Drones in facilities management: Saving lives, time and money

Drones in facilities management: Saving lives, time and money

Photo courtesy of Control Solutions Inc.

While other countries may be slightly ahead of the U.S. in terms of application, national demand for drones is growing across industries.

And one set of professionals that can make good use of UAVs is facilities managers, reports at Futurism.

In fact, drones are set to revolutionize the way FMs work, according to HVAC cleaning systems manufacturer Goodway Technologies. This technology allows inspections of areas difficult to access or dangerous to monitor, saving time and keeping workers out of harm’s way.

Access equipment such as aerial work platforms, scaffolding and lifts is expensive but necessary to inspect rooftops and other hard-to-reach areas. It’s also time-consuming to build and put in place, and then to tear down.

Speed of data collection is another huge benefit for FMs who use drones, according to Goodway.

“That’s not just money saved in man hours. It’s also money saved through getting equipment back online sooner rather than later,” the company says.

Josh Pola, COO of Springwise Facility Management in South Bend, Ind., promoted the use drones in retail facility maintenance, saying the potential savings in time and money are substantial.

But it’s not just tall buildings and rooftops that can benefit, Michael Petermann, principal at the engineering firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner, told FacilitiesNet. Low-rise buildings can benefit from inspections, too, especially when it comes to their façades.

“One benefit (of these façade inspections) is that you can have your drone record video, and you can store that video,” he said. “As long as you automate the pattern or the process, you can repeat the flight. Then you have side-by-side results over a period of time. This can be very useful in monitoring the behavior of a façade.”

Drones can scramble to a site in a hurry. This one feature makes them invaluable in many instances.

FMs who are dealing with disaster scenarios, for example, can rely on drones to provide critical information in real time. Outfitted with various sensors, Lia Reich at PrecisionHawk writes, drones can do many things, from locating survivors, to providing the data to allow 3D reconstructions to be built for analysis, to identifying potentially deadly toxic waste and gas leaks in the air.

Here are three more ways FMs and facilities owners are making use of drone maneuverability.  

Producing and using 3D maps

At the largest crude oil storage facility in North America in Cushing, Okla., drones are replacing helicopters for aerial photography and 3D maps. It’s these “orthomosaic, elevation and 3D maps” that are important.

That’s because spillage from oil tanks is contained by dirt work that surrounds each tank. Dykes must be of certain sizes to meet federal regulations, and the drone maps allowed workers to monitor the dirt work more easily.

“The maps did not replace the need for onsite monitoring, but they significantly reduced it,” according to officials with Drone Deploy. “Project managers were not only able to visit the site less often, but they were also armed with more comprehensive information to help them with their oversight.”

Charting disasters for management and rescue

And if a disaster does occur, drones can help with the solution.

Souma Chowdhury, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the University at Buffalo's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is developing a method that will allow a team of drones to quickly map an oil spill, reports Engineering.com.

The swarm of drones can quickly determine the size of a spill, without the need for human interaction and at a low cost. Other natural disasters, such as forest fires, can be safely mapped; by changing the type of cameras the drones carry, the same program could be used to help locate people trapped after earthquakes.

Monitoring over time, inspections and surveillance

The 10-campus system that comprises the University of California makes use of drones in several ways, from engineering research to agriculture and environmental work. 

When it comes to their own university facilities workers, they “have been using drones to monitor construction sites, inspect building areas that are hard to get to (like roofs) and keep an eye on the university’s sizable landholdings,” says Brandon Stark, founding director of the University of California Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety. “All of these uses can significantly improve worker safety, productivity and cost savings.”

If the facility happens to be a wind farm, drones can be made of use there, too. Instead of physically having a person climb up each wind turbine to inspect its blades, autonomous drones can take high-quality photos to detect cracks or other damage.


Topics: Architectural Firms, Automation and Controls, Building Owners and Managers, Great Commercial Buildings, Office Buildings, Technology, Urban Planning and Design

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