Drone Inspections are Improving Efficiency in the Utilities Industry

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Drone Inspections are Improving Efficiency in the Utilities Industry

Routine maintenance is important in many industries, but within areas including the energy sector, it becomes a top priority as any component failure can lead to a blackout. As inspections are inevitably the first step to identifying issues that require attention, they have long since been a frequent requirement of the utilities industry.
The traditional methods of inspecting are costly, time-consuming and outdated. Increasingly, utility companies are opting for the modern approach of using drones and AI to inspect extensive powerlines or to safely enter hazardous or hard-to-reach areas at significantly lower costs.

From measuring size and temperature, to identifying impaired components, and detecting Corona discharge; drones are able to spot key issues that the human eye cannot. Drones are exceedingly easy to implement across multiple industries, but within this article, we will focus specifically on how drones are successfully replacing the old-fashioned inspection methods within the utilities industry.

Traditional Inspection Methods are Expensive and Risky

Traditional industrial inspection solutions often involve erecting scaffolding or employing the use of helicopters to combine aerial photos with ground-level visual inspections. This involves costly rentals and a great deal of time and expensive manpower to achieve; and on average, only 10-20% of the time is an issue detected during inspections. Where efficiency is concerned, this expensive, labour-intensive form of inspecting is on its way out.

Safety, however, will never become outdated. Inspections are vital to pinpoint potential hazards or damaged equipment and as such, it is important to ensure these issues are corrected before they pose a serious threat to either operation or to life. Expensive high-risk situations, such as manual high-voltage powerline inspection, can be mitigated through the use of drone technology; as drones allow for completely safe inspections without anyone coming close to high-voltage cables, potential threats to human lives are minimised.

This also means that expensive manpower no longer needs to be employed to carry out time-consuming inspections or to erect scaffolding to inspect boilers and pressure vessels, as drones are far more cost-effective, take much less time to inspect accurately, show views from more angles than simple aerial photography, and can access more hazardous and hard-to-reach environments.

Accuracy is another key feature that is improved with drone inspections. A helicopter’s aerial view is taken from just one angle, and the time-consuming ground sensors can also see just one plane of view. When compared to the fully-immersive view of a drone with sensors on all six of its sides, the benefits of innovation are immediately apparent. By hiring a drone inspection service as opposed to helicopters and ground sensors, multiple inspections can be done in a fraction of the time, cutting out the previously necessary expenditure on fuel, pilots, aerial photographers and ground staff.

Drone Inspections: The Safer and Cost-Effective Solution

A multitude of specialised sensors can be fitted to the drone, and for the utilities industry, these tend to include thermal and ultraviolet sensors. Drones for powerline inspections will alsoDrone Inspection - Sensors harness the high-resolution 4K video technology to visually inspect tall or extensive structures and as such can zoom in with clarity, offering even more precision.

Geotagging pinpoints the towers presenting signs of weakness, leakage and damage; along with details on the level of severity, enabling preemptive maintenance to be carried out in a timely fashion. Drone technology incorporates cloud-based reporting with multiple sensors to collate all necessary data safely and quickly. High-resolution imagery is generated from every angle using drones, with key issues such as rust being automatically identified. This enables engineers to access and review assets of interest remotely and in great detail.

A drone team is made up of two operators who can inspect several kilometers worth of power lines per day - or up to a hundred towers - keeping labour costs substantially lower than linesmen. The regular and more detailed inspections enabled by drones help to increase the lifespan of components and identify issues faster than human workers are able to.

Efficient Drone Inspections on OHTL Towers

An increasing number of utility companies are innovating through drone technology as they offer more effective solutions, more comprehensive data and are far safer and cheaper than the traditional alternative.

There are several aspects within the utility industry that need to be inspected on a regular basis to operate smoothly. Some examples of the necessary inspections include those performed on transmission lines, distribution lines and the substations themselves.

One such example where drone inspections are frequently used is on Overhead Transmission Line (OHTL) towers. Drones - fully equipped with the necessary sensors - address the state of the following aspects:
  • Any loose or missing nuts and bolts of the hardware
  • Corrosions on the structure or hardware
  • Insulators, whether cracked or polluted
  • Damages to stranded conductors
  • The condition of their foundation
  • Vegetation encroachment near powerlines
  • Thermal inspections, which identify abnormal temperatures on both insulators and conductors
  • Corona discharge inspections, captured through the UV cameras
The above inspections are all actively carried out by drone service companies, without the need for individual companies to invest in purchasing drones or in further training to understand the technology.

Weather poses a far larger issue in inspections using helicopters. On the other hand, drones can inspect thoroughly even through the harsh UAE summer months, with high performance that is set to match the flight conditions. Even prior to the drone inspections, Drones-as-a-Service (DaaS) technology can also be used to survey sites during construction; thereby assisting with the build, measurements and 3D representations, identifying issues before they result in rework and showing near real-time progression across projects.

It’s Time to Switch to Drone Technology

While maintenance and repairs require manpower, inspections are the first step in this process. As many inspections are done to ensure safety and may not result in having anything physical to fix, drones are the perfect way to cut maintenance-related costs without paying unnecessary man hours. This is particularly important for situations in which scaffolding needs to be erected as drones save yet more time and money by avoiding the steep costs and time factors associated with renting, constructing and deconstructing scaffolding.

Our clients’ report shows a 23% increase in inspection quality as a direct result of using Drones-as-a-Service (DaaS). Drones can cover vast areas in a fraction of time that humans could not, whilst offering improved safety and lower costs. Their sensors are interchangeable on all six sides of the drone so the applications are vast and tailorable; this technology is revolutionising inspections in the utilities industry and making safe inspections more accessible than ever before.

Falcon Eye Drones (FEDS) is the first and leading DaaS provider in the Middle East and together with Aerodyne Group, we are now the largest drone company in the world. With over 300,000 drone inspections carried out across 25 countries, we have analysed some 120,000km of powerline to date.

Innovate with drone inspection services by contacting us to discuss your options.


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