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Interviewee: Ben Strang, Oxford Direct Services’ project leader of drone services

Issue: Using drone technology for maintenance works

Ben Strang
Ben Strang

09 October 2018 Ben Strang

Ben Strang, Oxford Direct Services’ project leader of drone services, discusses how drone technology is being used for maintenance works.

Oxford Direct Services (ODS), the service delivery and commercial arm of Oxford City Council, has announced that it is to start providing drone-based services to include roof and building surveying, land mapping, aerial photography and filming. 

Who thought of this idea and why?

I thought of the idea after spending 15 years as a roofer and getting frustrated by the amount of three and four-story scaffolds we were erecting that were either just off the position or other problems coming to light that we couldn’t see or reach until a scaffold tower had been moved or adjusted. Basically, you erect scaffolding where you think the root cause of an issue lies but, in many cases, the placement is guesswork and inevitably you have to move the tower which is time consuming and costly. Using a drone solves this immediately.

I realised that other parts of ODS would also benefit from using drones given that they are so cost-effective… the pest control team can look for rodent entry points on high and low-rise blocks as well as other works that would have needed scaffolding.

I wrote a proposal about how we could use drones, add new services to our existing portfolio and the ODS management team approved it.   


How would it work on a typical day?

My team or myself will review enquiries received, which include name, address, postcode and location of the works required. We will then do basic checks online to ensure that safety criteria can be met… then talk to the client to get a more detailed picture of the job, complete a site survey and set a date for a flight. The survey will include airspace checks, ground conditions, weather, permission to fly, impact on privacy and so on, and only when all the safety and other criteria are met will we approve the flight.


Why are drones a reliable way of doing roofing and other services?

Using a drone is a cost-effective, unobtrusive, environmentally friendly, responsive and safe way to do surveys. I think any company that does regular roofing works on low and high blocks should not only be investing into the safest inspection method possible, but also the most cost-effective way in which to diagnose problems. We are in a position to offer this to companies who may not have the resources to do it in-house. Drones are not the future any more; they are here and the market is growing.

We offer a safe and responsive service to assess roof issues, which includes a detailed report and photos of the problems without the need for working at height. We can ensure the scaffolding or access plant is erected in the right place the first time. 


What other challenges do you foresee?

The main challenges we face are forging our path in an ever-expanding market. But we are confident that we are competitively priced for the drone work we offer. In addition, ODS has a large team of skilled staff so we are confident that we can not only inspect and diagnose problems quickly, but offer a quality remedial service to competitively address them.