Equipment monitoring and inspection can be tedious and time-consuming, slowing down a whole project or requiring the movement of heavy equipment away from work and to a place where a supervisor or other inspector can properly inspect it.
Drones are known for their use in aerial photography and as hobbyist technology — but today, drones are also being used in industrial capacities. It’s not uncommon for construction companies to use drones for monitoring and site surveys.
There are big benefits to using drones for monitoring and inspection — but there are some best practices that businesses will need to follow to get the most out of using drones for equipment inspection.
Benefits of Using Drones for Equipment Inspection
Drones are already being used to complete some of the most dangerous equipment inspections. And when they do it, they provide “faster turnaround times, lower operations and maintenance costs and improved reliability.”
Drones save time and money when used for equipment inspection. This is especially true in situations where equipment is highly spread out or difficult to access — like on a farm, where individual tractors and combine harvesters can be separated by dozens of acres — or more.
In one example, a drone conducted an “almost four-mile linear inspection of the Trans-Alaska pipeline” without needing a ground observer or human escort. The team involved in keeping the drone flying during inspection was able to carry out the inspection from off-site.
Drones can also be effective on highly distributed construction projects, where it may not be practical — or even possible — for one supervisor to safely keep an eye on every machine involved in the project.
Another plus is that drones can be an effective solution, no matter the size of a project. Put another way, “what’s great about (drone) technology is that a single farmer can use the same technology as a Fortune 500 company.”
Advances in artificial intelligence and flight computing technology mean some drones can effectively pilot themselves. Even if you don’t have experience piloting drones, you don’t necessarily need a drone pilot to scope out your project and inspect or monitor your heavy equipment. That means small companies or farms that can afford one drone — but not necessarily a drone fleet or drone inspection company — can still use drone technology for equipment inspections.
How to Use Drones for Equipment Inspection
If you decide to work with a drone inspection company, pick one that has experience with your industry — or, at least, industrial drone inspection. Many drone companies primarily offer aerial photography. While useful, equipment monitoring can require tougher drones, longer flight times and detail shots that require flying close to heavy equipment. Not all aerial photography drone companies can provide that.
You will need to select the right drone for the job. Most modern drones have some kind of internal flight computing that helps the drone stay in the air. Newer models, in general, will have more advanced software and hardware — and “tend to have fewer crashes,” according to data analysis conducted by drone insurance experts. Older models may have available firmware updates that improve flight stability and ease of control. As a rule of thumb, newer is safer — update your drone when possible.
Some drones are designed to be used for autonomous equipment inspection. In cases like these, all you or the drone operator may need to do is set waypoints — where the drone should fly — and operate the camera as needed. Some manual piloting may be necessary if you need detail shots of the equipment.
When conducting heavy-duty equipment inspection, you’ll want highly stable drones with capacity for long flight times. Quadcopters — drones with four rotors — are some of the most common types of drones, but you may want a drone with more rotors. Hexacopter and octocopters will keep flying, even if they lose one rotor — or a couple. This will increase the chance that you can wrap up inspection with one flight and reduce the risk of injury in the case of a drone crash.
If equipment inspection is being conducted near high-voltage wires, you’ll need to equip your drones to protect them against electromagnetic interference. Otherwise, your drone will be at risk of a crash.
Using Drones to Monitor and Inspect Equipment
Drones are best-known for their use as hobbyist technology or in aerial photography. But drones can also be highly effective in industry or construction — especially when it comes to equipment inspection.
Drones can save time and money on equipment inspection and make the process safer. To best use drones for inspection, supervisors should work with a drone inspection company and use the right drones for the job.