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Drones for building information modelling (BIM) and construction documentation

Drones have established themselves as tools for construction companies. We provide a detailed overview of the current fields of application in documentation, preservation of evidence and building information modelling (BIM).


    Are you considering purchasing a drone or would you like to expand your range of services? Then this guide is just right for you. We look at popular and effective methods of using drones successfully in building construction and civil engineering. Before we show you the possibilities of drones, however, we would first like to take a look at the current situation.

    Status quo on German construction sites

    In general, the construction industry is still very classically organised: Construction files are available in printed form and construction progress is documented using conventional measuring methods. If photos are required, these are taken manually and acceptance tests are carried out on site.

    All this means that site managers, for example, spend many hundreds of kilometres in the car - which is not only expensive and inefficient, but also very unpleasant. So what would be the solution? We need to find a way for all authorised parties to have an overview of the construction site without having to be on site. And this is exactly where drones come into play.

    What added value do drones offer the construction industry?

    Drones record data - and that is the key added value. Companies benefit from a little helper that can obtain data from every conceivable angle. On the one hand, they can leave the camera in the car in future and on the other hand, they can access a bird's eye view at any time.

    In addition, the recorded data is automatically analysed by software. That means no more searching for photos! Because in the end you won't have 100 individual files, but just one - and that is a coherent 3D model of construction site X on day Y.

    Easy to get started: construction documentation & preservation of evidence

    If you want to get started gently, you can simply use the drone as a flying camera. The process is simple: you fly to the desired location, take a photo and later benefit from the bird's eye view. There is no automation involved here - just you and your drone as a camera. Typical results are simple but unprecedented top views and overview photos. This covers all applications that can be managed without surveying, e.g. documentation of obvious building defects as evidence, final documentation of your own work and aerial photos for advertising purposes.

    However, you can also go one step further and use an automatic flight. Instead of flying yourself, you simply let the drone do the work. What is the advantage of this? You get comparability! If you want to track the progress of construction work, the photos should ideally always be taken from the same position - and this is exactly what drones with built-in software can easily do. You plan a flight once on the tablet, tell the drone where to fly and where to take photos, and then carry out this flight at the touch of a button. The result: comparable shots from the same perspectives every time. Are you enthusiastic? You can go one step further.

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    Investing in digitalisation: BIM and the digital construction site

    The drone and the automatic flight are only one side of the coin, because what's really interesting is the software behind it! Imagine the following: Your drone automatically captures several hundred images. The images are transferred to processing software and you receive maps and 3D model structures as a result. You can now access a digital model from anywhere via an internet browser - even directly from your smartphone.


    This is made possible by photogrammetry. With this technology, individual images are combined on the computer to create maps, point clouds and 3D grid structures. The result is used directly in the photogrammetry programme or transferred to a CAD system (e.g. Autodesk BIM 360) or GIS. Regardless of your choice, you can then measure distances and calculate surface areas and volumes. Convenient, fast and objective.

    Modell eines Grabens im Cloud-Editor

    Figure 1: Model of a trench in the cloud editor

    Compatibility with Autodesk BIM 360 and GIS opens up further possibilities. This allows you to compare models with those of architects and planners during the construction phase and prevent problems at an early stage. In addition, you not only save time, but also money.

    Surveying and documentation with drones is a turning point for the construction industry. Those who invest and gain the necessary experience will benefit massively and sustainably. Digitalisation is taking hold everywhere and ensuring lean processes. A key word for the impact on the construction industry is Building Information Modelling, or BIM for short.

    Building Information Modelling (BIM)

    BIM describes the virtual modelling of construction sites. All organisational and acceptance processes are transferred to the digital realm in a cost-efficient manner, which benefits employees in particular. They can now work from any location and spend significantly less time travelling unnecessarily. All information is available to everyone involved at all times. And without expensive hardware, as most solution providers now rely on secure cloud technologies that make all data easily accessible via the internet. You can therefore no longer just edit your 3D model in the office on a high-end computer, but also on site at the construction site. Another major advantage is the simple sharing of information: You simply share your models via a link. No huge amounts of data, no long waits. If you want, your colleague on the other side of Germany can pick up the pen and make changes themselves. Work is decentralised and reorganised.

    Orthofoto einer Baustelle

    Figure 2: Orthophoto of a construction site

    Skilled labour shortage and company image

    In addition to the objective advantages, there are two subjective, but no less important points. On the one hand, the industry is struggling with a shortage of skilled labour and entrepreneurs are being forced to rethink. They know just as well as we do that a drone generally cannot replace an employee. But it can provide new employees! Both trainees and skilled workers are looking for modern employers and base their decision on the overall impression they make. In the media, drones symbolise technical progress and young people in particular are attracted to progress. So do something good for yourself and your employees' motivation and add drones to your range of services! This is an economical decision for your own future from all sides.

    However, your image is not only important internally, but also externally! Customers choose your company based on a subjective impression and are happy to be surprised by new methods. The image of a drone on the company website alone can be the decisive trigger for the next orders - or the decisive advantage over the competition.

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    Drones in civil engineering

    Drones are successfully used in civil engineering. A typical and often underestimated application is the as-built survey before construction begins. After all, how often have you wished you could take another quick look at the construction site? Drones and photogrammetry allow you to always have your construction site with you.

    What's more, you can easily place your CAD models in the terrain model and thus avoid errors at an early stage. Whether it's a road, building foundations or sewage pipes, a digital model of the construction site makes the crucial information accessible to everyone. BIM software such as Autodesk Revit enables all parties involved to work together efficiently - and the basis is always the same: your drone.

    During construction work, you regularly document the current status and compare it with the digital model by overlaying it. This allows you to maintain control at all times and initiate measures at an early stage. Documentation takes place in record time because a drone does not have to walk around lorries or negotiate trenches. If required, the image of the construction site is available for measurements and inspections almost in real time anywhere in the world.

    Once the project has been completed, the object is mapped repeatedly and compared with the target model on the PC. You save time, reduce costs and increase quality.

    Drones in building construction

    Building construction is predestined for drones, so it is not surprising that drones are already widely used here. Their most obvious strength lies in the documentation of buildings that cannot be fully recognised from the ground. They can inspect, document and measure in a short space of time.

    However, it is not necessary to wait until the start of construction to use drones successfully - quite the opposite! An often underestimated strength is the recording of the actual condition of the construction site before construction begins. This means that all interested parties do not have to make the expensive journey to the construction site, but can obtain the essential information conveniently from the office. If you want to keep up with the times, you can use virtual reality solutions and carry out the usual site inspection digitally.

    CAD models can be generated from the photogrammetry software throughout the planning phase and integrated into existing workflows. This gives you the opportunity to superimpose both models and assess changes or new constructions in the overall context.

    3D-Modell eines Bürogebäudes

    Figure 3: 3D model of an office building

    During the construction phase, regular drone flights support the documentation of damage and construction progress. Errors can be detected at an early stage and causes can be identified by analysing the construction progress. If necessary, the actual status and target status are compared on a daily basis. Relevant deviations thus become visible before they cause major damage. The collected information is available on demand in the cloud worldwide. Quality officers and other stakeholders can take precise measurements and provide important information remotely.

    Once construction is complete, the construction progress can be analysed based on data. The important conclusions are recorded for future projects, while the client and your advertising department can look forward to time lapses and before-and-after comparisons.

    We have described in detail why drones are the way forward for construction companies. Now the ball is in your court. Leave us your email address now and we'll get back to you shortly with more information.

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