Drones are more affordable than ever. Drones costing $30,000 or more just 3 years ago are now available for $1,500. What does it really cost to fly a drone or start an in-house drone program? Wouldn’t it be great to know what you don’t know before you make the decision? Continue reading to gain valuable insight into the pros and cons of flying a drone.
The money savings is real, however, is it best to build or outsource? Here are the lessons learned from thousands of drone flights and discussions with hundreds of customers:
In order to legally fly a drone for commercial use in the United States, each pilot must have a Remote Pilot Certification (essentially a drone pilot license). Your pilots will have to study for and pass a 60 question FAA certification test. Your liability insurance will require this as well.
Hidden Cost: On average, it takes 8-16 hours to review beyond an in-person or on-site course in order to pass the exam. What happens if your drone pilot leaves the company, retires, or gets sick? Also, you need to take the test every 2 years to keep your certification.
Drones are incredible tools. Essentially, they are flying computerized cameras that you can control with a smartphone or a tablet. However, they are not necessarily maintenance free.
Hidden Cost: They work great out of the box, but firmware updates come at random times and must be installed prior to flight. The iPhones and iPads used to fly them have software that must be updated as well. Staying on top of software updates can be cumbersome.
The FAA and Drone Manufacturers are also always updating no-fly zones, restricted zones, etc., and what was flyable last week may need an unlock code this week. Troubleshooting this issue can take hours on the phone with the drone manufacture’s support team and/or air traffic control. Therefore, you need someone who is very technical to maintain the drone eco-system.
In order to update the drone software and upload the photos to our service, the pilot will need a cellular hotspot or high-speed internet connectivity. A lot of our customers’ sites are in remote locations with slower internet speeds.
Hidden Cost: If all of your sites have good cell coverage, you’re in luck. All you need to account for is the price of a cellular hotspot. If not, plan on travel time back to a public hotspot such as Starbucks or heading back to the company office.
Drones Save Time, but That’s Not the Full Story
Drones are a huge time saver. This is true. A drone can fly a site in minutes. This compares favorably to an entire day on site with legacy survey tools.
Hidden Cost: Flying the drone is only one part of the process. The imagery must be uploaded, stockpiles identified in the imagery, and names of materials and densities applied to the piles for reporting purposes. Depending on how many stockpiles are on a site, a drone pilot could spend an entire day just tagging piles in the post-flight process, not to mention the complexity of removing a stacker or tree limbs blocking material or other obstructions such as equipment in the way. Some image processing software is available via the cloud or internet, but some run on your office computer. This means having a computer with enough power to handle intense data processing needs.
More Drones and Sites = More Complexity
Your sites may be closely spaced together and traveling between locations is not a huge factor. However, sites that are geographically spaced out can be a different story.
Hidden Cost: If you have sites that are far apart, you will need more than one drone. More than one drone means more than one licensed pilot. This multiplies everything that has been learned above.
How Do We Help Our Customers Scale at One Site or 100 sites?
Stockpile Reports provides licensed pilots on a per flight basis, or our customers can fly their own drones. Some of our clients take a hybrid approach and purchase a drone and still have us fly some sites. Stockpile Reports also provides an iPhone application for indoor piles. Therefore, one size doesn’t fit all. We believe in the right tool for the right job. Any way you decide to launch your digital inventory program, Stockpile Reports is here to automate the process. We rid your resources of the time-consuming driving from site to site, circling stockpiles to define which ones to measure, and the process of producing reports by collating the data and reports in an easy to use online portal.
Which of the Options is Right for Me?
When should I purchase and operate my own drones? An example we like to use is lawn maintenance. If I own one home with a reasonable size yard, then I may want to purchase a lawnmower. If I own several apartment complexes or a home and a beach house, it may make more sense for me to hire a landscaping company.
Some Things and Situations to Consider…
Inventory that Changes Quickly and Varies by a Large Amount in a Short Amount of Time
For example, our mulch producing customers move large quantities of material on a daily basis. Measuring daily or weekly allows these producers to make small adjustments to inventory more often and not take large write-downs or write-ups during their busy season. Therefore, they take a hybrid approach and deploy their own drones at the busiest locations and have Stockpile Reports fly the others.
Several Locations in a Small Geographic Area
Our customers with several locations all within 15 -20 minutes drive between each other usually deploy their own drones. Travel costs are minimal and if they train more than one pilot, they can have coverage if one calls in sick or needs a vacation. The key is that a single pilot can cover all of the sites in one day.
Engineering and Surveying with The Drone
If you are only planning on using drones for stockpile inventory management, we suggest having Stockpile Reports fly the sites for you or at least handle the stockpile volume calculations. Some of our customers invest in a drone program to accomplish additional high-value activities such as surveying and mapping, engineering analysis, and physical inspections of structures and equipment. They use Stockpile Reports for the labor-intensive inventory calculations and the in-house resource handles the other use cases on an as-needed basis.
The Value of Stockpile Reports
In conclusion, no matter if you purchase your own fleet of drones or want us to fly your sites for you, Stockpile Reports is the go-to partner for stockpile inventory management. If you want to buy the lawnmower, let us help you water and fertilize. If you want to hire the lawn care service and off-load the labor, equipment, licensing, liability insurance, software, software maintenance, etc., we are the only Stockpile Measurement and Management service that can measure at scale across 36 countries with 4 patents.