If your business is performing inspections and NDT on enterprise assets and infrastructure like pipelines, bridges, telecom and electrical towers, substations, hydro-electric dams or solar farms, using commercial drones for remote visual inspections is a service offering you should consider. Once simply a hobbyist pursuit, drone technology today has the ability to transform the ways in which businesses operate.
Job safety for your inspectors is paramount. Using drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, allows NDT inspectors and engineers to examine large structures or even entire regions of assets (i.e. pipelines) quickly and safely while dramatically reducing costs and overhead. This is invaluable when inspecting structures that are large and in hard-to-reach or even hazardous environments made so by precarious heights, rugged terrain, hazardous environment, and remoteness.
With drone inspections, your customers get better, more up-close visual inspections and data on which to immediately act, mitigating risk, preventing accidents, outages and costly repairs.
As a result of the increased efficiencies, engineers are able to get large inspection jobs done quicker, provide inspection results and recommendations to the asset owner faster, then move on to other jobs. An NDT inspections provider in China was able to increase electrical pylon inspections from one to two per day to 10-20 per day. See the case study in this article, A Drone Pilot’s Guide to Surveying a Tower.
Also, commercial drones are relatively inexpensive. They range from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the tech and features your NDT business requires.
As far as additional manpower or even fielding drone inspection teams, ideally you would use the inspectors and technicians that you currently have to fly the drones, capture images, video and data, and then analyze and make recommendations to the client.
All that is required of the inspector in charge of the flight is an FAA drone certification, which is not a rigorous or costly undertaking after revised rules on the commercial use of drones went into effect in 2018. This change in regulation, no longer requiring a full-fledged airplane pilot’s license, has freed up the opportunity for NDT businesses a cost-effective means of using drones in their operations.
In the ideal scenario, one inspector would pilot the drone while another operates the camera to record structural images and other asset data. Thermal imaging and 3D maps and modeling are also possible use cases. This presents less risk and is exponentially more efficient than performing the same work via rope access or helicopter, for example.
To reiterate, the cost-of-entry into providing drone inspections is low while the impact on both safety and your bottom line is evident. By employing drone inspections into your service portfolio, you will quickly see improved KPIs in the following areas:
- Customer satisfaction
- Customer retention
- Competitive advantage
It’s clear why drone inspections are becoming more prevalent in industries like oil and gas, power generation, utilities, telecom, and mechanical and civil engineering.
Providing enterprise-grade aerial intelligence is something that your customers will appreciate, as will your engineers and inspectors who are made safer as a result. See this article for more information: Drone technology uses and applications for commercial, industrial and military drones in 2020 and the future
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