Drones offer inspection and maintenance benefits for built environment

16th February 2018 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Staff Writer and Photographer

Drones offer inspection and maintenance  benefits for built environment

JANE THOMSON Remotely piloted aircraft systems can lower costs, enhance general visibility and improve personnel safety

Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPASes) offer a cost-effective and safe mechanism, with significant benefits, for the built environment sector, especially in terms of inspection and maintenance, according to enterprise applications company Softworx MD Jane Thomson.

Softworx is a partner company of cloud-based solutions and software company Infor.

She highlights that, in terms of facilities management, the tasks of inspecting large institutional, engineering, manufacturing, mining and commercial facilities and assets can be a challenging, dangerous and dirty job.

Ensuring that assets are performing reliably to their design standards means balancing tight budgets and ageing infrastructure or finding new ways of maximising the value of existing assets, says Thomson.

The development and subsequent merging of digital technology with RPASes enable maintenance and engineering managers to maintain assets and facilities at lower costs and ensure fewer safety risks.

She also points out that the global commercial applications market for RPASes and vehicles is projected to grow from $2-billion in 2016 to more than $127-billion by 2020, with “infrastructure . . . identified as one of the business areas that can best benefit from the use of drones”. Indeed, the value of prospective applications of RPASes in global infrastructure projects is expected to reach $45-billion in the next few years.

RPASes ensure built environment managers have easier access to data, lower cost and risk, and enable them to document asset conditions in an automated fashion. They also provide managers with visual, thermal, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), heavy-duty engine oil, corona, hyperspectral, gamma and magnetometer inspections of difficult-to-access spaces, adds Thomson.

Further, the ability to compare prior inspections with current results facilitates the rapid identification of changes, thereby providing managers with detailed information that can be used to make informed decisions.

To keep facilities and infrastructure operating effectively and extend their performance lives, it is crucial to monitor performance and conduct preventive maintenance of buildings, she points out. This is particularly relevant to mission-critical equipment, such as generators, security systems, wind turbines and electrical towers.

“Drones can perform functions such as perch-and-stare, video capture and laser scanning, which make them effective methods for handling many of the functions of inspection and surveillance,” posits Thomson.

However, using RPASes only solves “one part of the challenge”, as the data and images captured by RPASes need to be shared with a sophisticated enterprise asset management (EAM) solution. Such a solution should incorporate historical records, maintenance standards and specifications, repair instructions, diagrams, warranty information and other data to assess condition levels and determine maintenance needs.

By sharing the information collected by drones using an EAM system, Thomson says, managers can improve their asset maintenance programmes, more efficiently schedule maintenance and track assets, inspect time-intensive locations where it is difficult to send workers and create a safer working environment.

Beyond photographic images, RPAS technology can also supply infrared and X-ray images to detect structural issues or dangerous leaks in an environment that might be unsafe for humans.

RPASes can also capture input sensor data, such as colour video, thermal imaging, still frames, and LiDAR three-dimensional data and send these directly to an EAM system.

She notes that capturing information in real time enables managers and technicians to compare the current condition of assets with historical imagery and sensor readings, and then compare them to manufacturing or industry standards to determine the next course of action in the asset management life cycle. “Managers can then schedule maintenance and repair activities directly from the EAM system, causing minimal disruption to operations.

“When managers implement a comprehensive asset management strategy that includes the use of drones for inspections, they can better manage facilities’ energy consumption and be more proactive in operations and maintenance,” concludes Thomson.