What exactly is a drone inspection and why is it so important? A drone inspection is what it sounds like: an inspection conducted by a trained eye with no physical access to an object. In most cases, a drone inspection would be just a visual inspection, using the drones camera as the primary eyes. The object of the inspection could be anything from underground piping to a bridge or crane; or it might be just an outline or rough area of the object, which the drone would map out for you before recommending any type of repair.
Before a drone inspection can even begin, there must be some initial visual data available to the operator. This visual data would include photographs and other visual material such as video. This information allows the operator to identify areas of concern and set up a point of reference for the entire operation. Then, once all the visual data has been compiled, it’s time to initiate the actual inspection. This is done by contacting the remote control user and asking him or her to “cut” the power to the machine and allow it to inspect the area without human assistance.
One case study that I recently co-authored with two construction companies illustrated the usefulness of drone inspections when it comes to protecting company resources and the environment. A natural gas plant located in rural Texas was experiencing a number of challenges with leaky tanks. The tank lines were running near potential water sources that sat on a sloping hillside. Since natural gas is stored in open tanks, the exposed lines and accompanying waste gases posed a danger to the surrounding community and the environment.
Construction companies and managers faced a number of budgetary obstacles that could hamper their ability to perform the necessary maintenance and repairs. In order to save money and complete necessary repairs, the managers planned to outsource the inspections to a local Texas inspection firm. Once the company entered into a drone delivery agreement with a drone photography company based in New Mexico, they were able to target specific problem areas without having to spend additional time and money collecting visual data on site. The managers noticed that drone photography offered several benefits over onsite inspections. First, the aerial photographs provided precise details that the inspectors missed during ground-based inspections.
Drones have the potential to reduce the cost and time associated with many inspections. Because they fly at an altitude of 30 feet or less, they can penetrate areas that an average inspector would overlook. Another benefit is that they are able to locate problematic areas without the need for man-drawn lines or other visual stimuli. When drone inspections are performed, the operator can identify problem areas before they become a critical risk to the operation. The drone can also help to minimize the disruption to nearby residents and businesses. Lastly, drone inspections provide superior visual data that can be processed quickly to provide comprehensive and accurate visual inspections.
It is important to remember that the Federal Aviation Administration (or FAA) has placed some constraints on the type of operations regarding drones. Specifically, the FAA has placed limitations on the amount of miles an operator may fly a drone, the types of equipment that can be operated by the drone, and the areas in which the aircraft may hover. These regulations have been placed in place to ensure that these innovative devices remain safe and prevent unintended accidents.