Industrial facilities require regular inspections and maintenance. Only a few years ago it required a lot of effort, time and money to inspect industrial facilities. But modern technologies are changing every sphere of the life including industry. Recently, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) started to be implemented in various industries for automated aerial inspections.
What is Automated Aerial Inspection?
UAVs, also known as drones, are already firmly entrenched in many branches of human activity. The number of them grows at a tremendous speed, as well as the range of problems that unmanned vehicles can address.
Nowadays, UAVs are used by army, police and civilian services for search and rescue, land management or topographic surveys, drone inspection services and many other tasks. In particular automated aerial inspection looks at the applications of UAVs to help collect information about the condition of hard to reach components in industrial structures.
How Does Automated Aerial Inspection Work?
Today drone inspections are the most effective method of aerial reconnaissance. UAVs take high-quality images in real time, which allows easily detecting the malfunctions and damages, or identify any unauthorized activity. Aerial photographs made by a UAV allow to evaluate and analyze the technical condition of industrial components and support structures. Moreover, it subsequently serves as the basis for creating detailed digital models.
Among the main tasks addressed with the help of UAV, we can highlight the following:
- Regular monitoring of pipelines, including a survey of water and railway crossings;
- Identification of unauthorized oil withdrawal points in pipelines;
- Detection of unauthorized presence in protected areas;
- Supervision of facility operations;
- Assessment of the technical condition of facilities, detection of damages;
- Abnormal situations monitoring, including coordination of the land groups.
Types of Objects for Inspection
Oil and Gas Pipeline Drone Inspection
Since for any industry it is critical to keep its equipment and infrastructure in most efficient operating condition. Managing the possible risks and planning the optimal resources usage, is crucial to have a well-organized information support.
Nowadays, aerial systems are widely used for industrial surveillance, especially when gas or oil pipeline drone inspection is needed. A system of drones connected through special software complex constitutes a complete solution for any industry. The methane gas drone inspection is much more efficient than the classical method based on plane surveys. Using unmanned technologies, the gas pipeline drone inspection of inaccessible areas and parts of the construction can be easily done. Moreover, drones can carry not only the common but infrared and thermal cameras. Methane gas drone inspection based on such shootings allows discovering defects, damages, and malfunctions simply and rapidly allowing to fix them on time and reducing maintenance costs.
Digital models, created on the basis of aerial reconnaissance, are used for condition analysis and damage prevention. Low altitude gas pipeline drone inspection helps to study the construction as a whole and its parts to perfect the methods of maintaining and repairing pipelines without stopping the process of delivery.
Railways and Roads Drone Inspection
Considering the enormous sizes of railways and road systems it is clear that their infrastructure control can be a big problem. Before making any repairs or innovations, it is necessary to collect tonnes of data about the current state of the transport routes. Also, an increased quality of cartographic information, which is a by-product of such surveys, helps to increase the accuracy of maps and increase the traffic security.
Traffic experts and cartographers sometimes have to idle for days and even weeks trying to get the necessary information, so UAV systems become a big help. Using such systems, all the information may be collected and analyzed faster and with more precision. As a result, money losses due to idling experts and low efficiency of the data can be reduced. Also, drones allow controlling the work progress.
Water Resources Inspection
Another sphere where drones are a useful and an absolutely necessary tool is water resources management. Such aspects as natural and anthropological impact should be analyzed all the time to support the efficient state of the water reservoirs.
Spatial and temporal data can be obtained with drones quickly and efficiently. Also, it is easy to monitor all the changes in an ecosystem. Moreover, you can be sure that the data are accurate and precise so all the calculations can be done right after the inspection. And, of course, unmanned systems allow making inspections faster and cheaper as they require minimum human supervision.
Energy Facilities Inspection
Energy facilities are usually quite durable but still, it does not mean that they should not be inspected regularly and cared about well. Only when you have an appropriate and complete data about the conditions of facilities, you are able to make your company or plant work well. The classical methods of cable inspection have limited applicability today due to their complexity, high cost, and induced idleness.
Using drones, company owners may easily reduce the losses and required personnel. Especially helpful are such technologies as mapping, 3D model scanning, and equipment inspection. Moreover, during the power line inspection, it is not necessary to disconnect the equipment which reduces money and time losses greatly.
The important point is that usage of drones when making cable inspection may significantly reduce various risks. The flights are held on the safe distance from cables and supporting constructions during the system’s operation. UAVs may examine the state of supports, detect defective elements and reveal all sorts of damages. Also, using drones, it is easier to analyze the influence of system conditions and make necessary improvements to reduce possible damages. Thermographic power line inspection can easily determine problems and defects, otherwise hidden.
Heating Mains Inspection
Aerial vehicles are widely used for monitoring the heating mains as it brings the efficiency of an inspection to a new level making it easier and cheaper.
Detailed images and data from thermo-scanners give the possibility to examine the state of the insulation layers and discover corrosions. Moreover, it becomes easier to reveal all the damages to the system in the initial stages. The defect that was found on time can be repaired faster and with fewer expenses.
Alternative Energy Systems Inspection
With the help of drones, it is faster and easier to make wind turbine inspection. As it helps to deal with small malfunctions and damages in a timely fashion, such an inspection will surely save effort and money. You may avoid serious accidents as well.
Nowadays, energy plants are incredibly huge and complicated and there are a lot of difficulties when checking the machines and systems. Also, energy plant’s mechanisms are under the high load all the time which means that they should be checked regularly. Classical ways to inspect the systems are really expensive and the whole team of specialist should be organized. Thus, aerial power plant and wind turbine inspection come to rescue here.
Another issue where UAVs work as a charm is solar panel inspection. Despite the fact that this way of getting energy is really reliable they can be damaged, broken or worn out. To increase the efficiency of the solar energy transformation, solar panels are joined to huge planes. Constructing the walkways for the regular inspection patrols Using aerial infrared shooting, the solar panel inspection can be executed shortly and reveal all the problems in the system. It means you can minimize your losses and avoid many difficulties.
Drones are especially useful for monitoring the nuclear power plants. They not only allow analyzing the successful operation of systems but also providing the radiation measurement safely. Your employees can avoid a lot of difficulties and hazardous environments. It should be said that all radiation measurement will be very precise and can be analyzed as soon as they are made.
Dam and Bridge Inspection
Such constructions as dams, bridges, cooling towers and others should be checked regularly to analyze their condition. Dams and bridge inspections can be done with the help of drones; it may be especially useful when some difficult-to-access parts of the construction need to be checked. UAVs collect all the necessary for a dam or cooling tower inspection data and immediately transfer it to the analysis. The data and images from all sides of the construction can be taken and sent in mere seconds. Moreover, such shaft, dam and bridge inspections can be done as often as you think it is necessary. The other point is that bridge or cooling tower inspection will be done at a low price.
Communication Systems Inspection
It is clear that various communication systems are a significant part of our everyday life. It is the important point that they should be in working mode all the time to provide people with stable connections.
Telecommunication companies create and maintain systems that not only provide but guarantee this connectivity. In order to sustain a stable transmission, all the facilities should be constantly monitored. Normally, these inspections require teams of specially educated, skillful people and the task is really hard and dangerous. It makes the inspections incredibly expensive.
Usage of drones can change the procedure making it simpler and cheaper. UAVs can deal with a primary tower inspection quickly. Also, it will help to assess bird nests, make the post-installation inspection, and test the distributed antenna drives and microwave transmission levels.
How Much Do Conventional Inspections Cost?
Industrial structures such as dams and dams, smoke shafts and industrial facilities require regular inspection and monitoring of the condition. Usually, these works have to be performed at high altitude and require a lot of time, scrupulous preparations, and, of course, working admittances.
The cost of such a check at a large industrial facility can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why so expensive? The answer is simple – you need to spend a lot of money on equipment, salaries to employees, processing, and analysis of data. In addition, in many cases in order to conduct such an inspection, it is necessary to stop production, which entails losses by itself.
How Much Can You Save with Automated Inspection by Drones?
Drone based inspection will help to save time and money, as well as get a comprehensive report on the state of the facility without exposing people to extra safety risks.
One example comes from the oil & gas industry. Recently Cyberhawka a drone inspection service provider, which performs aerial inspections for companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil, and others, helped one of its customers save £4.6 million by taking advantage of the low drone inspection cost and the corresponding high quality of inspection. In this case a UAVwas used to inspect a drilling rig. The inspection revealed critical defects that posed immediate risk to the operations. The drilling was temporarily stopped, the issue was fixed in timeto prevent a long and costly breakdown, and the tower was put back in operation.
Drone Inspection Reporting and Management
The use of unmanned drones greatly simplifies the reporting. Given that UAVs transmit the results directly to the database, the amount of documentation is significantly reduced. All measurements and data are compiled automatically using the appropriate software.
This means that inspection reports will be ready much faster and at the same time, will be more reliable since all measurements are carried out by highly sensitive and accurate sensors. Given that the data is obtained in electronic form, they are easier to store, access the necessary files and ensure the security of information.
Also, managing this kind of inspection is much easier than a classic one. First, there’s no need for a huge number of different specialists. This means that you will not have to organize the work in a large team, which reduces the expenses.
Secondly, this method speeds up data collection while avoiding the mistakes and inaccuracies, allowing to obtain the most reliable results.
Types of Drones Suitable for the Automated Inspection
Various types of unmanned vehicles, used for industrial inspections, exist and the choice will largely depend on the sphere in which the inspection will be held. Let us discuss the main types of UAVs and their advantages.
There are 3 major types of UAVs, differentiated by the flight method of the apparatus.
Fixed Wing UAV
This type of drone has a rigid wing and its surface creates a lifting force. Because of the construction, the UAV has the characteristics of a glider and is more resistant to various errors or malfunctions. Such UAVs can easily carry a lot of equipment to long distances using less energy.
Thanks to the above-mentioned capabilities, this type of UAV is perfect for the delivery of heavy loads or for long-lasting missions. But for missions that require high accuracy, it is better to choose other types of drones. Fixed wing drones cannot hang over one place or provide an accurate positioning of the camera.
A rotary-wing UAV is a vehicle, the flight of which is mainly carried out due to the lifting force created by the spinning blades. It may be called a reduced version of single-rotor helicopters.
The main advantage of this type of unmanned vehicle is the possibility of vertical take-off and landing. The ability to hang and maneuver allows performing high-precision missions, for example, inspections of the railways, power grids, pipelines, bridges, etc. Single-rotor heli’s advantage as compared to a multi-rotor type is much higher efficiency which can be further advanced by implementing a gas motor drive. Such drones can hover with relatively heavy payloads or quickly switch between hovering and fast forward flight.
On the other hand, rotor-wing UAVs require more maintenance due to the complexity of their mechanics, are quite unforgiving to bad landings, and bear the danger to people due to their rotating blades.
This type of UAV is equipped with several propellers. These drones may have anywhere from 3 to 16 rotors, but 4 to 8 rotors is most common
Compared to single-rotor drones, multicopters can bear lower payloads but they are extremely stable and easy to control. Moreover, they can individually stabilize the position even in rapidly changing environmental conditions. Therefore, they can be used in missions that require exceptional accuracy. These types of drones are great for topographic photography, filming, and infrastructure monitoring. The problem is that multicopters, as a rule, have less energy and range, so you may be obliged to make additional flights to fulfill the mission.
As we can see, there are many applications where implementation of UAV’s is already helping save time, money and improve safety. Considering automated drone inspection for your next project can help address the budget constraints and provide high quality data required to make critical decisions.. Consider contacting drone automation experts to help you identify if your application is good fit for drone inspection and how to organize and conduct the inspection efficiently and at a low cost. Moreover, they can also help you manage the collected data, and provide you with analysis and detailed reporting on the facilities and equipment.