Drone Mapping Saves Money, Time and Trees on Custom Home Construction Project

Tilt Rock of Texas Uses DroneDeploy Maps to Improve Real-Time Communication at Canyonside Project

By Nick Johnson, Contract Project Manager and Owner, Tilt Rock of Texas

On a construction site, time is money. For large, custom home projects, real-time communication is a major issue. Design plans change almost daily, and with so many variables at play, it can be difficult to get new information out to everyone in a timely manner. Conflicts quickly snowball, often going undiscovered until crews have already completed a costly installation. Drone mapping gives project managers intuitive, real-time data that can be used to keep everyone informed and on track.

I’ve been in construction for forty years and a contractor-owner for twenty-five years. My experience ranges from Solar Energy to Heavy Highway, Bridge and Underground Utilities. Currently, I am a Contract Project Manager and Owner of Tilt Rock of Texas. I also own TheDroneSpace, Inc., which I started this year so that I could continue to advance my drone services. My goal is to eventually provide drone services full time.

I found out about drones when I watched a video showcasing a drone, and I immediately connected the dots for drone use in construction. As was the case on the Canyonside project, which I’ve described below, aerial imagery can save project owners a substantial amount of time and money.

Canyonside orthomosaic map with electric overlay

Easy-to-use technology a helpful management tool

The Canyonside project is a custom home community with sixty-seven homes, a pool and an amenity center. I am the contract project manager and I was also involved with the project owner and civil engineer in the design phase concerning utility placement, drainage and retaining walls.

I fly a Phantom Pro3 and automate my flight plans using the DroneDeploy app. I’ve researched other similar apps and software but nothing comes close to DroneDeploy’s ease of use, quick turnaround, ROI and awesomely informative forum.

A mapping flight at the Canyonside project

On this project, I make routine weekly flyover missions and schedule additional flyovers when major milestones are performed like curbs, paving and sidewalks. I also make flyovers when major underground utility trenches are open, so we can keep a permanent visual record of exact location. Because I’m using my maps for management purposes, rather than surveying, I don’t require expensive AutoCAD software. Using Photoshop, I simply overlay DroneDeploy’s orthomosaic maps with various plans such as utility, wastewater and communications. It’s quick, relatively easy and inexpensive.

Real-time data catches conflicts faster

Section of orthomosaic map with site electric overlay

The owner of this project is known for award-winning community design. He’s also known for saving trees. In fact, he makes so many changes to twist houses and save trees, we call him Mr. Wizard. The community is brand new, but the trees are forty years old, so moving roads, utility services and houses is very common. Most of the changes we make involve moving and adjusting in lieu of adding or deleting.

Construction at the Canyonside project

On this particular project, homeowners are always making changes to house footprints, models and orientation. If it weren’t for the drone maps, it would take me months to find out about many of these changes. Because aerial imagery identifies conflicts I wouldn’t normally see from the ground level, I find out about them in a matter of days.

“With aerial imagery, I catch conflicts in days instead of weeks,” says Nick. [click to tweet]

I discover services in the driveways, transformers too close to houses and trees that can stay or need to be removed. Moving a transformer alone can cost upwards of five thousand dollars. If it has already been energized, there are additional costs for the electric company to come back in. Now, I catch these conflicts before they actually happen and direct site contractors to move services at a minimum cost, while they are still on site and before paving.

Streamlining the decision-making process

My DroneDeploy app has also allowed me to streamline the decision-making process by more efficiently distributing information across the project. With all of the changes taking place, the plans the engineers reference can become outdated very quickly. When engineers from several different disciplines are all working on the same project, it’s difficult to make sure the small changes and tweaks get distributed to everyone.

Now, if I need a contractor to be aware of a design change before he lays pipe, I simply walk over to him with my tablet, blow up a particular section of overlaid plans and show him exactly what he needs to know. I have it all in a PDF, so I can pencil in the new route of the pipe right there in front of him and then send the information over to the engineers. This cuts out weeks of back and forth and boils it all down to less than an hour. Because my maps are hosted on the DroneDeploy cloud, I can easily take information out into the field or share it via email or a hyperlink.

Example of site electric overlay, used to find conflicts with services in new driveway locations

Aerial imagery is an essential construction tool

As a manager, it’s my job to implement changes as quickly as possible to keep costs low. Real-time information is key. Before I began using aerial imagery, I spent hours studying the civil, electrical and communications plans, and I still didn’t catch some of the things that I catch now.

Now, I’m able to discover conflicts earlier, communicate quickly to everyone involved, and implement changes long before contractors install incorrect work. I’m saving an enormous amount of time and money.

From staying aware of plan changes in real time, to catching conflicts before they become costly, the maps I produce using the DroneDeploy app have become an essential asset to my construction toolbox.

“The maps I produce using the DroneDeploy app are an essential asset to my construction toolbox,” says Nick. [click to tweet]

source: dronedeploy blog