The manual inspection of buildings and other facilities such as oil and gas refineries, flare stacks, and pipelines is usually time-consuming, labor intensive, and sometimes risky. It may also require specialized equipment and expensive insurance covers for the workers and equipment.
But the development of drones in the last few years is changing all these, enhancing the inspection process by making it safer, inexpensive, and less time-consuming. Already, several industries and professionals are adopting drone inspections, and this is expected to increase as governments ease regulations, and the cost of the devices continues to drop.
Drone technology has many benefits. Here are five reasons why drone operations are growing in popularity in the oil and gas sector.
Drones enable easy and safe inspections of tall and complex structures, especially the inspection of oil and gas infrastructures. A drone eliminates the need for workers to physically access hostile environments where factors such as the height, wind, waves, weather, and radiation can lead to accidents or health issues.
Also, drones can easily access difficult to reach areas such as confined space while eliminating the need for a human to go there using the risky mechanical tools such as swing stages or rope access. In addition, it minimizes other health and safety hazards such as insect bites and allergies that can occur during inspections.
Manual inspections are risky and require paying insurance for the inspector and the workers before carrying out the task. On the other hand, insurance requirements for drones are very minimal, hence much lower costs. In addition, the risks of injuries or falling are minimal in the drone-based inspection.
Drones minimize the high cost and time required to erect ladders, access towers, swing stages, aerial lifts, and other heavy equipment. Plus, you do not have to hire or acquire ladders, heavy equipment and large pickup trucks for every inspection. Since the job takes less time, that means you can inspect more assets in one day.
A drone can fly very close to structures, which allows it to capture minute details. It takes high-quality photos or videos that clearly show cracks, damage, misplaced wires, and other possible defects. In addition, drone cameras can take photos or capture videos at elevations and angles that humans cannot. This allows collection of comprehensive data without exposing an inspection team to risks.
It can take a short amount of time for an operator to launch a drone inspection, which makes drone inspections suitable for both regular and emergency situations. Also, drones are fast and capable of completing an inspection in five to 20 minutes. Of course, the length of inspection depends on the size and complexity of the building design and may take longer in certain environments.
As such, an insurance company, construction engineer, lending company, or prospective home buyer can easily request for an inspection and get results in less than one hour and traditionally it would take weeks.
Some manual inspections require shutting down equipment or systems to avoid damage or injuries to the inspection personnel. However, drones can safely inspect complex systems such as the wind turbines, radars, and communication towers while they are still running. This means inspection does not interfere with the services or production.
Drones make it possible for professionals to easily collect aerial data in places where it would be logically impossible. It is less risky and safer to use drones in hostile environments for applications such as radiation monitoring, inspecting high voltage lines, and other installations that can cause injuries or health problems. Since most of these applications must be inspected while still in operation, a manual process would require more expensive equipment and protection gear.
Drones have the ability of high-flying, low-flying and can either be huge, medium or small, hence providing a wide selection to suit a variety of inspection needs. The small ones can be used in tight spaces, and flow as close as possible to the surface to inspect. In addition, the flexibility and ease of customizing with a wide variety of tools allow them to be equipped with tens of applications.
Also, drones take photos, capture video, take thermal images, transmit data, and have other functions that enable them to collect and share information that would otherwise take days using the conventional means.
With standard software and analytical tools such as BlueVu, images and other information collected from a work site is used to generate standard reports that are easy to share across different sectors. The information can be customized for different industries, making it easier for the professional in different sectors to easily interpret and share relevant data.
Featured image: Industrial Skyworks
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