Inspection and Detection by Drone
An increasing number of companies are beginning to use drones for inspection as they address the operational challenges faced by human inspections.
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 are often limited due to the height and confined spaces of utility portals.
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.
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.
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 more. The needs are fairly straightforward, but scaling presents complexities and risks: Pipelines span thousands of miles, production platforms are often very remote, and manufacturing facilities present 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.
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, ranging from the cherry picker, service platform and the 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.
Power lines distribute electricity at very high voltages, making maintenance a risky job. 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.