Will 2017 Be the Year Drones Become a Facility Manager’s Best Friend? Part 1

They’re in the news all the time. Particularly in the context of Amazon or Domino’s pizza. Drones – unmanned flying machines controlled by remote control from the ground.

Their immediate use to an FM like you may not be obvious. We at Maxwell Stephens have been keeping a very close eye on the technology and how it’s applied to the business of facilities management. And I’ve got to say that we share the excitement about the technology and what it can offer in terms of flexibility, cost savings and health & safety. Laws surrounding their use will need to be relaxed but looking at the direction of travel on drones in the UK, this is a very real possibility during 2017.

In February this year, Havencab, an Australian sustainable cleaning and facilities management firm declared boldly that drones are the next ‘thing

Havencab thinks that “the benefits haven’t really been outlined to facility managers. I think the possibilities are endless. Furthermore, the drone vendors don’t really understand the particular needs of facility managers.” And we think they’re absolutely right. As soon as drone sellers understand what facilities managers do, they’ll find them a lot easier to sell to.

Their most obvious application is in difficult-to-reach areas. That includes the outside of a building, the lift shaft, dry risers, vents, and more. Drones can record video in high definition so that, on review, a facilities manager and a building manager should be able to diagnose any problems quickly.

If the department has access to a drone, inspections like these can be carried out straight away. Consider the time and cost savings when compared to getting in a contractor with cherrypickers and scaffolding. When you need to call an outsider in, you’re at their mercy on when it can be done and how much you have to spend. There are also health and safety implications to think about, particularly if the area of concern is tough to access.

FacilitiesNet, in a three-part piece which raves about the technology sums up it best for us. “That top-floor corner of the building’s façade, the one just out of reach of a ladder, that is starting to crack. The huge, aging flat roof that has started leaking and has not been inspected properly in years. That awkward interior section of the gymnasium ceiling where something bad — though it is not clear exactly what — is happening… All hard-to-reach areas should be considered, including smoke stacks, chimneys, and antennae.”

Drones can be programmed to follow certain flight patterns. If there’s any area of concern that you’ve evaluated by drone and concluded that the problem is not serious enough yet for maintenance, get the drone to follow the same flight path once a month so you can monitor whether the situation is getting worse.

Drones can be fitted with different types of camera. As Facility Executive notes, “thermal imaging cameras (can be) the simplest way to check a large facility’s energy efficiency.

Looking into the future, Facility Executive sees a world where drones become more like “flying robots”. They will charge themselves, they will carry out repairs in awkward sports – they may even clean the windows.

Where drones are being used for FM, what are their main uses? Speaking to FacilitiesNet, Andrew Dennison, chief operating officer with Lift Technologies, said that “Roof inspections are the main application we’ve seen for facilities…One thing many people don’t know is that you can do an infrared scan of your roof…The drone will take multiple photos and stitch them together into one very large photo, so you can see the entire infrared scan of your roof in one image.

“But along with that, you can get centimeter-level-accurate measurements of that roof. For example, if you were going to install solar panels on that roof, you could design your solar-panel plans off those roof measurements. If you needed to replace a rooftop air conditioner and you wanted to know the size of the old unit so you knew what kind of space you have to work with up there, that’s a perfect example.”

Drones are currently subject to reasonably strict laws about their deployment. You need to get CAA approval to fly them in what are defined as congested areas – ‘any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes’. A full list of the guidelines can be found on their website.

The external use of drones is something we’ll be blogging about a lot next year. Have any of you used a drone in FM? Would you be kind enough to share your experience? Please email us on info@maxwellstephens.com.

Next time, the use of drones inside buildings. How are they being used and is there a benefit to using them where you work?

Peter Forshaw – Managing Director – Maxwell Stephens