How to improve earthwork estimates with drone data

Why it’s important to streamline earthworks

Anyone who works in construction will understand the importance of completing high-quality earthworks calculations. When it comes to boosting your bottom line and improving cash flow, having a fast and efficient earthworks process for estimating and bidding is essential. When you collect earthworks data via a drone, the advancements can save you time, money, and increase productivity.

Top 5 ways you can use drone data to transform earthworks:

1. Faster surveying

To put it simply, the main reason for using drones for earthworks is speed. It can take teams days to walk and measure aggregates and stockpiles using traditional methods. Once measured, it then usually takes a number of days to process and produce the final deliverables. Drones are able to do this work in a fraction of the time.

2. Get regular progress updates

In the short amount of time it takes to survey your project using a drone, you gain access to an unprecedented amount of knowledge about completed work, earthworks, equipment, and more. This means you can access up to date, accurate data more frequently, and remotely when needed – and keep track of earthworks far closer to real-time than through slower, traditional methods with regular scans.

3. It’s easy to cut-and-fill

To perform even a simple cut-and-fill measurement, most infrastructure projects will need to conduct a topographic survey and manually collect points on a grid throughout their site. When you use a drone, however, you drastically reduce the amount of work needed to perform a cut-and-fill: once aerial data is collected, advanced remote site platforms, like Sensat’s, lets you perform accurate cut-and-fill calculations in seconds via a simple web face. These files can then be processed, cropped, managed, and exported into other industry-leading software such as Autodesk – if required.

4. Cost estimates are simplified

Cost estimates are an important way of making sure a project stays on track and within budget. McKinsey estimated in 2016 that large construction projects are typically completed 80 per cent over budget and 20 per cent over-scheduled. Staff on site regularly undertake volume measurements to work out the cost and labour time involved in managing their resources – this is especially important for earthworks. By flying a drone, it’s possible to scan a construction site in minutes, and then import the data into site management tools such as Sensat’s visualisation platform, to create a surface model that can be used for more accurate and efficient cost and labour estimates.

5. Improved worker safety

During traditional methods of completing earthworks, team members on-site can spend days walking piles and measuring aggregates using manual survey tools. This is not only time-consuming but can also be dangerous—when walking up and down steep slopes that are uneven and jagged, it’s common for workers to slip and fall. With drones, earthworks personnel can inspect their stockpiles quickly, remotely, and without putting themselves at risk.

Putting it in practice

Sensat, on behalf of MSVF, have been utilising drones to carry out fortnightly site surveys on the Barking Riverside project since January. The digital model is being supplemented with regular progress monitoring and up to date topographical information for assessing earthworks.

“In this unprecedented time, we need to create a level of certainty about our project’s programme. Sensat’s data hosted in Sensat’s visualisation platform will allow us to create a single source of truth over the next period of time to help us assure the project’s programme when we begin again.”

Jim Bushell, Survey and Monitoring Manager, MSVF

The data has been served to the whole project via Sensat’s software and has been enabling remote teams at MSVF to take accurate and regular earthworks quantities, thus reducing risk and improving cash flow. There are now over 170 users accessing up to date site information remotely, via a browser-based platform.

Read the full case study.

Sensat prides itself on being industry leaders in drone data, quality and accuracy. Through the use of drones, we are able to collect and visualise up-to-date and highly accurate data that is valuable throughout the different design and construction stages of any infrastructure project.

To see Sensat’s drone data quality for yourself, request sample data at Alternatively, check out our survey data guide to discover when and why to use drone data for your project.

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