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Drones and 3D technology help protect historic UK buildings

Drones and 3D technology have been used to help conserve some of the UK’s most prestigious buildings thanks to two Yorkshire companies.

Huddersfield-based Drones on Demand, specialists in capturing drone data, was commissioned by Ecclesiastical Insurance to take drone footage of historical landmarks.

Blenheim Palace, famed for its stunning architecture and Capability Brown gardens, and the breath-taking Worcester Cathedral, were used as part of a trial that could see drones used to support the company’s risk management services.

Using the drone data, the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre (3M BIC), in Huddersfield then worked with Drones on Demand to create 3D visualisations of the buildings, as well as 3D models of each building as a thank you gift for the custodians, through its self-service digital space, The Byte, and its other facilities that provide 3D printing and visualisation capabilities for local businesses.

It took around 17 hours to print each prototype. The Worcester Cathedral Model is currently on display at the cathedral and the Blenheim Palace model, which was printed using the EOS machine at the 3M BIC due to the level of detail, will be sent to Blenheim Palace.

The Byte is part of the Huddersfield Innovation and Incubation Project (HIIP), which received £2.9m funding from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), delivered by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, through the Leeds City Region Growth Deal – a £1bn package of government investment to accelerate growth and create jobs across Leeds City Region.

Each drone scan took a day and was part of a proof of concept initiative to get a closer look at buildings that can be difficult to access. The images will be used to help evaluate risks, the condition of the buildings and support the custodians in their management and conservation of the buildings. The drone data will also support Ecclesiastical in providing highly accurate valuations of the buildings it insures, helping to reduce the risk of underinsurance for its customers.

Drones can help surveyors observe rooftops, guttering and the intricate and ornate features of historic properties that are difficult to inspect from ground level. So far, the captured data has highlighted loose high-level slates, tiles and stonework and missing pointing, as well as water pooling which could cause significant damage if left unattended. 

Matthew Greaves, owner of Drones on Demand, said: “Drones have become more prevalent over the last few years and people are seeing the benefits of having an aerial view, whether it’s to track the dilapidation of buildings or monitoring erosion. In this case, we could provide access to hard to reach areas of these historical buildings that have magnificent features and capture areas that may be at risk.”

Michael Wilson, centre manager of the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, said: “By giving Matthew access to the 3D technology at the 3M BIC, he was able to provide his client with the whole package and fulfil its brief.  Many of the country’s historic buildings are falling into disrepair, so hopefully modern technologies, such as drones and 3D will help to conserve these buildings for many years to come.”

Ecclesiastical provides insurance products and risk management services to customers in the faith, heritage, charity, education and real estate markets and has one of the UK’s leading in-house insurance risk management teams.

Mark Matthews, risk management director at Ecclesiastical, said: “Heritage structures present unique access and maintenance challenges. The use of drone technology gives us access to high quality imagery and very accurate data, which would be near impossible to obtain via traditional surveying methods. We can then apply our own knowledge and expertise to the results to assess the risks and provide specialist advice on how to manage these.” 

Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (the LEP), said: “The Leeds City Region has a rich heritage of innovation and it’s fantastic to see the world-class facilities at the 3M BIC being used to help preserve the architecture of some of the UK’s most historical landmarks.

“The 3M BIC is a brilliant example of how the LEP has used Growth Deal funding to help businesses expand and innovate to create a positive impact on productivity, job opportunities and economic growth that benefits everyone who lives and works in the City Region.”

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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