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How PCL Construction Built a Successful Drone Program

Two years ago, the Orlando, Florida division of PCL Construction wasn’t flying drones on any of their projects. Their virtual construction team set out to change that. “We needed to capture our projects in detail,” said André Tousignant, Virtual Construction Manager at PCL. “We knew that drones could help.”

André and his colleague Bill Bennington built their drone program from the ground up in Orlando, capturing aerial data on a number of their projects. Fast forward to today, and PCL Construction has expanded their drone program beyond just Orlando to have a team of 26 pilots flying drones in multiple districts across North America, with nearly 50 people using their drone data on a daily basis. It’s had a big impact, helping PCL better collaborate between the office and the field, avoid costly disputes and mistakes, and keep projects on schedule.

We spoke with André to dive deeper into why they started looking for a drone solution, how he got the rest of his team actively using drone data, and how it’s helped on their projects so far.



Hugh: What were the original pain points you faced that made you and your team look for a drone solution? Why did you originally want to bring a drone in-house?

André: On construction projects, documentation is key. You can never have enough photos. We needed to capture our projects in detail, and we’ve used laser scanners and other ways of taking pictures, but we started looking for a drone solution so we can gather information on the whole site.

We quickly realized that a cloud-based drone platform could help us do more than just turn drone photos into orthomosaics and 3D models: they’re enterprise-ready tools that we could use to share this data with all of our teams. That sort of opportunity is what really sold us on bringing a drone solution in-house. Really, if you compare the cost to what you actually get—and the speed you can get it—it’s an easy decision.

Hugh: What are some of the biggest ‘wins’ you’ve had using your drone data? What are some that you didn’t expect?

André: There’s been a few! A recent one was on a large commercial structure that we’re building. One of the first times we flew the site, we were just starting to excavate some of our foundations. As soon as we processed our flight into an orthomosaic, we overlaid our design file onto the map to spot the difference between design and reality. We immediately realized the excavation was probably about 3 feet off, so we moved quickly and fixed it before it became an issue.

Digital elevation model viewer with design file overlay

The second example is something that we didn’t originally expect when starting to use our drone. A question arose on one of our projects about the amount of de-watering that had been installed. It wasn’t clear how many PVC pipes were actually placed, compared to the initial plan.

Often photo documentation of this type of scope is sparse and it would prove difficult to know the right answer. But thankfully, on this project, we had the drone imagery. We used Site Scan to count every 2-inch diameter pipe to see exactly how many were there, and it helped us resolve a potentially costly dispute.

What it comes down to is that you can’t argue with the data. As soon as we review and share the documentation captured by the drone, it puts these types of issues to bed immediately.

“What it comes down to is that you can’t argue with the data. As soon as we review and share the documentation captured by the drone, it puts these types of issues to bed immediately.”

Hugh: You led scaling PCL’s drone operations from a single user license to over 100 users across different projects and teams. How did you do that successfully? Who is using the data today?

André: Here’s the first thing we did: show people what they can actually do with drone data, and how easy the workflow is. It sounds simple, but it’s a critical thing to do.

I brought together project teams—project managers, project engineers, superintendents, and more—and showed them an example of how drone imagery is being used on other projects. Then, I showed them the different use cases and simple tools that are available to them, such as overlaying a PDF design file onto an orthomosaic, comparing flights, performing volume and area measurements, and more. Their eyes lit up, and the lightbulb went off. They said things like, “Hey, this is something we can use! We can do measurements. We can do a cross-section of the point cloud and see the elevation. We can share it with our teams.”

Comparing jobsite changes over time

With this initial positive feedback, we worked to standardize drone operations on all of our projects. For example, we’re expanding the number of drone pilots to more teams. A key part of this, when scaling into the enterprise, is maintaining consistency. We ensure that we’re effective recordkeepers and can plan flights properly. We have digital checklists that our pilots use every time before taking off, to ensure they fly safely and effectively. Also, all of our flights are logged in Site Scan, so it’s easy if someone else sets up a flight and completes it, then I can go out and re-fly that flight quickly. This ensures we have consistent flights that cover the same area, capturing the right overlap, and getting an expected result out of the [photogrammetry] processing.

Our team uses the drone data in a variety of ways. For example, it’s become an important part of coordination meetings, where our team talks through site logistics, reviews progress, plan work with subs, and more. They’re pulling that information up in Site Scan, in the browser, and reviewing it. It’s important to note that this data is usually from the previous day, which is great considering how quickly these sites can change.

“[Drone data] has become an important part of coordination meetings, where our team talks through site logistics, reviews progress, plan work with subs, and more.”

In addition to our project teams, we’re also give access to some of our owners so they can see progress on the job and see how it’s changing. We also give access to some consultants on other teams, as they may be interested in learning different things than we are.

Hugh: You work with new technologies everyday, not just drones. What new construction technologies are you excited about?

André: I’m excited about a few things. First, the impact of neural network software to further process and document models from our flights. I think that will have a huge impact.

I’m a fan of tech that can touch every project in a significant way. For example, look at what StructionSite has done. It makes it easy for us to document our jobs and manage the photos we take. By integrating StructionSite with other storage apps, we’re simplifying how we store and find images.

Overall, I’m glad to see more horizontal integrations between platforms. This helps us avoid having data silos, and ensures that our field staff can get the information they need, whenever they need it.

“Overall, I’m glad to see more horizontal integrations between platforms. This helps us avoid having data silos, and ensures that our field staff can get the information they need, whenever they need it.”

Hugh: You and your team at PCL have built a great drone program: you’re getting a ton of value out of the data and have scaled drone operations to more teams and locations. Now that you have this foundation, where do you want to take your drone operations next? What are you excited about what it comes to the future of drone technology?

André: First, I’m excited about where things are going with [Site Scan’s] BIM 360 integration. We’re big users of BIM 360 Field and Glue here at PCL—almost every single one of our projects uses BIM 360 Field. Site Scan’s integration with BIM 360 is exciting for a few reasons: it helps us overlay up-to-date design files onto our orthomosaics, create Issues and RFI’s to solve problems in the field, and it makes it easy for us to bring drone data into our design models, and not just look at them in 2D.

On a similar note, I’m excited about how easy 3D modelling has become. When the 3D mesh viewer was released, for example, our team couldn’t believe the type of model that could be created from a 10-minute drone flight. The detail is incredible. You can read our logo on the trucks!

André and his team getting ready to fly

We’re also starting to explore new use cases for drones, like making it more efficient to do pre-pour documentation of conduits and post-tensioning, among other things. In some of the initial experiments we’ve done with a drone, we’ve turned an hour of documentation work in the field down to just 15 minutes, and improved our processing times as well.

Also, we’re excited to see where the FAA regulation goes. For example, the evolution of LAANC is really exciting, because it’s opening up airspace and making it easier to fly in areas that took longer to get approval in before.

Lastly, and importantly, I’m excited about what’s possible within PCL. Every day, we on the VDC team hear about a teammate who is using the drone data in a different way. This is exactly what we want when introducing a new technology. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing project teams use the data in a way that we never intended, and I’m excited to see where we take things next.

The post How PCL Construction Built a Successful Drone Program appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

5 Ways Drones Can Improve Construction Projects

No longer a futuristic vision, drones are now common on construction sites. Today, the business case for using drones in construction is clearer than it was even two years ago, and companies are already benefiting from their many uses. Here are 5 ways drones can improve your next construction project.

1. Prevent costly mistakes

Drones can be equipped with cameras, geo-location sensors, infrared sensors, and more to capture precise details about the environmental and physical site prior to and during construction. The high-resolution images captured by a drone are then turned into accurate 2D orthophotos and 3D models, creating a rich digital representation of your jobsite. Then, drone data platforms like 3DR Site Scan make it easy to overlay design files onto drone maps, enabling you to pinpoint constructability challenges in pre-construction spot mistakes, and measure progress during construction.

2. Provide Better Project Updates

Owners and other stakeholders understandably demand progress updates on a regular basis. This can be a pain for you, if you have to walk the site or send someone to take photos. Drones can make this aspect of the job both a painless experience for you, and a better experience for them.

When it comes to project updates, “drones can provide instant ROI,” says Josh Cheney, Industry Manager of Construction Technology at Autodesk. “Drones can be operated autonomously, on your own schedule.” Scheduling a regular flyover is simple and inexpensive, and provides rich data to share with project owners.

3. Improve safety

The leading cause of private sector worker fatalities on the construction site is falls, representing nearly 39% of all deaths. Drones can be used to keep workers’ feet planted firmly on the ground when they might otherwise have to climb to take manual measurements or engage in other activities that can be replaced with a drone.

4. Improve Collaboration

“Collaboration is key,” says Nico Bonnafoux, Senior Customer Success Architect at 3DR. “You save money if you get everyone moving in a unified direction.” Drones improve collaboration by collecting data on-site and distributing it through a platform like BIM 360. Virtual design teams, engineers, superintendents, owners, and contractors can then access aerial views and related data from their iPads and other devices. This enables everyone to see where things were yesterday, compare progress over time, and catch any discrepancies before they become serious problems.

“Collaboration is key. You save money if you get everyone moving in a unified direction.”

— Nico Bonnafoux, Senior Customer Success Architect, 3DR

5. Mitigate Risk

Contractors carry significant risk on every project. From being overbilled on one side, to being underpaid on the other, to mistakes, rework, missed deadlines, and legal challenges, few industries provide as many opportunities to lose money.

Data from drones can help mitigate many of these risks by identifying problems before they arise, providing accurate data regarding disputes, and documenting the process against legal challenges.

“For example,” says Bonnafoux, “one of our customers used their drone data to help win a dispute with a subcontractor who was significantly overcharging them. By having accurate daily site documentation, our customer quickly resolved the dispute and saved over $100,000 without having to go to court.”

Once a vision of the future, drones are here now, and their use in construction industry is only going to grow.



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The post 5 Ways Drones Can Improve Construction Projects appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

View 3D Meshes in Site Scan (and VR!)

As drones continue to take off in construction, more teams are getting used to collecting drone imagery and turning it into digital models of their jobsite. While it’s easy to view orthomosaics and point clouds in a platform like Site Scan, innovative construction teams want to go a step further and view rich 3D meshes directly in the browser, so they can have (and easily share) a high-resolution model of their project.

That’s why we’re excited to share that we’ve built a 3D mesh viewer directly into Site Scan Manager, our cloud-based web application. With processing powered by Autodesk ReCap and Pix4D, the industry leading 3D photogrammetry engines, you can view richer, more detailed models in Site Scan compared to any other drone platform. Also, through our enterprise platform, you can easily share this viewer with clients, teammates, and anyone else.

This capability enables construction teams in a variety of ways. For example, you may want to be able to see a detailed model of your site when planning work and sharing status updates in weekly team meetings. Or, perhaps your clients and other external stakeholders are looking for better visibility into your construction progress, and require frequent, detailed status updates no matter where they’re based. A 3D mesh viewer makes all of these use cases—and much more—easier than ever.

View your models in virtual reality, no export necessary

But that’s not all: not only can you view a 3D mesh in the browser, but you can use Site Scan to send it to your virtual reality device with the press of a button. No need to export your model to another platform: just connect your headset (you can start with an inexpensive Google Cardboard), turn on VR mode in the mesh viewer, and jump into a completely immersive experience.

Here’s a short video to show the complete workflow in action:

Want to learn more? Contact us to schedule a discovery call with one of our drone technology specialists and get a free Site Scan demo.

The post View 3D Meshes in Site Scan (and VR!) appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

Capture Better Aerial Data With Our 7 New Features

Today, we’re thrilled to share the latest improvements we’ve made to Site Scan Field, our mobile app built for flying various drones and capturing aerial data. We’ve added not one, not two, but seven new features, making it easier than ever for you to capture data accurately, effectively, and safely.

Read on to see what’s new!

1. Capture high-definition video


See how Argyle—who recorded the above video—uses Site Scan to make their as-built surveying workflow 5X faster

For Site Scan users with a Phantom 4 Pro, you can now capture video with any of our autonomous flight modes—area survey, crosshatch survey, and perimeter scan—along with our manual inspection mode.

Just switch on ‘Video Mode’ when planning a flight, and you can record high-definition video that can be used to provide progress updates to owners, create marketing materials, and much more.

2. Plan more accurate, effective flights


Now, you can view two additional layers of information while planning your flights: a map of your ground control points, and PDF’s of your design files.

By being able to view your ground control points before flying, it helps you design a flight plan that effectively covers each point, which will ultimately improve the accuracy of your data products.

With PDF overlays, you can view your design files while planning flights in Site Scan Field, which helps you ensure you’re staying within the boundaries of your site and capturing only the most important areas.

3. Easily avoid obstacles


Obstacle avoidance is now automatically activated on all of your Site Scan flights with a Phantom 4 Pro. This helps you fly safely and confidently: the Phantom 4 Pro can detect and avoid obstacles—on all four sides—that are up to 100 feet (30 metres) away.

4. Capture better data with single-altitude perimeter scan


Perimeter scan is our most advanced flight mode: it’s used to fly autonomously at multiple altitudes to capture vertical structures and facades, creating rich 3D models and point clouds.

Today, we’re making perimeter scan easier for you to get started with: now, you can fly a perimeter scan with just a single altitude. This helps you shoot progress photos and videos from all angles of your jobsite. Also, you can fly a single altitude perimeter scan and combine the pictures with area survey photos to create better data products.

5. Control who can fly your project


We’ve added operator licenses to Site Scan as part of our Enterprise platform, which gives you full control over who can and can’t fly your drones with the Site Scan Field mobile app. Read our new eBook, How to Build an Enterprise Drone Program, to learn more about how Site Scan can be used across large, multi-stakeholder organizations.

6. Fly crosshatch surveys at the right angle


Crosshatch surveys are a great way to capture oblique imagery. Now you can fly more effective crosshatch flights every time, because we’ve automatically set the gimbal angle to 35°, which is the optimal angle for the crosshatch flight mode.

7. Transfer media faster

We’ve added support for the Apple iPad SD card camera reader so you can quickly transfer photos and videos from your DJI Phantom 4 Pro. This is perfect for big video files, or if you have a large batch of photos that you want to start processing immediately.



Have questions? Want to see what else Site Scan can do? Schedule a call with one of our drone technology specialists to have an introductory chat. They’d be happy to help answer any questions you may have.

The post Capture Better Aerial Data With Our 7 New Features appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

New eBook: How to Build an Enterprise Drone Program

We’ve just published our latest eBook: How to Build an Enterprise Drone Program.


Large organizations—from ENR 400 firms to government agencies like state DOT’s—are looking to use drones on more of their projects.

Organizations of this size have some unique concerns. For example: how can they standardize drone operations across jobsites, share data with hundreds of people, and do so in a way that’s secure and easy to manage?

We’ve worked directly with industry leaders like PCL Construction and PARIC to help answer these questions and successfully build their enterprise drone programs. Now, we’re sharing our key insights with you in our latest eBook, a 25-page PDF filled with best practices and guiding principles to help you scale your own drone operations.

In this eBook, you’ll learn about:

Scalability: How to grow and manage drone operations and flights across multiple projects

Sharing: How to best give key stakeholders—clients, subcontractors, VDC teams, field personnel, and more—access to your drone maps and models

Security: How to store your data safely and securely—especially for government or confidential projects—and ensure you’re compliant with flight laws

It also includes exclusive interviews with VDC leaders from PCL Construction and PARIC, who share what they’ve learned by making drone data accessible to their whole team.

Grab your free copy and enjoy!

The post New eBook: How to Build an Enterprise Drone Program appeared first on 3DR Site Scan - Commercial Drone Platform.

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