5 Reasons Why You Should Employ Drones to Do Your Inspections
Drones are not magic. They will not provide your company with an exponential advantage that no one else can attain. What a drone capability does provide is an incremental competitive advantage for your business. We are also seeing how unmanned aerial technology is quickly becoming the norm for significant infrastructure owners. At HAZON Solutions, we have been flying drones in the infrastructure inspection space since 2014. It is undeniable that for organizations that incorporate UAS technology into their inspection program realize significant results. What we have learned is rather than a generational leap in one value proposition our clients realize substantial incremental gains across a spectrum. Below are five of the reasons why you should employ drones in your infrastructure inspection plans.
Let's take a look at power generation inspection requirement - cooling tower inspections. Cooling towers often inspected bi-annually, are one of the more risky inspection requirements we have come across. A thorough inspection traditionally results in a man dangling at the end of an extremely long rope - not ideal. With a drone, you can execute the same inspection while mitigating 100% of the fall risk by keeping your feet firmly on the ground. While this use case is on the extreme side, it is an excellent example of the safety case for using drones, and the point carries over to any inspection where climbers are, or rappelling is a factor.
The plain and simple truth is that it is cheaper to employ a drone when compared to legacy inspection techniques across nearly every possible use case, and it is going to get cheaper. For inspections traditionally done by a single person, drones can enable that person to cover more ground per day increasing their volume and decreasing costs. Where inspections were done previously with climbers or rappelers, drones negate the climbing or the equipment requirement speeding the overall inspection and reducing costs. Drones remove requirements for scaffolding in other use cases and where helicopters are currently inspecting linear infrastructure, drones are doing the same while not burning expensive fossil fuels. We have demonstrated cost reductions from the incremental single-digit percentage point all the way to 93%; drones are clearly cheaper than most legacy inspections techniques.
Let's look at a scenario where speed really matters - storm response. During a post storm event you have customers without power, lost revenue is adding up, and you have staging areas filling with line crews ready to get to work repairing equipment. Imagine pairing a series of line crews working in a relatively small area with a single drone team. The drone team goes to the first reported down line, launches their aircraft, finds the outage and finds access points for the line crew to the right of way - while the linemen watch the feed with the drone team. The line then communicates precisely the equipment they need on site, starts moving in the direction of the repair and the drone team moves on to the next line crew. By the time the first crew is complete with their repairs they are getting the scouting report for the next damaged line from the now ahead of them drone team. This is what the US military would call a force multiplier.
4. Reduce Downtime
Circle back to power generation. What's the best way to increase the numbers at any power generation facility? Reduce downtime. Drones are a clear-cut value add here. In most cases, equipment can be running at full capacity while inspections are completed. Coal conveyors can run at full speed while a drone inspects the cable trays that run alongside them. Cooling towers need not be shut down for a thorough external inspection. If you need to take a look at the aviation lights on the top of a 1,000-foot tall stack, you can send a drone. By sending a drone, you do not need a climber and certainly no need for any downtime. Maybe you want to inspect a boiler internally. Using drones eliminates your need to erect scaffolding and dramatically reduces the time the boiler is offline. The economics are clear here - drones vastly increase your facility uptime.
At the end of the day, there's not much point in any of this if drones cannot get the job done. While they will only ever be as good as the people flying them, drones have two significant advantages over many legacy inspection techniques. The first major advantage is simple. Angles. Drones offer up angles that climbers, helicopters or ground teams simply cannot access. By flying around or sometimes through a structure drones can provide perspectives previously unavailable via traditional inspection techniques. Drones are not limited by what they have access and can often realize 100% coverage of a structure vice the limited perspective that could be offered by a legacy technique. The second advantage, data. By default drones generate and store data, the data is the point. When a professional operator is executing the inspection, the data is stored, archived and analyzed thoroughly producing a report that is both accurate and usable in the clients existing data management process. Data is the new business currency, that much is clear. There are those who take advantage of it and those who will be taken advantage by it.