This new paradigm of drone-based inspections is helping industries improve efficiency and quality of data acquisition while increasing safety and speed of delivery. Although a new and emerging technology, (which is still evolving), most companies are not aware of the diverse benefits they can achieve using small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAVs) to inspect their assets.
The present challenges of the traditional asset inspections
The first thing is to realize that there are several challenges with traditional asset inspection methods. Most often, the stakeholders are usually aware of the high costs, risks and the length of time it takes to carry out a traditional inspection. Despite having this knowledge, the organization will most likely be looking at ways to improve on the methods but rarely looking at drones as an alternative for work-flow improvement.
Today there are a hand full of industries who are using drones to inspect a wide range of assets, including Energy and Power, Oil and Gas, Water Towers, Commercial Builders and more. Others are just starting while the rest are yet to make the decision. While companies using drones can quickly and safely produce detailed and accurate inspection data, the ones relying on traditional methods will find it hard to do so over the same period. The scope of drone use-case applications will vary from one company to the other, but the building industry, energy, insurance, real estate and others with similar requirements are using drones to carry out a wide range of inspections. There are several benefits of using drones to perform activities such as asset inspections which are traditionally risky, costly and time-consuming. In addition, it replaces the traditional methods that are likely to produce inaccurate data due to human error and other factors.
Compelling Details and Benefits of Drone Inspections versus Traditional
The development of drones in the last few years is changing which is, enhancing the inspection process by making it safer, inexpensive and less time-consuming. UAV technology has many benefits including:
1. Drones minimize the obvious dangers and health risks
Drones enable easy and safe inspections of tall and complex structures, especially the inspections of facilities such as oil and gas refineries, flare stacks, and pipelines. It eliminates the need for workers to physically access hostile environments where factors such as the height, the wind, waves, weather, and radiation can lead to accidents. Drones can easily access difficult to reach areas while eliminating the need for a human to go there using risky mechanical tools.
2. Collection of in-depth and higher detail data
UAV drones equipped with obstacle avoidance functionality have the ability to navigate very close to structures allowing the drone to capture minuscule details. At a drummers cadence drones pop-out high-resolution images or 4K video that clearly show cracks, damage, misplaced wires and other defects at elevations and angles that humans cannot. This allows collection of comprehensive data without exposing the inspection team to risks.
3. Quick and rapid deployment
Licensed FAA remote pilots can launch a drone inspection within a very short time upon request. Since it only takes minutes to launch a drone-based inspection, UAV’s are suitable for both day-to-day and on-demand emergency scenarios. In addition, drones are capable of completing inspection segments in up to 5-to-20 minutes. As such an insurance company, construction engineer, lending company or prospective home buyer can easily request an inspection and get results in less than one hour.
4. Flexibility to suit a majority of inspections
Drones have the ability of high-flying, low-flying and can either be huge, medium or small, hence providing a wide selection to suit a variety of inspection needs. In addition, the flexibility and ease of a wide variety of software tools allow drones to service endless of applications. For building developers and rooftop inspections, drones can take photos, capture video, take thermal images, transmit data, and other functions that enable them to collect and share information that would take days using the conventional means.
5. Easily shareable data
With standard software and analytical tools, the images and other information collected from a project site can be used to generate standard reports that are easy to share across multiple platforms. This information can be customized for different industries, making it easier for the professional in different sectors to easily interpret and share relevant data.
6. Using drones for marketing and advertising
Other than inspections for maintenance and other purposes, drones can also provide outstanding video footage for marketing purposes. The high-quality images and cinematography provide potential investors, (whether buyers or tenants), a better view of the properties they are investing in.
7. Little to zero downtime for equipment and systems
Most manual inspections require shutting down equipment or systems (during a maintenance window) to avoid damage or injuries to the inspection personnel. However, drones can safely inspect complex systems such as the wind turbines, radars, communication towers and others while they are still running. This means that inspection does not interfere with the services or production.
8. Ability to inspect difficult to get to and hazardous areas
Drones are making it possible for professionals to easily collect aerial data in places where it would be logically impossible. It is less risky and safer to use drones in hostile environments for applications such as radiation monitoring, inspecting high voltage lines and other installations that can cause injuries or health problems. Since most of these applications must be inspected while still in operation, a manual process would require more expensive equipment and protection gear.
9. Low insurance costs
Manual inspections are risky and require paying insurance for the inspector and the workers before carrying out the task. Insurance requirements for drones are minimal and missions based, hence much lower costs. In addition, the risks of injuries are reduced dramatically in a drone-based inspection.
10. Save time and money
Drones minimize the high cost and time required to erect ladders, access towers, swing stages, aerial lifts, and other heavy equipment. In addition, you do not have to hire or acquire ladders, heavy equipment and large pickup trucks for every inspection. Since the job takes less time, it means that you can inspect more assets in one day.
Frank Segarra is the founder and CEO of ConnexiCore. He has 27 years of IT, telecommunications and aviation industry experience and was a US Navy aircraft carrier airman specializing in Avionics Engineering. As a thought leader in drone technology, Frank was invited to be a founding member and co-chair of the CompTIA Drone Advisory Council.