DRONE INSPECTION & DETECTION

Industries such as petrochemical, oil and gas, construction, communications, and utilities must carry out regular inspections of their equipment to ensure it is in safe working order. Human inspections can only go so far as people are often limited when it comes to heights or confined spaces. An increasing number of companies are beginning to use drones for inspection as they address the operational challenges faced by human inspections.

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Things such as corrosion identification, detection and analysis of hairline cracks, spillage and leak detection, dilapidation assessments, and land surveys are much more easily carried out by drones than by hand. Data can be collected and sent back to a computer in real time for assessment, and any problems can be dealt with quickly and efficiently, causing minimal disruption to operations.

Wind Turbines

More and more countries are choosing to invest in renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, and solar. Over the last decade or so, the number of wind turbines has grown exponentially, and therefore so has the need for cost-effective and safe inspection methods.

Wind turbines are vast in size and are typically located in remote areas that are hard to reach. Cherry pickers, service platforms, hydraulic cranes, and rope decent are all methods that can be used to carry out safety inspections on wind turbines, but all of them come with risks and potential challenges. These methods typically involve heavy equipment or climbing, which is not only time consuming, but also costly and dangerous.

Drone inspections provide a safe and efficient solution to these issues as they do not require the use of heavy equipment, nor do they require an inspector to climb the turbine. A camera is attached to the drone and captures high-resolution footage, full UHD recordings, and multispectral thermal imaging, all at a lower cost and with far less downtime of traditional methods.

Pipelines

One of the critical functions of the energy industry is asset management, as well as monitoring to assess production performance, safety and environmental compliance, overall integrity, and several other factors. The needs are fairly straightforward, but the scale involved presents complexities and risks: Pipelines span thousands of miles, production platforms are often very remote, and manufacturing facilities present the potential exposure to hazardous chemicals. Maintenance and surveillance activities are costly and time-consuming to plan and execute, and must be done carefully in order to avoid leaks, unplanned shutdowns, and production outages.

Using an inspection drone in place of, or in addition to, conventional methods of facility management provides untapped potential for saving costs via activities such as automated maintenance, integrity, and surveillance workflow, and automated data gathering and analysis. Drone technology can also provide predictive insights on facilities, which can then be used to drive operational decisions, and lead to the improvement of business processes.

 

  • Decrease costs: Simple tasks can be automated by drones, therefore reducing labour costs. For example, the cost of using a helicopter for aerial inspections of pipelines using is approximately $3,000 per hour of operation. Using drones can significantly reduce these costs, as well as providing improved accuracy via multiple sensors on the same platforms
  • Reduce safety exposure: Drones enable the exploration of areas that have been exposed to contamination or could be potential security threats, enabling the delivery of supplies without putting employees at risk. For example, in Fukushima drones were used to assess the nuclear reactor damage.
  • Increase production: Keeping rigs and refineries up and running in the energy sector ensures the flow of product to customers. Drones can be utilised to avoid unnecessary shut-downs and reduce disruption to operations, thus keeping oil and gas moving efficiently.

Infrastructure

Public infrastructures form the veins of every society, and include technical structures like roads, waterways, bridges, railways, and airports. Maintaining these structures is essential for the proper functioning of modern economies, yet it is also very costly.

There are several methods for turbine inspection from the cherry picker, service platform, hydraulic crane to rope descent. The problem with these methods is that they involve heavy equipment or climbing, which is time consuming, costly and very dangerous.

One of the biggest difficulties faced by maintenance and inspection services is how to cover the vast area that some structures occupy. The structures need to be inspected closely in order to perform proper maintenance; however, the physical inspection of each part requires a significant amount of time, which costs money.

One of the most efficient alternatives to physical inspections is using drones for inspection. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are able to carry various cameras for both day and night inspection, and can also be equipped with additional sensors such as thermographic and sniffers, as well as having the ability to be programmed to regularly fly specific routes. Drones are able to inspect larger areas in different, more efficient ways, in less time, and also at lower costs, allowing for an increased frequency in regular inspections, faster problem recognition, thus resulting in fewer negative externalities.

High Voltage

Power lines distribute electricity at very high voltages, making the maintenance of power lines is a risky job, and one which requires careful attention and caution from all involved. In order to maintain power lines effectively, the pylons must be examined regularly, and their insulators must be inspected in order to detect thermographic problems.

Inspections are traditionally carried out from the ground or via the use of a helicopter. Line inspectors that work from the ground must climb the posts to access the power lines. Helicopters are a safer option, but they are much more expensive and intrusive.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) provide a safer and cheaper alternative to traditional methods. They are easy to deploy, and carry cameras that produce high resolution footage and thermal images. UAVs or drones can also be equipped with transmitters that share the footage in real time, allowing the operator to see exactly what is going on at a given time. Drones are able to fly within a couple of metres of the power lines, thus providing high quality footage in the safest possible way.

Airborne UAV Platforms

At Airborne Drones we recommend the AIRBORNE solutions with thermal and optical zoom sensor options for Inspection and Detection Applications.

Airborne Drones focuses on the design, manufacture, and marketing of long-range drones (10km, 20km and 35km), with the ability to carry payloads of up to 8kgs, for industrial strength commercial use. Long-range drones have the potential to offer great benefits to commerce and businesses. Solutions can be developed to meet the specific requirements of clients. Services can also include support and training during and after implementation.

Airborne Drones work with an international client base, ranging from South Africa to the UAE. Our clients include representatives from the following industries: Telecommunications, Marketing, Real Estate, Agriculture, Game farms, Wildlife management, Electrical installations, Security, Travel and tourism, Satellite electronics, Wind farms, Sheet metal manufacturing, Industrial Rope Access, Restaurant and Food, Environmental Affairs and Military Applications.

RECOMMENDATIONS

With regards to drone inspection services, Airborne Drones recommend the following:

  • Detection: The Airborne Solutions with thermal and optical zoom drone system comes highly recommended by Airborne Drones for its intelligent monitoring of the health and vigour of crops.
  • Manage for a fleet, not a flight: The exact number of drones needed will vary by situation, but enterprises should work towards acquiring a fleet of drones which will suit different purposes. Different drones have different applications, so build up your arsenal of drones to cover all the different types of flight and inspection you need to do regularly.
  • Plan global, think local: As a global organisation, you may have plans to use drones in multiple geographical locations. However, guidelines and regulations governing drone flight will vary in different regions of the world, so adjust your plans accordingly.
  • Design for data collection and analysis: Sensor data collected by drones will guide work processes and generate insights for your organisation, so ensure you have a data management platform to capture, process, and analyse the incoming data. This will help you to identify notable events and create reports.
  • Change how work is done: In order to take full advantage of the capabilities of drones, we recommend that you use them as an active part of the business process. The role of existing employees may need to change in order to accommodate drones into your organisation. For example in oil and gas pipeline maintenance, drones would become ‘digital workers’ and take on tasks which were previously done by humans, like leak detection or perimeter surveillance. This approach will ultimately help you to improve asset integrity, mitigate risks, and facilitate faster decision-making, thus increasing oversight.