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Inventory tracking of raw materials has been around for centuries. It is important for a company or project manager to know how much material remains to make informed decisions that could mean the difference between a successful project or a failure.
We often forget how far technology has come in recent years. Up until the 1970s, companies had to rely primarily on experience and ‘guestimate’ the volume of their raw material piles. Total Stations have emerged as an excellent tool for obtaining a higher degree of precision. However, depending on the size and shape of the material pile, the data might be limited or might require time that is simply not available. As a result, it is still common place for volume calculations to be completed by estimating… until today.
In the last five years, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV or drone) technology has advanced at an incredible rate. GPS and positioning sensors keep the craft stable and enable data collection that was not possible before. A drone can survey about 60 acres in about 20 minutes. This means that in a short period of time, one can collect data on a number of neighbouring material piles. This is due to the vantage point of the drone as it can see around corners, over elevation peaks, and behind objects. The detail in the geometric shape of the pile is captured as typical scans collect upwards of 10 million data points.
Using post-processing software, which takes the drone photos, GPS coordinates, and orientation metrics, a 3D computer surface model is created. The surface of the material pile is then integrated to determine the amount of material (cut or fill) within 1% error. The results can be made available within a few hours. Furthermore, the model can be used to share information about the process or project with anyone around the world, to create as-built CAD drawings, to create topographical maps, to analyze drainage, and many more applications.
Operating a drone can present risks and is why Transport Canada (Canada) and The Federal Aviation Administration (USA) have put certain laws in place. The idea is to make sure that the pilot is experienced and properly trained, the equipment is certified, and adequately insured. Not all self claimed drone surveying companies abide by these government mandates so be sure to ask to see their certificates before liftoff.Read More
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