Unmanned aerial vehicles provide a safer, faster and more economical means of collecting data for design and construction.
KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Burns & McDonnell has become one of the first architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms to receive certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transport Canada to fly drones for commercial use in both the United States and Canada. Industry leaders predict that drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), could revolutionize the way AEC firms gather critical data needed to design and build a project.
"We used UAVs when installing more than 200 miles of transmission lines in Canada through extremely rugged terrain and brutally cold temperatures," says Steve Santovasi, Burns & McDonnell. "In the past, engineers would have to physically walk the route to gather those precise measurements and data. Using UAVs allowed us to do our job safer, more efficiently and significantly faster, saving our client time and money."
In addition to capturing high resolution images and sweeping video, UAVs use remote sensors that focus on specific parts of the light spectrum to collect valuable data that can identify vegetation health, wetland areas, surface temperatures and more. That information can help produce detailed design, construction and planning aids from 3-D modeling and thermal imagery to wildlife and cultural monitoring.
"UAVs will help reduce the need for many environmental permits," Santovasi says. "Getting such a permit can require a major effort and impact the progress of a project. Now for example, a UAV can quickly collect data over a wetland area without setting a foot on it. You could also identify a remote nest without disturbing its inhabitants or bringing in heavy equipment to see if it is active. These UAV workflows result in saving a substantial amount of time and money."
Burns & McDonnell is now partnering with academic researchers from various universities to study how UAVs improve project and operational efficiency. They are currently reviewing a case study with a major utility to inspect five of the most critical areas of the project:
- Transmission lines
- Distribution lines
- Power plant boilers
- Landfill mass
Once the data is captured, Burns & McDonnell engineers and data specialists will compare the results with traditional methods in terms of cost, time and efficiency.
"I think we're at a tipping point in our industry with UAVs. It's the equivalent of going from a shovel to a bulldozer," Santovasi says. "UAVs will play a key role in helping our clients in achieving innovative design build projects faster, safer and more economically than ever before."
About Burns & McDonnell
Burns & McDonnell is a company made up of more than 5,200 engineers, architects, construction professionals, scientists, consultants and entrepreneurs with offices across the country and throughout the world. We strive to create amazing success for our clients and amazing careers for our employee-owners. Burns & McDonnell is 100% employee-owned and is proud to be No. 15 on FORTUNE's 2015 List of 100 Best Companies to Work For.