Drones in Earthworks: Collins Earthworks’ Trailblazing Approach

10 November 2023

Collins Earthworks, one of the UK’s leading earthworks companies and long-term customers of the Drone Pilot Academy, understand the benefits of staying ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. Over the past two decades, they have embraced innovation, setting the bar as early adopters of drone technology within their industry. 

In this article, we delve into how and why Collins Earthworks harnessed the power of drones across their operations.

Drones in Earthworks

Integrating Drone Technology into Earthworks: A Customer Success Story

Collins Earthworks: A Brief Overview

Collins Earthworks has steadily grown to become one of the largest players in the UK’s earthworks industry. With a turnover exceeding £180 million per year throughout the business, they offer a comprehensive range of services, including Earthworks, Stabilisation, Demolition, Transport, and Training, with the support of several sister companies. 

At the helm of this impressive operation is a team led by Technical Director, Adam Procter, who oversees CAD technicians, site engineers, machine control systems, and drone operations.

Early Adoption of Drone Technology

Collins Earthworks took its first significant step into the world of drones in 2016. They first invested in drone technology following the awarding of a 200-hectare rail freight development. Their first multi-rotor platform was purchased to aid in conducting progress surveys over the vast area, saving time compared to traditional methods. The images were processed to create 3D datasets, as well as orthomosaics, providing an excellent photographic snapshot of the works.

Drones in Earthworks

Drones Transforming Earthworks

The first adoption of drone technology marked a turning point for Collins Earthworks. The advantages quickly became apparent as they harnessed drones, with efficiencies seen across the board in progress surveys. Captured data facilitated more accurate progress analysis and decision-making on-site. The images are processed to provide 3D data, which in turn is used to create surface models that are used to run volume reports. Moreover, these aerial images proved invaluable for historical event tracking, ensuring a comprehensive record of project development. They also take photos and videos to showcase their works on social media platforms.

Streamlining Workflows and Increasing Efficiency

One of the most significant impacts of drone technology on Collins Earthworks has been the streamlining of their workflows and the consequent boost in efficiency. Monthly progress flights have empowered the commercial teams to capture precise progress volumes themselves, as opposed to asking the engineering team. There is now a reduced reliance on land surveyors to record and process traditional data. Drone cloud platforms enable the commercial team to measure quantities with ease, while stockpile measurements are also simplified, reducing the health and safety risks associated with traditional methods.

Typical Time Savings

Time is money in the construction industry, and Collins Earthworks has witnessed remarkable time savings since embracing drones. In projects spanning 200 hectares, where traditional topographical surveys would take a week, drones capture images within approximately four hours. While data processing takes 12-24 hours, it still outpaces traditional methods. 

The dense orthophotos provided by drones offer a comprehensive visual snapshot of the site. Additionally, the minimal material movement during the four-hour drone flight leads to more accurate final data, all while reducing the personnel risks of busy site activities.

“We have undertaken several 200-hectare projects now, where it would take a week to undertake a full site traditional topographical survey. By using the drone, the images are captured in approximately 4 hours and ready for processing.”

Adam Procter

Overcoming Challenges

The implementation of drones wasn’t straightforward. Adam and his team tried a number of different fixed-wing and multi-rotor platforms. Each change required a whole new workflow when it came to flying and processing the data. With the processing element taking hours to complete, it took a long time to find the settings and workflows that achieved the desired results. The latest UAVs and processing workflows are now at their best, providing consistently reliable data with minimal downtime.

Drones in Earthworks

The Role of Drone Pilot Academy

The successful integration of drones into Collins Earthworks’ operations has been assisted by guidance and training from our team at the Drone Pilot Academy (DPA). 
Our first photogrammetry drone was purchased with the training provided by DPA as part of the package. Since then, DPA has undertaken not only all our pilot training but also supplied new UAVs and supported us all along the way. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge and are always happy to assist.” – Adam Procter

Drone Equipment and Software

Collins Earthworks predominantly employs the DJI Matrice 300 for photogrammetry, due to its quality and reliability. 

“We have been very impressed with the quality of these UAVs compared to other platforms, providing a robust solution. They are steady in strong winds and provide the peace of mind that they can continue flying in adverse conditions. The multi-rotor solution has proved itself to be the best on our projects, where ground conditions can vary, along with busy plant movements. They receive no damage during the flights and up to now, very rarely experience a fault.”

In terms of software, Collins Earthworks relies on a combination of Pix4D, Trimble Business Centre, and Trimble Stratus for drone data analysis and project management.

Conclusion: The Power of Drone Technology

Collins Earthworks’ story is a testament to the transformative power of drone technology in the earthworks industry. Their early adoption and innovative use of drones have not only streamlined their operations but also set new standards for efficiency and accuracy in earthworks projects. As the construction industry continues to evolve, Collins Earthworks stands as a shining example of how embracing technology can lead to lasting success. 

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