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Construction sites dig deeper into high-tech

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Construction and engineering companies have been in the forefront of using drones according to data gathered by Blue Research for the Verizon-owned company Skyward, a maker of drone operation management software and provider of consulting services.

A nationwide survey by Skyward of companies in various industries with $50 million or more in revenue found that 10% used drones and of that segment 35% were in construction and engineering. This supports a government study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that investigated worker safety with the use of drones, more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The CDC report said the construction industry would account for the largest share of growth in the commercial UAV market which was forecast to total $100 billion by 2020.

The St. Regis Residences as photographed by the developer’s drone.

The CDC study concluded that drones could inspect a large worksite more efficiently than on-the-ground personnel and can detect hazardous conditions, materials and dangerous structures without putting workers at risk. It warned, however, that “a UAV flying in close proximity to a human worker can create new hazards at a construction site.”

Drones have been taking flight at construction sites in Westchester County along with the adoption of other high tech tools designed to bring new efficiencies, consistent quality and lower costs to the industry.

The St. Regis Residences under construction at 120 Old Post Road in Rye by Harrison-based Alfred Weissman Real Estate and operated by Marriott International is one such construction site where high-tech has become as common as yellow front-loaders.

“I’ve been in the construction business a long time, starting out as a kid, and it took a long time to get to this point where people across the board are using technology the way they are today,” said Tim Perini, project executive for Weissman. “People are using iPhones, iPads. What I see across all trades is tablets, usually iPads. It’s rare that you see a set of plans taped up to a wall.”

Perini said that the software package Procore is being used to help make the St. Regis project a reality.

“I hear the word Procore every five minutes in meetings because if somebody needs a document, it’s ‘go look in Procore.’ It’s a one-stop shop for keeping our information and making sure everybody has the latest information,” he said.

Just having cellphones at the worksite saves a lot of anxiety and effort when it comes to communications.

“When you’re building a luxury project, it’s the attention to detail that is incredibly important and I think what helps deliver that attention to detail and to meet those luxury standards is ensuring that you have very good communications on the job,” Perini told the Business Journal.

One major piece of high-tech gear being used at the St. Regis site is a drone the company acquired.

“Our company owns and operates properties, so we use it for doing inspections on roofs or the siding of buildings that we need to inspect. On the St. Regis site, we use it primarily for construction-progress photographs and videos. We send information to consultants,” Perini said. “They can write reports off of photos and video of the progress of the project and that obviously saves time and money over in-person inspections.”

Perini said that drone photos and videos also are helpful for sales and marketing efforts, allowing prospective buyers to see what the view from the balcony will be like at a point in construction when it would be unsafe for them to venture onto the site.

“All but one of our residences has an outdoor space so we can go right up to where their balcony is and shoot out from there to give them a sense of the views from their unit. Even though we have the structures there and the floor poured and walls and everything is going in, we can’t take them up there for safety reasons. It’s a really super-helpful tool that has paid itself back many times over,” he said.

Because Weissman’s DJI Phantom drone is being used commercially, it is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and operated in compliance with Part 107 of FAA regulations. Perini is certified as a drone operator.

Perini explained that GPS technology also has played a useful role at the St. Regis construction site and that some of the heavy equipment in use has the satellite receivers.

“When we were doing our rock excavation work, our rock blasting company had to drill down to a specific elevation. Their drilling machines have GPS on them and it has elevations so they could pinpoint a certain depth and a particular coordinate,” he said. “You don’t have to bring in a survey crew to shoot elevations. It’s right there on the machine.”

The development will have 95 one-bedroom to four-bedroom condominiums in five buildings situated on seven acres with underground parking. About 25,000 square feet of amenities are planned, ranging from a fitness center, pool and movie screening room to a pet spa.

The drone has helped keep tabs on things happening otherwise out-of-sight on the roof. “We went through an extensive design review with Marriott and their brand people and a big desire was to make sure the outside as well as the inside was very beautiful, so almost all of the mechanical equipment is on the top of the buildings so you don’t see it from the ground. They’re hidden behind roof lines. On some lower-end properties, you might see condenser units and things on the ground. Here, you won’t see that,” Perini said.

Perini revealed that Weissman has done drone inspections of properties it has considered buying.

“It has allowed us to see things we may not have seen, or head off issues or raise issues in the process of doing our due diligence,” he said. “We might see a defect or a condition that we might not have seen in just doing a walk-through tour of a building. Sometimes if you’re being toured through a property, they might not take you to the places they don’t want you to see and with the drone you get to see things you may not have.”

While embracing the new technologies, Perini did find a complication in one of them: email. He said that while the Procore software package does help manage emails, “In a large project like this, the number of emails is massive and keeping on top of that is very difficult for anybody. And, it’s not just senior people emailing each other. It’s across the trades. It’s just a huge amount of email traffic.”

 
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