Rope access solutions provider Skyriders Access Specialists has started using the Elios drone, from Swiss drone manufacturer Flyability, at a large petrochemicals company in Mpumalanga.
“Skyriders is at the forefront in terms of using drones in tandem with rope access services; they complement the rope access team,” says marketing manager Mike Zinn.
The collision-tolerant drones can enter confined spaces indoors and do initial inspections to ensure that conditions are safe and adequate for the rope access team to inspect, if required. The team can inspect that same space and do more detailed inspections and nondestructive testing, he adds.
Traditional drones tend to lose their Global Positioning System tracking and stability when used indoors, but “the Elios drone opens up huge possibilities for us”, Zinn highlights.
The drones are equipped with a full high-definition camera, thermal camera and an on-board light-emitting diode lighting system with remotely adjustable intensity.
Skyriders have also used the drones on a few mines and at some power stations of State-owned power utility Eskom, which remains a major client of the company.
Meanwhile, Skyriders’ scope of work at the petrochemicals plant has broadened since October last year. The company has been providing maintenance solutions for the tank farms, the power plants and deluge systems. Zinn adds that Skyriders receives a new task about once a week, with the company using the drones as part of its continuing five-year maintenance contract until end 2018.
Since October, Skyriders has been doing work on storage silos and modifications on large structures by removing platforms and piping. The company has also started with routine maintenance work on the roofing and sheeting.
Zinn emphasises that Skyriders’ services save companies a “huge amount of money and a huge amount of time” because using traditional methods take up a lot of maintenance time, while rope access is much faster. The petrochemicals company has, for example, been reliant on the more traditional means of access, such as scaffolding, which takes a lot of time to build, and is expensive and labour intensive.
He points out that the uptake of business was initially “slow because people are a bit nervous about the idea of people going in from the end of a rope while doing work that was traditionally done using other more traditional access means”.
Skyriders’ plans for this year are to introduce its drone services to more clients and grow its business, specifically in the mining industry.