Drones in Enterprises – What Value Do They Add?

Drones and drones everywhere, but how to apply them? It’s not a futuristic poem. It’s real. Drones in enterprises, whether in surveying and mapping or asset inspections, have become fast-growing productivity-enablers.

Let’s set a picture. The drone industry is growing fast. Some recent reports suggest that licenses would triple between 2019-2023 (according to a Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, study). Another report, by BIS research, suggests that the drone industry would grow to US$ 70.28 billion by 2029 from US$ 25.59 billion in 2018. It’s a given that drones are here to stay.

What is fuelling this steep increase in interest for drones?

Drones have been associated with enthusiasts and hobbyists. That’s changed in the last decade. Enterprises have understood the importance of going the drone-way. Industries like energy and utilities, oil and gas, mining, railway, construction and real estate, agriculture, etc. have taken to drones to improve their overall operational efficiency.

How does a drone improve industrial operational efficiency?

Drones are streamlining and optimizing processes within multiple core pillars of these industries. Think about mining or energy. Such cost-intensive industries have a lot riding on each decision they make. The input, production and operation volume often stretch to millions of units.

Site exploration and planning: Top quality surveying and mapping

Right at the start, they need a stark and deep understanding of the land on which they would build or develop the plant. There are many variables to comprehend, how the land would be prepared, the apparent soil, vegetation coverage, the watershed proximity, the logistics network used to haul the materials, etc. These are all critical decisions that won’t tolerate even a little error. Miscalculations would result in lasting inefficiencies for the plant. Precise surveying and mapping are extremely important.

Manual or traditional approaches of exploration and terrain mapping using dated equipment are time-consuming and costly. Drones are the perfect enhancements in such scenarios.

Drones, on their own or when coupled with traditional equipment, enhance the total range and depth of the exploration. Surveyors, using far fewer on-ground representatives and equipment, can use drones right out of a single bag. Live and deep high-resolution visual/ thermal/ LiDAR imaging give the exact orthomosaic representation of the entire terrain. Instant processing puts up exceptionally detailed 3D Digital Elevation Models (DEM) and 3D Terrain Maps for faster and better decision making.

Cutting costs? Yes, drones save both resource and time. Drones act as resource-amplifiers. If a company was restricted by the number and quality of on-site surveyors, they could extend the range and skill of their best surveyors using drones. On-ground operators could use the drones for surveying and mapping of hundreds of acres in just a few days. The expert surveyors could remotely examine the live feed, with multiple imaging modules and analytics. The same surveying and mapping would be done in less than 1/4th the time with at least 1/5th less on-site resources.

One crucial cost of exploration is unnecessary hauling of expensive equipment and resources to the site. Drones give the surveyors and planners perfect beforehand knowledge about how many resources would be needed to do exactly what work. How much equipment, material or individuals would be required to perhaps properly level Section A of the site? How many days would the resources be engaged to clear Section B of shrubs and random vegetation? The planners can set-up a detailed plan to know the exact cost, investment and time required to finish the work. This gives them solid and consistent projections, with minimum-to-no cost-overshoots, eventually keeping all stakeholders happy.

On top of operations with live and detailed asset inspections

Industrial asset inspections are critical for many reasons. They depreciate over time and their value needs to be realized through consistent and highly-efficient usage. They need to regularly checked for maintenance. Often these assets are critical to the production line and any damage to them would compromise or halt all operations.

Consider solar panels or wind turbines. These installations are the primary point of power generation and are prone to massive wear-and-tear through their tenure. Even accessory installations like flare stacks or petroleum storage tanks need to be regularly maintained.

Manual asset inspections are, again, time-consuming and cost-intensive. There’s always a lack of quality surveyors at hand on-site to properly cover all asset inspections on a regular basis. Thorough inspections take weeks even months. Most of the inspections are often done after the appearance of some random fault or critical.

Drones help shift these asset inspections from reactive to proactive. Drones give the ideal birds-eye view to these surveyors, which wasn’t possible earlier. They can remotely have the drones launched and expertly control their cameras or imaging equipment (360-degree payload manoeuvring). Drones make it possible to have close and high-tech enabled live analytics. Even one surveyor can effectively inspect the entire plant within a day or two. This makes quick spotting and fixing of any potential errors a regular and consistent affair.

With drones, the previous bottlenecks like operational down-time or stockpile miscalculations can be eliminated (due to manual inspections). Surveyors and operators can make accurate plans and volumetric estimations, improving the overall plant’s efficiency over time.

Total workplace safety with drones

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). This means that they can be utilized in multiple scenarios, otherwise dangerous for humans. The surveying and mapping or asset inspections often require the surveyors to access hard-to-reach areas for effective visuals. They use railings, scaffolding, cherry-pickers, rope-access, etc. for such manual inspections. These are safety hazards and should be avoided. These activities also put them in close proximity of heavy industrial fumes or dangerous equipment.

The drones are an effective engagement to put all the surveyors and operators out of harm’s way. Drones can smoothly hover or move over-head, reach tricky areas and fly close to dangerous (toxic or high temperature) equipment or stockpiles. They give instant surveillance of many acres, regularly and whenever required. Drones have helped secure and save multiple lives across enterprises, especially with high-risk endeavours like blast planning in mining.

They also act as first-respondents in case of any emergency to help the operator to better direct resources and replenishment, further securing the interests of the potential victims.

Future of drones with ideaForge’s industry benchmarks

Drones will move to be the critical turn-key engagements for total-efficiency across the upstream, midstream and downstream operations. The drone developers who keep improving their offerings will move into dominant positions, and the ones who stick to low-endurance hobby-centric drones would be pushed in a niche.

ideaForge has been setting the tone for high-endurance drones that have longer, faster and better flights than any other drone in their class. This means that they…

i. cover more area under exploration or inspection;
ii. fly far more stable than others giving fine and accurate readings even down to centimeters;
iii. fly through adverse weather and altitude with the same consistency;
iv. have extremely user-friendly and easy-to-deploy mechanisms;
v. and can be used across industries and scenarios with high-accountability, durability and consistency.

There’s far more in the future of drones, however, their enterprise future is the brightest. In the next five years, drones would be almost a necessary part of all surveying, mapping and asset inspection processes.

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