Editorial: 07.15.2019

Zach Kelly Sees Castle Projects from a Unique Vantage Point

Zach Kelly flying a drone with text overlay about his knack for technology

When Zach Kelly steps onto a Castle jobsite, he’s often joined by a small, high-tech companion: an eight-pound drone.

As the company’s first licensed drone pilot, Kelly has been instrumental in expanding Castle’s use of drones to complete topographic surveys of project sites in a fraction of time as the traditional land surveying process. This enables project teams to accurately monitor the progress of site work, identify potential problem areas and adapt the construction schedule accordingly.

“About two years ago, Castle purchased a drone and asked if I would be interested in getting a license and becoming a drone pilot,” says Kelly, a project engineer. “I’ve always had a knack for technology, so it sounded like a fun thing to do.”

After passing the FAA drone pilot exam, Kelly put his expertise to use by making weekly visits to a solar project in Tennessee to track that team’s ongoing progress.

During site excavation on the East End transformation project at Washington University in St. Louis, he oversaw daily drone flights to document work progress on the fast-track, $280 million project. Using a tablet, he directed the drone’s 13-minute journey along a programmed flight path as it captured hundreds of high-resolution aerial images and data so the construction team could assess progress and modify the schedule when necessary.

“A survey company would’ve sent out two folks to walk around the site for a week to complete a traditional survey, but a drone can knock it out in a single day,” Kelly says.

He continues to fly the drone at WashU once a month to capture current photos of the overall site. “I get bombarded for that photo by the team because it provides a vantage point of the entire site from one picture,” he says. “It’s an effective coordination tool for a large, busy site like WashU.”

Kelly also travels around the U.S. to share his drone piloting expertise with Castle teams working on current construction projects and new project pursuits. His role includes training other project engineers to expand the company’s in-house drone expertise. Through his efforts, Castle now has three additional drone pilots on staff.

When he’s not flying a drone, Kelly is honing his estimating and project management skills while exploring new technologies that enhance the company’s expertise and value to clients.

He recently helped the company transition from its manual time reporting process to a mobile software application that enables workers in the field to report their daily activities on a mobile device. He trained team members how to use the new system, which streamlines the payroll process and saves project managers up to two hours each day. He’s currently focused on the implementation of HCSS HeavyBid to help streamline estimating data and processes.

Kelly, who first joined Castle as a student intern in 2014 and came on board as a project engineer in 2017, has contributed to several large-scale projects, including the new IKEA St. Louis store, the renovation of Gateway Arch Park and three solar projects in Tennessee. He’s currently working on the adaptive reuse of the City Foundry STL public market.


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