Drones revolution could lift construction and manufacturing sector to new heights

01 June 2018

By Rob Walker, Engineering and Construction leader in the UK

While drones are already providing cheap and efficient ways to map a number of construction sites, tracking the process against schedule and original design, new research from PwC predicts their use could rapidly rise across both the construction and manufacturing sector over the next 12 years.

And in doing so, our analysis shows that drones usage will not only boost UK GDP by £8.6bn by 2030 but save the construction and manufacturing sectors as much as £3.5bn, partly due to a uplift in productivity.

While more than 76,000 drones are expected to take to UK skies over this period, delivering an overall GDP uplift of £42bn, as many as 4,800 could be employed in the construction and manufacturing sector alone.

As well as construction tracking, drones can also be used for a wide range of tasks from inspecting  structures for ongoing wear and tear to collecting three-dimensional information, enabling this to be integrated with existing building information modelling (BIM) systems.

Embedding drone flights in the construction lifecycle can provide a compelling ‘golden record’ of activity and we are already seeing tangible benefits from users.

Survey times can be around 400 times faster than traditional methods with costs reduced by as much as 40%.  The data can also be shared via the cloud with multiple stakeholders anywhere in the world, enabling unambiguous comparison of progress at agreed periodic intervals - a move that could virtually eliminate disagreements about project status and provide valuable evidence should litigation arise.

And when it comes to survey grade accuracy, drones can typically deliver pinpoint precision to 3cm horizontally and vertically, with a pixel in an orthomosaic map representing 3cm in real life, as well as improving photographic visualisation in both 3D and 2D. According to our report, existing drone software platforms can deliver a fully 3D ‘as built’ representation of a survey site which can be compared with original design CAD to ensure adherence to architectural plans.

Tangible benefits such as these can help enhance and accelerate decision making processes, and crucially for businesses as they focus on cost-efficiency, their people can be freed up to focus on higher-value work.

As businesses gain experience with this technology, we expect to see more evidence of the accumulation of drone collected data across wider programmes and tighter integration with other sources of management data.

If manufacturers and construction firms are to realise the full potential from drones - and reap the significant benefits we believe can be harvested over the next decade - more must be done to build confidence in this technology across boards, investors and wider society to help drive acceptance and increase adoption.

We also need to see current UK drone regulation advance to see the estimations in our report become a reality. Coincidently, in the week of our Skies without Limits launch, the Government’s proactive steps took a leap forward with new laws on drones coming into effect from 30 May and an assurance  that the draft Drones Bill will be published this summer.

The is just the start of our drone journey - and for manufacturing and construction businesses, the skies are truly limitless.

If you’d like to discover more about our drones research, visit our website - www.pwc.co.uk/dronesreport