the overall roof condition can be assessed from the relative safety of the ground by one trained observer. This person can then test squares on a lower portion of the roof using a ladder in a much safer area.

Another argument is in favor of contracting a service to fly the drone for us. While such services exist, not everyone can fly for commercial application, much less have a background in the observation of construction conditions. To the untrained eye, what may appear as a hail spatter mark may actually be identified, by someone who is trained, as mechanical damage.

Currently, Pie is using Mavic Pro Platinum and Mavic 2 Zoom. Both flight platforms boast 4k resolution and the Mavic 2 sports 12x optical zoom capability. Paired with a quiet solid state motor, quiet propellers and a battery life of almost 20 minutes, these drones are perfect for our work in residential areas.

Pie has two registered pilots who have passed the FAA Part 107 aviation test, which must be renewed every two years. All commercial flights are conducted under FAA guidelines for commercial operations and when conducted in restricted airspace the proper authorization is obtained through one of several processes.

The drones are not limited to roof work. While we have primarily used them for performing steep roof evaluation, we have also used them for a number of site surveys for bid conditions. For instance, we were able to survey 26 lots in two hours, which produced a significant time and cost savings. We also plan to use them in façade inspection of multiple materials, including high rise glazing elements, and for modeling capabilities in the near future. With the addition of thermals, we have the capability of identifying water and air leaks. We have had several contractors request construction progress documentation as well.

Clearly, the potential for drones goes well beyond roof assessments. Drones are becoming increasingly vital and useful tools in engineering and construction.

For more information on all our services, contact Pie Consulting & Engineering today.

Patrick Palmer

About the Author

Patrick Palmer joined Pie Consulting and Engineering in 2016 and serves as a Designer where he provides field assistance, project documentation for Forensic, Claims and Construction Rehabilitation.  Patrick has over twenty years of experience in the Architectural, Engineering and Construction industries, having served in multiple roles throughout his career. He has been responsible for not only the original design and production on projects but has also served as owner representative, construction manager and managing designer. Prior to beginning his career in the Architectural and Engineering field, Patrick served as electrical contractor after honorably serving active duty as a Construction Engineer in the US Army.