Surveying sites in preparation for excavation and construction long was based on the best information presented by engineers present. But many times that information proved to be outdated, even when it came from geo mapping from satellites.
When something wasn’t correct on the job site — such as discovering more dirt needed to be moved than expected — they had to cope the best they could.
“You were kind of stuck with whatever data you’re given, whether it’s a plane flight from 1994 that gives us a rough layout of the ground, or maybe a rough survey,” said Gibson Kuenzi, project manager for Siegmund Excavation & Construction of Stayton.
“You could take that information and put it on the computer, but the drone technology allows you to get a lot more precise,” he said.
Drone uses on construction sites rose by 239 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to DroneDeploy.com.
And it allows the customers know exactly what is on the site and what will be required for construction with visuals.
“We might have a mind’s eye picture of what we’re going to produce for the customer because we do it every day, but a lot of folks maybe don’t quite grasp that so by having this capability,” said Andrew Siegmund, president of Siegmund Excavation.
“We can kind of show them in advance what it’s going to look like and what they can expect and then kind of take the surprises out of it.”
Starting small with drone technology
In recent years, drones have become widely used in security monitoring, search and rescue, building inspection, agricultural surveying and insurance inspections.
Using drones in construction and excavation is still a relatively new use of the technology.
Siegmund Excavation of Stayton is using drones for three-dimensional modeling of surveyed sites and calculating material volumes.
Siegmund Excavation of Stayton is using drones for three-dimensional modeling of surveyed sites and calculating material volumes. (Photo: Special to the Statesman Journal)
When Siegmund bought its first drone a couple years ago, it was specifically to figure out how much crushed rock was in a pile at a quarry.
It couldn’t be foreseen how the company would progress to use it to map out progress of building roads for logging in remote timber stands.
“There’s still a lot of new developments coming out with it,” Kuenzi said. “It’s an exciting time for that. Especially in the industry we’re working in, we’re one of the only contractors that uses drones.”
Siegmund builds between six and eight bridges each year, and the drones make the work safer by removing workers from the most dangerous areas.
Siegmund Excavation uses a Trimble Robotic Total Station for verifying elevations during a bridge instillation.
Siegmund Excavation uses a Trimble Robotic Total Station for verifying elevations during a bridge instillation. (Photo: Special to the Statesman Journal)
Compared with the old ways of surveying land destined for construction, the same surveying work can be done in a fraction of the time and man hours.
Kuenzi said a flight to survey a pile of crushed rock takes about 15 minutes, where it could take multiple people multiple days to accomplish that using previous methods.
“The old method was we pulled out tape measures and we cross measured and you did it,” Siegmund said. “That’s the way they did it 100 years ago, but this certainly makes it a lot easier.
“And quite honestly, we’re able to do it with less folks, and it’s not because we want to do it with less folks, it’s because there’s less people available in the work force.”
Siegmund said the technology likely isn’t practical to be used in surveying someone’s backyard.
But they recently used a drone to survey a five-acre plot of land outside of Salem to find the best place for the customer to build a shop on his land.
“We can come in, take some data points with the total station, fly it with the drone and we can build you a 3D model and show you what that site’s going to look like once we excavate it and level it and where your shop can sit and how many yards of dirt have to be move,” Siegmund said.
Drones getting more affordable
In remote locations like timber stands, Siegmund engineer in training/project manager Jordan Vesper can accurately map the terrain, determine the height of the trees and learn what parts of the soil are best.
New uses for drones in businesses like construction have become accessible to companies of all sizes.
As drone technology has improved and they have become more affordable, more industries have found ways to do business more efficiently.
In the United States, $1.3 trillion was spent on construction in 2018, according to the United States Census Bureau. According to Forbes, $160 billion a year is wasted by factors including inefficiency.
“It’s made a real positive impact,” Siegmund said. “We can better allocate our machine time, our employee time. We know, in the plans, there’s X number of yards of dirt to move.
“We know that it’s actually going to take more time so we can account for that and staff up our crews and our equipment where historically we may not have been able to and that’s where you would get project overruns both in cost and then time.”