Rise of the Drone

More organizations are dabbling in unmanned aircraft systems

More than a year ago, a big change to the FAA’s small unmanned aircraft rule authorizing commercial drone licenses was released.

Essentially, the change to Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations made it cheaper and more practical for organizations to own and operate their own unmanned aircraft systems. Instead of for-profit organizations needing a pilot’s license to operate a drone, all that’s required now is a knowledge test and a certificate.

Since the rule was changed, more than 80,000 drones have been registered for government and commercial use, and more than 60,000 people have obtained the required certificate to operate a drone.1

Now, more industries are exploring ways to incorporate drones into the way they do business and realizING the benefits of flying the unmanned aircrafts. So far, photographers, real estate companies and public utilities are using drones.2

However, more drones are being used by organizations to conduct audits and surveys. After all, having drones do the dirty work, such as counting inventory, can free up workers to focus on the actual job at hand.

Drones have even begun to assist rescue and recovery efforts during disasters and emergencies, including last month’s Hurricane Harvey.

Inventory audits

To improve the accuracy of data collection, services firm Ernst and Young has launched a pilot program that uses drones to analyze inventory in the manufacturing and retail sectors.

During an audit of an automotive manufacturer, for example, a drone is used to count the number of vehicles at a plant. In the retail world, drones are used to count warehouse stock and collect inventory information.3 Having drones perform inventory counts allows auditors to focus on what really matters—identifying risk, for example.

"We have been testing the use of drones in the audit process for several months and the findings have been compelling," said Hermann Sidhu, Ernst and Young global assurance digital leader. "It’s now time to scale our testing globally across multiple sectors, as we know that many audits can benefit from the use of this innovative technology. It’s just one of many ways that we are working to embed the very latest technologies into our audit processes to further improve audit quality." 4

The drones are equipped with technology powered by an Internet of Things network that feeds the inventory observations directly into the audit program used by Ernst and Young.

"We are investing heavily in the development of new technologies that can enhance the quality of our audit process," said Felice Persico, global vice chair of Ernst and Young. "Our primary function is to build trust and confidence in the capital markets, and digitalizing these types of tasks in our audits means that we can improve not only audit quality, but also provide deeper business insights that further benefit our stakeholders."5


Construction, mining and excavation organizations also are using drones to perform grunt work. Instead of sending employees out on foot or in planes to survey work sites, mapping data is gathered via drones—which can save organizations an estimated 70 to 90% on surveying costs.6

Not only is using a drone cheaper, but it’s also safer. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, uses drones to survey and collect data from wildfires, volcanoes, oceans and the poles—areas that can be too dangerous for humans. Oklahoma State University researchers have been collecting severe weather data by flying drones into developing storms.7

Drones also have proved useful for surveying roads for construction projects. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), for example, is using drones to create 3-D maps of road surfaces, which can increase the accuracy of construction projects.8

"From my perspective, a drone is like a tripod for surveying, only you can place it 200 feet in the air over a particular spot," said Ron Singh, chief of surveys at ODOT. "It’s a less expensive and quicker way of moving a sensor to the right position compared to a boom truck or a fixed-wing flight, and in many ways safer—we don’t have to have crews rappel down bridges, but instead just fly a drone into a position where it can capture some data."9


Perhaps the most recent prolific use of drones has been assisting relief efforts during a natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey, which caused catastrophic flooding and property damage in Texas, was the first opportunity for drones to showcase their abilities.

The FAA authorized the use of more than 120 drones for search and rescue missions, and to assess damage to roads, bridges, power lines and fuel tanks.10, 11 Drones also will be used to determine when is safe for people to return to evacuated areas.

"This is the one of the first big disasters where we can show how valuable drones can be," said Brandon Stark, director of the Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety at the University of California, Merced.12

Insurance organizations are using drones to assess damage to homes and personal property for insurance claims. Farmers Insurance, for example, is equipping its claims adjusters with drones to process claims more quickly.

"Our fleet of drones and the claims professionals who will be operating them are currently on standby and ready to deploy when conditions make it safe to do so," Tim Murray, a property claims executive at Farmers Insurance, said in mid-September.13

What’s next?

Commercial drone usage is still in its infancy, but experts see limitless possibilities. It won’t be long until more drones take off to fertilize crops, monitor traffic and deliver packages, some predict. All of this activity will add up in terms of dollars, too. According to predictions by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, commercial drones could add 100,000 jobs and have an $82 billion impact on the U.S. economy by 2025.14

—compiled by Lindsay Dal Porto, assistant editor


  1. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), "FAA Small Drone Rule Lets Unmanned Aircraft Soar," Sept. 6, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yaya2t8j.
  2. Divya Joshi, "Drone Technology and Usage: Current Uses and Future Drone Technology," Business Insider, July 13, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8lqwxdb.
  3. Ernst & Young, "EY Scaling the Use of Drones in the Audit Process," June 13, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8h5wryl.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Lisa Morgan, "Drone Mapping Data Changes Business Economics," InformationWeek, Sept. 5, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ya76rchx.
  7. FAA, "FAA Small Drone Rule Lets Unmanned Aircraft Soar," see reference 1.
  8. Charles Choi, "Drone Surveys Improve Automated Road Construction," Inside Unmanned Systems, https://tinyurl.com/ycd5abvt.
  9. Ibid.
  10. FAA, "FAA Small Drone Rule Lets Unmanned Aircraft Soar," see reference 1.
  11. Aarian Marshall, "Above Devastated Houston, Armies of Drones Prove Their Worth," Wired, Sept. 4, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yd2v5h47.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Reuters, "How Allstate and Farmers Insurance Will Use Drones to Assess Damage From Hurricane Harvey," Fortune, Aug. 30, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7vqxbdn.
  14. Joshi, "Drone Technology and Usage: Current Uses and Future Drone Technology," see reference 2.

Getting to Know …

David D. Butler

Current position: Global director of corporate quality systems, TI Automotive, Auburn Hills, MI.

Education: Bachelor of science in business management from the University of Phoenix.

What was your introduction to quality? In 1976, the company I worked for asked me to take on the role of quality supervisor. It wasn’t really a choice. At the time, I was a production supervisor and attending Wayne State University in Detroit, studying pre-medicine. The rest is history.

Is there a teacher who influenced you more than others? Why? There are two: John Hromi and Dorian Shainin. Both provided more one-on-one tutoring, both were very personable and both became friends of mine.

Any previous jobs you consider noteworthy? I have held director-level roles at TRW Automotive, Robert Bosch and Thyssen Krupp Budd.

What’s the last movie you saw? "American Graffiti."

What’s the best career advice you ever received? Make quality black and white. Never let it get personal.

Are you active in ASQ? I am currently the chair of ASQ’s Automotive Division and involved in various committees.

What noteworthy activities or achievements outside of ASQ do you participate in? I am the past chair of National Management Association, and I’m currently a member of two Automotive Industry Action Group committees.

Any recent honors or awards? Elected to ASQ’s 2017 class of fellows. Named the ASQ Automotive Division Quality Professional of the Year in 2011 and recipient of the division’s Jarvis Award in 2015.

Are you active on social media? Yes. I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

Have you had anything published? "The Road Ahead," which appeared in Quality Progress in October 2015. I’m also working on an update to the International Organization of Standardization/Technical Specification 16949 handbook to reflect the new standard, International Automotive Task Force 16949.

Personal: Married to Ellen for 41 years. We have one child and two grandchildren.

What do you do for fun? Go bow hunting and camping, and spend time with family.

Quality quote: "Quality is never better than the honor and intent of the men and women that are assuring it."


American Car Buyers Less Satisfied

Customer satisfaction with automobiles fell as domestic brands lost ground this year, according to the latest results of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

Driver satisfaction was down 1.2% to a score of 81 on the ACSI’s scale of 0 to 100. General Motors gained in customer satisfaction this year with an ACSI score of 82, but no one else among Detroit’s automakers did. Ford slid to 81, followed by Fiat Chrysler at 77.

Foreign-made vehicles, however, continued to have the highest driver satisfaction and 77% of the above-average nameplates in the ACSI are imports. Overall, the gap between international and domestic manufacturers has widened because of the downturn for U.S. cars.

"Chances are that we have seen this (happen) before," says Claes Fornell, ACSI Chairman and founder.

"There was a surge in demand and increasing customer satisfaction with foreign cars in the 1980s, mostly because the domestic auto industry had difficulty keeping up," he said. "While U.S. cars have improved much over the years, they have not been as consistent in quality and customer satisfaction compared with their international counterparts."

Fornell suggested carmakers renew their focus on how to create satisfied and loyal customers.

For more on the results, visit www.theacsi.org/news-and-resources/press-releases/press-2017/press-release-automobiles-2017.


High Costs Drive Dissatisfaction With Pharmacies

The U.S. pharmacy industry, perennially one of the highest-scoring industries in overall customer satisfaction measured by J.D. Power, experienced notable declines this year.

According to the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Pharmacy Study, decreases in satisfaction with both brick-and-mortar and mail-order pharmacies are driven primarily by declines in satisfaction with high cost.

"Pharmacies have historically earned very high marks for customer satisfaction, so any significant year-over-year decline is cause for closer investigation," said Rick Johnson, director of the healthcare practice at J.D. Power. "Consumer concerns about rising drug prices have likely affected perceptions of the cost for their retail prescriptions. The decrease in satisfaction with cost is the primary drag on overall customer satisfaction, creating a serious challenge for retailers."

Learn more. Visit www.jdpower.com/press-releases/jd-power-2017-us-pharmacy-study?src=homepage.

New @ ASQ

ASQ’s Quality 4.0 Summit on Disruption, Innovation and Change will be held Nov. 13-14 in Dallas. The conference will feature presentations, demonstrations and discussions led by technology experts, industry leaders and quality professionals. Keynote speakers include John McElligott, CEO and found of York Exponential, an internet marketing service, and Rebekah Kowalski, vice president of Right Management, a global talent strategy and career management provider. For more details, visit asq.org/Quality4.0Summit.

ASQ’s U.S. Technical Advisory Groups are looking for volunteers to help develop and maintain ISO standards related to quality management, environmental management, application of statistical methods or guidelines for auditing management systems. For more information, visit asq.org/standards or email the ASQ standards team at standards@asq.org.

Ver-Non T. Wakefield, a doctoral student studying leadership with an emphasis on quality at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, KY, was awarded ASQ’s Richard A. Freund Scholarship. Wakefield, of Tallahassee, FL, received the $5,000 scholarship, which is named for a past ASQ president and supports a quality professional’s graduate studies.

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