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How Layton Construction Uses Drones on Construction Sites for Mapping, Modeling, and BIM

BY Isabella Lee
19 April 2019

Layton Construction, a nationally-ranked commercial contractor, is using drone technology to enhance their operations. Our CEO, Alan Perlman, recently met up with their drone team on a job site to see how they’re using drones in the construction field.

The team, comprised of multiple Part 107-certified drone pilots and Drone Pilot Ground School alumni, is currently working to complete one of three residential colleges, as well as infrastructure and beautification of the West End Central Neighborhood on the north side of Vanderbilt University’s campus in Nashville, TN.

layton drone mapping modeling
An aerial view of the Layton Construction job site near Vanderbilt University and West End Ave/25th Ave.

The company has experience in virtually every industry, including extensive experience at universities and higher education facilities across the country. This work includes academic medical centers, classrooms, labs, and arts centers, as well as sports and recreation.

Throughout the day exploring the Vanderbilt job site, Drone Operations Coordinator Austin Lay was able to fill us in on how Layton Construction is incorporating drones into their processes.

We are excited about the future of drones and where they are going. Layton has always been on the forefront of technology and drones are a part of that.

— Austin Lay, Visualization Coordinator and Drone Operations Coordinator, Layton Construction

How Layton Construction’s Drone Program Got its Start

While the company has been around for over 60 years, the drone program is a relatively new addition, added on in 2014.

It started with just three drones flown to capture progress shots on job sites. Today, drones are used throughout all stages of Layton’s construction projects, including 3D modeling and mapping during the preconstruction phase. From there, the door opened up for the team to grow organically and to do even more with drones.

Jon Ferguson, Corporate Manager of Visualization and Drone Operations Manager oversees the program along with Austin Lay, Visualization Coordinator and Drone Operations Coordinator. In addition to Jon and Austin, the drone team includes eight Part 107-certified drone pilots and ten more team members who will test for their certificate within the next few months.

drone mapping layton
The Layton Construction Drone Team reviews the progress of their drone flight operation together.

Ranked 50th on the ENR Top 400 Contractors list and 28th on the ENR Top 100 Construction Management-at-Risk Firms list, Layton Construction has the opportunity to utilize drones on a buffet-like variety of construction projects. The company has used (or has plans to use) drones on site for construction projects ranging from hotels to universities to airport facilities, retail, hospitality as well as interior construction.

Drones Transform Building Information Modeling (BIM) at Layton Construction

“Construction rehearsal”—that’s how Austin explains building information modeling, a.k.a. BIM.

Much like a rehearsal helps a performer perfect their act before the real show, BIM helps construction site workers refine their building plans before executing them.

BIM is the collection of information through digital renderings of a physical place that can be used to inform decision making throughout a construction project. In the case with Layton Construction, they use drones equipped with mapping and modeling software to create digital 3D renderings of what the building will look like upon completion. The team can identify issues on the digital model and address them before they become problematic on the physical job site.

In addition to using drones for BIM, Layton also uses them to communicate with sub-contractors and clients. The drone team can fly their drones over a site, create a 3D model with the images gathered, and share the model with others—allowing the client or sub-contractor to see what the building will look like before it’s even built.

“By taking a few different flight paths, we can make a 3D model, import it into a video, and show that to the owner so they can see how their building will sit on the site before it is ever built,” explains Austin.

On top of that, the team uses drones to scan job sites, provide weekly job site updates, and to collect data for materials and biddings estimates.

The Drone Team’s Tools of Choice: DJI and Drone Deploy

When asked about their drone hardware, the team showed an unwavering preference for DJI drones. That’s not surprising considering DJI’s 74% share of the global commercial drone market and the new enterprise-level drones they’ve added to their inventory recently (like the Mavic 2 Enterprise and Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual).

The drones you’ll find flying on Layton Construction’s job sites currently include the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom. The light and foldable body of these two drones make them convenient for use on construction sites, where they have to be carried around with a lot of other heavy equipment and be easily transported between areas on the site. The 1” CMOS, 20-megapixel camera on the Pro and the 2x optical zoom on the Zoom also ensure the team gets the high-quality shots they need.

For software, the team relies on Drone Deploy for mission planning and mapping and modeling.

drone mapping software
Two members of the drone team process the drone-based data back at the office using software from Drone Deploy.

DroneDeploy stands out among the many drone mapping software options due to its cloud-based processing and support for DJI drones. The cloud computing software handles autonomous drone control, mapping, modeling, and analytics. It’s a robust tool that manages to maintain user friendliness. As the software is accessible through the cloud, operators can effortlessly build aerial maps and models while also providing access to advanced data processing and analytics.

[Read our interview with Drone Deploy CEO, Mike Winn, here.]

Safety and Training Take Priority at Layton Construction

Like all the existing counterparts of Layton Construction, the drone team’s number one focus is safety. From their very first day with the company, all Layton employees receive training on safety procedures and policies.

The same goes for employees on the drone team, who are required to obtain a Part 107 certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. To ensure their pilots are properly trained, Layton Construction has also partnered with Drone Pilot Ground School, sending all their remote pilots through our Part 107 preparatory training course.

Drone Pilot Ground School in an online course that prepares Layton’s drone pilots to pass the FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test for a Part 107 certificate. Pilots who complete the course walk away with in-depth knowledge on drone aircraft systems, sUAS flight operations, airspace class, weather & micrometeorology, drone laws, FAA regulations, and more—resulting in an over 99% pass rate when they go to take the test.

We are excited about partnering with Drone Pilot Ground School, as they have helped all of our pilots get their Part 107.

— Austin Lay, Visualization Coordinator and Drone Operations Coordinator, Layton Construction

With the knowledge remote pilots gain from completing Drone Pilot Ground School, they’re not only able to pass the Part 107 test, but they also master the necessary competencies required to understand the airspace and fly safely.

When picturing the future for the drone team, Austin tells us he’d like to continue growing the team and to make drones a part of all Layton Construction’s job sites.

“The goal is to have each of our job sites drone ready, meaning we have a pilot with his Part 107 on each job,” says Austin.

Layton Construction has already tapped into the potential for drones to transform the way construction sites are operated, and the opportunities will continue to grow as drone technology advances. Head over to our community forum to share your thoughts on Layton Construction’s project and the growing use of drones in construction.

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