Drones for asset inspection are an increasingly accepted concept. Several enterprises are deploying drones to maintain the structural and operational integrity of their assets.
Consider oil wellheads or large petroleum storage tanks. Any thermal or structural variation needs to be acknowledged, documented and fixed in time. Traditionally, engineers and supervisors undertook these asset inspections manually. Close proximity with this dangerous equipment and tanks, often using rope access or elevated pedestals (or scaffolding).
Drones help eliminate the obvious safety hazards of such close proximity asset inspection. Further, they act as resource-amplifiers. Even a few engineers can effectively and regularly inspect multiple high-value assets using drones. Companies no longer must feel restricted by the speed and quality of inspections.
Since drone-led asset inspections are aerial, they cancel out the need for any operational slow-downs or bottlenecks while the said inspection underway. All the information from the multiple possible payloads, like HD visuals, LiDAR, infrared, thermal, etc.are beamed live back to the engineer. The information is instantly recorded and documented. The engineer can make detailed investigations covering even remote sections of the equipment and structure for implementing quick corrective measures.
Critical change detection using LiDAR, visual, infrared, thermal imaging
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are extremely impactful when it comes to quick and fine change detection. ideaForge drones can be equipped with multiple payloads, even dual payloads for multiple simultaneous analytics.
LiDAR or infrared imaging can spot even fine cracks or tension-areas across flare stacks or wellheads. Spotting this in-time is critical as unattended anomalies can convert into disasters or major operational break-downs. They may cost millions in downtime or even harm personnel and environment. Drone-based asset inspections involve fine and multi-zoomed sweeps of all points of interest. The engineer can track the development of ‘faults’ over hours of documented HD video surveillance footage. This enables them to direct resources to the exact targeted section for timely and lasting corrections.
Fast and effective volumetric estimations with drones
Another important application for asset inspection, under the concept of change detection, are volumetric estimations. Stockpiles of minerals or coal are a common sight at oil and gas, mining or energy plants. The stock-value of such piles can run in millions. They may also be key ingredients in the sustained production or operation at the site.
It’s necessary to know exactly how much coal or minerals are in these stockpiles. A steady knowledge of the inventory helps with precise logistics and operational predictions. Stockpiles, like coal, are even prone to spontaneous combustion due to trapped exothermic energy. Regular inspections are necessary to keep these situations at bay.
Close manual inspections, however, are extremely time-consuming. They may even be detrimental to the health of the supervisors or inspectors, due to the harmful fumes. General cooling (spraying water indiscriminately) for the entire stacks also ends up wasting unnecessary water.
Drone-based inspections, using high-end photogrammetry, helps with precise volumetric estimations of all such stockpiles within hours. The important hotspots can be cooled in a targeted manner, preserving water. The supervisors can have all their stockpiles information at their fingertips, updated at short regular intervals for better operational control.
Regular and detailed power line and pipeline inspections
One tough, yet important, process within asset inspections, is that of power lines and pipelines. The downstream distribution or transmission or power and crude oil are critical to the health of the economy and supporting industries. Any damage or fault along these lines can mean depreciation of the power/oil being transmitted/transported. This can be a huge potential loss, as even 1% depreciation across thousands of kilometres of these lines can have a huge cost.
Constant inspections of these lines, again, is a key necessity. However, due to the expanse of total inspection required, manual processes come-out as ineffective. Drone-led inspections can be deployed and performed even from remote locations. Strategic inspections with drones can effectively cover the entire extent of the power and pipelines in less than 1/5th the total traditional time is taken (manual).
For power and pipelines, even for stockpiles, pilferage is a real concern. Regular inspections with drones, here, help in two ways. They act as first responders in any such event and help direct authorities to act in-time. The second – they act as natural deterrents. Just the awareness that the lines are regularly inspected with live HD visuals-capable drones encourages potential thieves to keep their distance, and hopefully change their ways.
Growth projections: Increased focus on drone-led inspections
It’s very important to sustain the structural and operational integrity of industrial equipment or heavy architectural structures. Their regular maintenance helps elongate their lives and boost the overall efficiency of the plant. Drones help streamline and improve industrial asset inspections and, hence, are key business enablers for the modern era.
According to a recent study, the infrastructure asset management industry would touch US$ 41 billion by 2025, growing at 8.9% CAGR. A lot of this growth would be due to sustained and streamlined inspections using drones.
Drones for asset inspection are a natural and logical extension, and being adopted by multiple industries in a major way. It’s time for companies, perhaps like yours, to engage with drones to better your operations and save heavily on time and cost.