Power lines, cell or radio towers, antenna, satellite dishes, and roofs have always needed someone to inspect them on a regular basis. Historically, this is usually done with a scaffold or rope access but more and more, companies are moving away from these resource and cost intensive methods, in favour of inspecting using drones. It isn’t always an option and there is no perfect solution, however, this guide aims to set out the main benefits and drawbacks of using drones to inspect your infrastructure.
Working at height is the biggest source of industrial fatalities in the UK. When doing a drone for inspection, you put no one at risk of working at height, drastically reducing your risk of a serious accident.
Time and cost
Without the need to set up a scaffold or laboriously rig up harnesses and access ropes, drones can save a lot of time when getting in the air to exactly what is going on at high levels. A pilot may be able to inspect multiple infrastructure items from a single take-off location, drastically reducing the time on site. Drones can deploy much faster than any other solution, saving time and expenditure on engineers. Using a remote feed, your engineer could be sat comfortably in the office conducting a survey that would have taken hours to get to, allowing them to drastically increase their inspection speed with multiple drones inspection crews.
By using drone image photogrammetry, you can build a 3D model of your structure, which allows you to keep a permanent record of its condition and where you photo records tie into it. With thermal cameras mounted to the drone, visual defects are not the only items that will show up. Conductors, insulators, photovoltaic cells and roofs will all show signs of damage under inspection from a thermal camera. These images can be given to repair engineers to help diagnose the problem, before the mobilise to repair. Permanent records Written reports can be called into question, with drone inspection imagery you will always be able to refer back to the records to prove that it was inspected and signed off.
For the foreseeable future, drones which can test bolts, nuts or rivets in situ are not likely to be an option. The drone can’t grab hold of a suspect item and check its condition or manipulate it for a quick fix like an engineer could. This would have to be done by sending an engineer back to site later.
The right equipment for a specific task makes a vast amount of difference to performance and also safety. For example, cellular or radio tower inspections need RTK or shielding as well as redundant compasses/GPS systems while bridges or cliff overhangs need secondary GPS or the ability to fly without GPS assist as well as a top mounted camera.
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