Category: NDT Inspections

Why NDT and Inspection Businesses Should Use Drones

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:

  • Safety
  • Profit
  • Productivity
  • 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

To learn more about streamlining your NDT business through digital transformation, read our white paper.

Global Bridge Inspection Market Ripe for NDT Inspection Service Providers

According to a recent report from research firm Fact.MR, the global bridge inspection market is predicted to grow 400 percent over the next decade to a total capitalization of $6.3 billon.

The report said this massive growth is the result of an aging infrastructure, damaging environmental factors, and an increase in the amount of total traffic. All of these factors are contributing to the increased decay of concrete and steel over time, creating potential safety problems for the general public but does produce a financial opportunity for steel, concrete and specialized NDT inspection service providers to take advantage of the money that will be pouring into this market over the next 10 years.

Routine bridge inspections, which prevent more costly and potentially hazardous repairs and reconstruction later on, are expected to comprise 83 percent of the total market. Specialized NDT inspection testing and services will make up the rest.

According to a memo from the U.S. Dept. of Transportion’s Federal Highway Administration titled Risk-Based Interval Determination for Routine Bridge Inspections, bridge inspections include the following damage modes:

  • For steel elements: section loss, fatigue, and fracture.
  • For concrete elements: flexural cracking, shear cracking, and reinforcing steel corrosion.
  • For superstructure elements: seismic, overload, and vehicle/vessel impact
  • For substructure elements: seismic, scour, and settlement.

New technologies will play a role in creating new opportunities and new, faster, and more accurate bridge inspections, especially for NDT inspection service providers. The use of drones, specially-built inspection robots, virtual reality, advanced NDT techniques, and cloud-based software platforms will make bridge inspections safer and quicker, allowing companies to provide better bridge inspections at a higher profit margin.

According to the Fact.MR report, developing countries are especially in need of both routine and specialized bridge inspection services. In Japan for example, 48 percent of the bridges are more than half a century old. The report stated: “Developing economies such as China, India, South Africa, and Brazil have witnessed a spike in spending on the inspection and maintenance of existing infrastructure. The necessity to prevent bridge accidents is foreseen to support the growth of transportation over bridge inspection services. China has doubled the volume of infrastructure projects to stave off economic slowdown amid the trade war. India on the other hand has invested about $1.1 trillion on infrastructure for building new roads and rail links.”

Learn more about how cloud-based software be a digital platform for connecting various bridge inspection technologies and streamline NDT business processes.

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