A Complete Guide to Using Drones for Inspections
Compared to traditional manual methods, using drones in industrial inspections can minimise costs and reduce the risk factors involved while providing extremely accurate data. It therefore comes as no surprise that a wide range of industries from construction to agriculture are increasingly integrating drones within asset maintenance procedures.
This article explores how drones are being used within inspections, the benefits of using drones for asset maintenance, how different industries are using visual inspections and the best types of drones for inspections in 2021.
How are Drones Being Used for Inspections?
For a wide range of industries, inspections are essential to the maintenance of a businesses’ assets. Drones are increasingly being used to inspect, monitor and explore indoor, outdoor, underground and offshore areas. Drones enable access to previously inaccessible areas that would be dangerous for a human to enter.
Most commonly, drones perform visual inspections. A drone’s camera acts as the inspector’s eyes and rigorously checks every part of an asset. Visual data is collected by a drone and this is later reviewed thoroughly by the inspector. These types of inspections eliminate the costs involved with manual methods such as erecting scaffolding or other temporary infrastructures.
While drones are most commonly used to perform visual inspections, their capabilities are not limited to these. Drones can be integrated with a variety of payloads including zoom, thermal and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to collect a diverse range of data.
Thermal inspections can be undertaken to conduct utility and building inspections. Thermal photography measures surface temperatures so can be used to identify electrical issues or leak detections. Additionally, LiDAR can be used to create detailed 3D models of an area. This is beneficial for inspecting assets like powerlines.
Benefits of Using Drones for Inspections
Using drones eradicates the need for inspectors to put themselves in potentially dangerous situations. Individuals no longer need to work at a height, within confined spaces or in hazardous areas. Drones can enter hard-to-access areas. By improving the safety of the inspector, this can minimise liability insurance costs.
Manual inspection methods typically prove expensive, with scaffolding often required. A UK Drone Safety Register case study found using a drone was 85.71% cheaper for conducting a roof inspection than building scaffolding when using manual methods.
This is particularly important when you consider the reality of asset inspections. Approximately 80-90% of industrial inspections do not find any issues that need resolved. Therefore, solely using a drone will be sufficient for the full maintenance process most of the time. By only erecting scaffolding when an actual maintenance issue is detected, this can result in massive savings. Reducing manpower and expenses involved in building temporary infrastructures will free up finances to be used for more essential purposes.
As drone inspections remove the need for humans to enter hazardous areas, operations and assets such as nuclear power plants can often continue operating while inspections are performed. This can result in large savings for businesses. When assets are required to be turned off, drone inspections can turn days of asset downtime into hours.
Higher Quality Data
Visual inspections provide highly precise data insights. By using UAVs in conjunction with accessories including thermal cameras and zoom cameras, inspectors can gather highly detailed data from low visibility areas.
Some software now allows visual data to be collected and reports to be sent to relevant stakeholders in a matter of hours. Using drones can massively reduce the time involved in producing and sharing industrial inspection reports, aiding a businesses’ decision-making process.
The low costs involved in visual inspections enables inspections to be conducted more frequently than manual methods. This ensures data is consistent and that potential problems can be identified and remedied more quickly.
Industries Using Drones Within Inspections
A wide range of industries are using drones to conduct asset inspections including:
- Infrastructure & Utilities
- Oil & Gas
- Public Safety
Drones are increasingly being used in agriculture to monitor crops and livestock. Drones can provide regular insights regarding failing crops so issues can be identified quickly. Drones gather data which can be used for ‘precision agriculture’, ensuring soil and crops receive exactly what is required for prime productivity and health. Data is gathered much quicker through a drone than by manual methods.
Assets that require inspection include crops, soil health, land conditions and livestock.
Given drones can be used to monitor a site’s progress, measure stockpiles and compare tangible builds to design plans, it is clear why visual inspections are taking the construction industry by storm.
Drones provide visual data, enabling companies to create 2D orthomosaic maps or 3D models for highly precise visuals of a project. This data can be drawn on regularly by relevant stakeholders to aid decision-making. Companies can quickly identify mistakes and prevent delays.
Assets that require inspection include stockpiles, safety conditions and construction sites.
Infrastructure & Utilities
Drones are used in Infrastructure and Utilities for regular asset maintenance checks. Drone operators can gather data safely while massively reducing costs. For example, Balfour Beatty were commissioned by West Sussex County Council to use drone inspections for local bridges, with savings resulting in approximately £8,000.
Assets that need inspections include bridges, roads, utility towers and wind turbines.
Drones are typically used during the operational phase of mining and provide a bird’s eye view of a mining site, exposing any potential hazards and displaying general progress.
Mapping software utilises data to create 3D maps of stopes, which can be used for before and after comparisons, while reducing the risk of exposing someone to a potentially hazardous situation.
Assets that need inspections include open stopes, stockpile feeders, crushers and drop raises.
Oil & Gas
Frequent asset inspections are critical in the oil and gas industry. Drone usage is gaining increasing popularity given the high-risk involved in manual inspections within this industry. Drones often minimise downtime and reduce liability insurance costs.
Assets that need inspections include chimneys, storage tanks, offshore RIGS and refineries.
Drones are extremely efficient for gathering visual data for Public Safety matters. Drones provide live footage, allowing emergency crews to stay away from danger and respond effectively to emergency situations.
Drones can be used to collect visual data of ongoing incidents such as fires.
Which Drone is Recommended for Completing Inspections?
With such a wide range of drones available on the market, it can be difficult to know which drone is best to use for your company’s inspections. The type of data you wish to collect will determine which drone would be most effective. Here are our recommendations for the best drones for inspections.
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced
The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced is one of DJI’s most efficient drones. Its portable nature combined with its built in thermal (16x) and zoom (32x) cameras help take industrial inspections to the next level. Additionally, its self-heating batteries enables this drone to operate in conditions as cold as -10°C.
Attaching a DJI RTK module to this UAV can produce centimetre accurate data.
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
The DJI Matrice 300 RTK is the most versatile and effective commercial drone platform. This DJI drone is able to carry up to 3 payloads at once with a maximum combined weight of 2.7kg. With up to 55 minutes of flight time, it is clear why this is a firm favourite for many businesses.
DJI Phantom 4 RTK
With a maximum flight time of 30 minutes and a 1-inch CMOS sensor with 20 megapixels camera, the DJI Phantom 4 RTK offers centimetre accurate data while reducing the necessary control points on the ground. Its compact nature makes it ideal for inspections within a wide range of industries.
Flyability Elios 2
Designed specifically for indoor and restrictive space inspections, the Elios 2 is on the most reliable and precise drones on the market. With its inbuilt thermal and 4K cameras and features including dustproof lighting, an essential for inspecting industrial indoor spaces, it is clear why this drone is as popular as it is.
It is understandable why drones are increasingly being used by businesses to conduct inspections. The benefits of drone inspections are both obvious and plentiful – minimising costs, improving human safety and reducing the time required to perform inspections. Resultantly, industrial inspection reports are produced much quicker with more detailed and highly accurate information.
While this article has highlighted what drones we recommend you purchase, if you are still hesitant to buy a drone, why not try DARe-3D’s unique and secure B2B Drone Hire? Choose from over 20 drone packages for daily or weekly rentals.
Alternatively, DARe-3D offer a wide range of services and with trained UAV pilots based throughout the UK, we can assist your company in performing asset inspections. Contact DARe-3D today to find out more.