The use of drones to carry out building inspections is saving the taxpayer an estimated £100,000 at the Dounreay nuclear site in Caithness.
A recent survey suggests more and more construction-related organisations are catching on to the benefits of these camera-equipped remotely operated aircraft.
Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd (DSRL), the company in charge of decommissioning the nuclear site, carries out around 50 building inspections each year – helping maintain buildings that play an key role in nuclear decommissioning, clean-up and waste management operations.
It was the idea of John Moar, a senior electrical engineer at the site, to look into using drones. Dounreay falls within a strictly enforced air exclusion zone and is protected by armed officers from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Mr Moar had to do a Civil Aviation Authority course to secure an exemption from the no-fly zone.
The first £6,000 drone paid for itself on its first outing to inspect two 20-metre high ventilation stacks. Previously, this work would have needed scaffolding and a hired mobile platform, costing thousands of pounds a week.
Mr Moar said: “The team were delighted at the quality and detail of the images and how easy and safe it was to get them. Clearly, there are very strict rules in place to protect the safety and security of nuclear sites, so we had to follow a stringent and detailed process to get all required agreements for using drones at Dounreay. The potential for using drones doesn’t stop here. I can see how we’d use similar technology for things like 3D modelling and environmental surveys.”
According to a survey by ProDroneWorx, a mapping, inspection and surveying company, drones are already quite widely used in the construction but are about to become commonplace.
Its survey, Drone Technology within the Construction Industry, found that out of 161 companies that responded, 33% are currently using drone technology and of those that are not, more than two-thirds are planning to do so in future.
Of the 33% that are using drones, more than half (60%) have only started doing so in the past year.
ProDroneWorx managing director Ian Tansey said: “In a world of tight margins and an increasingly competitive landscape, the use of drone technology gives construction firms a significant competitive advantage over their peers through reduced costs, increased productivity gains and the mitigation of risk.”