Drones allow facilities managers to get a fresh perspective on facility health.
By Amelia Bridgford
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones,” as they are often called, have exploded in popularity in recent years. With uses ranging from recreational photography to classified military operations, these futuristic flying machines are as versatile as they are impressive. The possible applications for drones in facilities management are diverse, making them an exciting addition to the field.
Mike Popadak, Co-Founder and CEO of iVueit, a visual inspection services company, makes the benefits of incorporating drone technology into facilities management strategies plain: “Seeing your assets from a different perspective is really valuable,” he explained. And being able to do so safely, from above, is not only an incredible technological advancement but can also be a competitive advantage for companies willing to make the investment.
Inspections Made Easy
Of the myriad ways to utilize drones in the facilities management industry, visual inspections is perhaps the most obvious. “Being able to get eyes on parts of a facility — the side of a tall building, for example — that would be impossible to see otherwise, is huge,” Popadak said. And not just from an inspection angle, but in terms of employee safety, as well. “Why take the risk of putting someone on a ladder and in precarious positions to access these parts of a building, if it’s not necessary?” he added. The time savings of sending a drone to survey these difficult-to-access areas can also be substantial, particularly when managing multiple facilities. Site inspections that could take a human crew weeks to complete can often be handled by a drone in mere hours.
Drones also offer the ability to view your assets in real-time, which can be critical when assessing the status of a changing landscape, evaluating construction progress or even security concerns, particularly from afar. “Google Earth captures a point in time,” Popadak cautioned of the popular (and free) web-based service. “Basing major financial decisions on images that could be 2 years old is a big risk.”
The other area Popadak feels is prime for drone use in facilities management is perhaps less expected: parts delivery. Imagine you are an HVAC repair specialist, up on a rooftop servicing a commercial unit, and you realize you don’t have a part needed to complete the repair. In most current best-case scenarios, a large company may have a driver able to deliver the necessary part to the technician that day. In many other cases, the technician may need to seek out the part themselves, often requiring an order placed with a distribution center that may take days to arrive. “Now what if you could just take to the sky and drop the necessary part directly onto the roof where they’re working?” Popadak posited. Facilities managers know better than anyone that when heating or cooling is down, minutes count, and the time-savings this type of innovation offers “will be an absolute game-changer,” Popadak said. “We will see a dramatic improvement in in-service execution.”
Cost of Doing Business
Of course, this technology and its attendant perks come at a price — a steep one. While costs vary across markets, hiring a licensed drone operator often starts at around $1,000, with costs rising sharply with the complexity and scale of the project. Training facilities managers to pilot the drones themselves is another option, particularly if they are local to the site. But they will require licensure, insurance and be subject to the airspace restrictions of their area. “If your facility is near an airport, good luck,” Popadak said. But he doesn’t feel that these hurdles should dissuade facilities managers from pursuing an investment in drone technology. “We have to start moving faster towards change in the facilities management world,” he said. “This technology has been out there for a while, and it has huge potential to make facilities run better, which is what we’re all after here.”
Ultimately, Popadak thinks facilities managers would be wise to add drone technology to their toolkit, be it via hiring out aerial visual inspections or training to pilot the drones themselves. “For the price, the information that you are able to gather about your assets and the community around you with a birds-eye view is tremendously worthwhile,” he said, especially with the technology becoming more advanced and efficient every day. And as with any technology, the associated costs should continue to come down as it becomes more ubiquitous, eliminating a major barrier to entry. After all, who among us couldn’t benefit from an additional perspective on our work?