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Moving the Earth with a Drone

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“There’s a thing in construction called rework, which is essentially where you have to move dirt twice. And that’s incredibly bad for the financials. Often civil construction is a low margins business. So anytime you’ve got to move things more than once, that’s a really big problem. So having a better understanding of your site and having multiple teams able to see where all the quantities are and where they need to go, that’s going to help those instances of rework from occurring.”

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This Week’s Key Question

“Can Drones Move Mountains?”

This Week’s Guest

Richard Hordern-Gibbings is Director of Partnerships at Propeller.  Propeller is a global leader in 3D mapping and data analytics solutions.  The Australian company was founded in 2014 by Rory San Miguel & Francis Vierboom and creates tools and software for construction companies, mines, quarries, and landfills to collect, process, and visualize accurate survey data. Some of the world’s leading heavy civil and resources operations trust Propeller to answer critical questions about their site’s progress, productivity, work quality, and safety.

At Propellor, Richard works with a variety of drone partners worldwide.  He’s been with the company for more than 8 years and has many insights into the use of drones in the heavy construction industry.

What We Learn

Richard talks about Propeller, the use of drones in the earthworks industry and how Propeller is leading efforts to help these companies find greater efficiencies and ROI.

    Mentioned Links

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    • 03:45  Introduction to Richard and Propeller.  Richard Hordern-Gibbings is Director of Partnerships at Propeller, a global leader in 3D mapping and data analytics solutions.  At its most simplistic propeller helps major earthwork customers collect process and visualize their survey data.  Propeller has a laser focus on heavy industries such as construction, aggregates, mining, and waste management.  They pride themselves on providing tools that generate high quality and precise data, which in turns helps clients save time and money.
    • 06:04  Airpoints.  Richard explains what Airpoints are and how they’re used to generate precision 3D survey maps.   They are a smart ground control point that are distributed on the ground.  Because their exact location is know, they can be used in processing the map data to ensure that it’s accurate, up to 1/10th of a foot accuracy across the site.
    • 09:55  Client Profile.  Propeller’s ideal customer is someone that’s doing earthworks or essentially moving dirt with excavation equipment.  Most of the clients are from the largest construction companies in the world.
    • 10:40  Workflow.  Propeller data is fully compatible with Trimble Stratus, which is widely used in the industry.  Clients fly their own missions and collect the data, then use Propeller to generate the detailed maps and analysis.
    • 12:24  NCC Infrastructure Use Case Example.  Richard shares the details on a Propeller use case by a Scandinavian company called NCC infrastructure, where they needed to map a nine kilometer railway project.  The company came to Propeller, because they were outgrowing their existing workflow and hitting a bottleneck with the amount of data that they could self- process.  Propeller provided them with a managed solution, which saves them 6 hours or more on every single survey. They also found that it was a lot easier to share data using the Propeller cloud platform.
    • 16:45  Nevada Gold Mines Use Case Example.  Propeller was used to process survey data which was used to measure stockpiles in a 40-mile area.  The company typically surveys one large stockpile a day.  Having a good understanding of the amount of production materials on hand can be worth hundreds of thousands (in some cases, millions of dollars) of inventory. Navada Gold Mines was flying daily and hitting a threshold where they simply couldn’t process that volume of data.  Propeller allowed Nevada Gold to expand their measurement capacity.
    • 19:23 Survey Data and Earthwork Companies.  Measuring stockpiles is one way that earthworks companies use precision data.  Richard discusses others, like getting very accurate measurements, saving time, answer questions quickly and improve communication among team members.  It can also be used to help in processing change orders, project redesigns, payments and developing bid specifications.  Since drones can be flown daily, the information is always current, providing a more valuable resource in decision-making.  Using drone data on a regular basis can also reduce the amount of rework that is required, which is a great benefit.
    • 23:47 Company Background.  Richard talks about the company’s history, how it started and why the company focused on the construction industry. Richard has been with Propeller for 7 years and is responsible for all partnerships with the company’s software distributors, as well as various drone and hardware manufacturers.
    • 25:29  Challenges.  According to Richard, one of the biggest constant is that if your company’s growing, then that means that nothing is ever truly done. So you’ll build something that works for 10 customers, but then it breaks the 20, or you might have a good internal process for a team of 20 employees, which then no longer works for a team of 50 who are now distributed geographically. So it’s this constant cycle of improvement and determining which of your growing pains you can live with, which fires you’re going to put out first and what needs immediate attention and resources.
    • 26:12 Rewards.  For Richard, it’s been incredibly rewarding and interesting to watch the company’s progression. He started when employed half a dozen people in one room, and now Propeller has about 200 employees in four countries. So seeing that change occur firsthand and being part of the change.
    • 27:04 Commercial UAV Expo.  Propeller will be exhibiting at the Commercial UAV expo in Las Vegas on September 6-8.  Richard shares his perspective on the Expo and the value of attending the show.  Meeting with clients, learning about new innovations and having great conversations with industry professionals.
    • 29:28 The Future.  Propeller will continue to evaluate changes in the market and adapt to customer needs and preferences.  As more drone manufacturers deliver their products, we will see more diversity in the hardware solutions, which may cause software companies to adapt.  The company will also need to continue to monitor and adapt for the way that people want to consume their data.
    • 30:58 Success Factors.  In addition to the technology, Richard feels the factors contributing to Propeller’s success are (a) the company has been able to find and retain a really strong group of people, and (b) Propeller obsessive about their product market fit for their core software offering.  They stayed committed to their niche and kept developing it.
    • 32:09 Advice on Nurturing Long Term Relationships.  As head of partnerships for Propeller, Richard offers this advice on establishing relationships – make sure you’re doing a good job of actively helping customers set their expectations correctly.  Drones offer a great solution, but not in every case.  So focus on where there’s a really good fit. And if we’re not quite there yet, make sure you’re setting expectations accordingly with the customer base.
    • 32:50  Closing.  Richard leaves his message regarding the future of the drone industry – keep going, don’t focus on the negativity.  It feels like we’re just getting started and I’m really excited to see where we all are in another seven years

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