Drones in construction to support BIM processes
New technological tools are contributing to make construction processes more efficient. Let’s see how BIM and drones can work together to improve the AEC sector
The use of drones is increasingly widespread. Businesses across industries realize that these “flying cameras” have multiple commercial applications and the AEC (construction) sector is not left behind.
In fact, the construction industry is extensively embracing drones and is now aware of the benefits of their use especially during surveying phases of existing land or buildings, but also for the inspection of inaccessible places or structures, the monitoring of construction sites in progress, etc. The use of drones can however go much further: they can, indeed, seamlessly integrate within BIM processes, increasing efficiency levels throughout the entire life cycle of buildings.
Technical experts and builders are slowly embracing the revolutions at an international level: the “drone revolution” and the “BIM revolution“.
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), are quickly becoming commonplace in the 4 phases of the building process (traditional and BIM related).
The role of drones in the life cycle of buildings designed with BIM
1. Design phase
It is certainly at this stage that the use of drones in the construction industry has already been widely tested.
In this regard, they are used for surveying the morphology of the land, for existing buildings (including those of historical and artistic interest), or for surveying built-up areas.
The drone site survey is based on the key concepts of photogrammetry: it starts with a series of photos taken that are then processed by special software with technologies called SfM (Structure from Motion), or definition of 3D geometry starting from the movement when you take pictures.
The result is a cloud of points that can be further processed to create three-dimensional mesh models. These models then form the basis for generating the BIM model.
Drone surveys can also be integrated with laser scanner surveys, resulting in even more precise and detailed point clouds.
In addition, drones can provide us with accurate and fast panorama images of large sites and high-risk areas or areas that are normally difficult to inspect. In this way, today it is possible to obtain three-dimensional models of places that until a few years ago were unreachable.
The large amount of data collected can be used to plan construction activities, thus generating a new and interesting connection between drones, BIM and urban planning.
2. Operation phase
With the transition from design to construction execution, the role of drones changes. Certainly, there are countless difficulties to be faced on construction sites, unforeseen circumstances and variables that are difficult to manage. Critical issues that these technologies can keep under control.
To this end, drones can be used to monitor / control the evolution and status of the construction site during operations. This is necessary to verify the real correspondence between project and construction, in fact the photos and videos obtained from drones can be uploaded on BIM collaboration platforms, where they are automatically shared among all the actors involved, based on the degree of authority they have.
Hence, one of the major difficulties in managing a construction site can be overcome through constant updating of documentation, graphics and photographs, during the progress of the project, and rapid data sharing.
With the introduction of drones and BIM platforms in the construction sector, it is possible to share a series of aerial shots and high-definition videos in real time, in order to have full control of the site without actually being on the place.
A second type of drone application on construction sites during this phase is related to safety.
Through monitoring, which can be pre-set and therefore automated, it is possible to study, understand and monitor the movement of workers and moving vehicles. This allows you to prevent accidents, avoid interference between different processes, study the construction of the site in an optimal manner.
3. Facility management phase
Once the construction phase is complete, the facility management phase must be tackled, which can still present a series of difficulties and peculiarities.
The long-life span of a building also makes it unlikely to assume that building management and maintenance responsible persons always remain the same. The transition between different operators, from manufacturer to facility managers, can cause the loss of information and data relating to the building and the various maintenance operations carried out, as well as to the characteristics of the building itself.
In practice, “data memory of the building“, that is fundamental for its maintenance, would be lost.
The use of BIM models allows you to have an updated model that can be used for maintenance interventions planning. It allows not only to know the exact positioning of each plant system or construction element, but also to trace exactly when it was installed during the operations and who performed the work.
In the BIM model, all maintenance interventions, photos and inspection reports can be archived, so as to have an updated archive with the complete data relating to the entire life cycle of the building.
Drones represent ideal tools in this phase for performing inspections of parts of the building that are difficult to reach in total safety.
4. Dismantling phase
Finally, drones can be used to monitor disassembly, demolition and restoration phases of buildings that have reached the end of their life cycle.
In this phase the BIM model, which allows you to know in depth every element that constitutes the building, by going backwards and following the original construction phases, easily facilitates the disassembly and demolition phases.
The in-depth knowledge of a building also enables stakeholders to identify any elements that could be recovered, or any particular material that needs to be disposed of with greater care (special waste, dangerous substances, etc.).