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Using drones for Aerial Inspection

Drones are starting to become the go to piece of kit for inspection services creating large savings for many different types of industries who are adopting the technology.

Over the last few years drone technology has advanced from military to civilian options and industries including such as oil and gas a starting to see the cost benefits of using drones to inspect things like oil tanks.

The main cost savings using drones for inspection are from the time it takes to do a full inspection.  Research has shown that it can take 1/5th of the time to inspect an oil tank compared to doing it manually.

It is not just oil and gas where drone inspection can be used, they can also be seen in other energy companies in particular renewable energy sectors whether onshore or off shore.  We have seen UAV’s being used for oil pipe inspections, to inspect wind farms and also solar panel farms.

As technology has advanced and types of cameras have developed this was going to be the future.  Drones are able to create fantastic looking images and videos using state of the art cameras which are great for inspecting wind turbines for any anomalies.  Another camera which can be attached to a UAV is a thermal imaging camera, these are starting to be used for solar panel inspections which can quickly find any faults by finding cold sections on a solar panel.  This speeds up the process of finding any damaged solar panel s quickly and efficiently.

What other types of things are being inspected?

Other things that drones are inspecting include viaducts, chimneys, bridges, solar farms, powerlines and property including roof inspections.  From a health and safety point of view the ability to get some eyes in the sky without having to look at other expensive and time consuming options such as scaffolding or rope access is one of the greatest benefits to companies.

Another interesting area that is using this tech is the airline companies.  It was reported that easyjet and Air New Zealand have previously sued drones to inspect their fleet of aircrafts.

Roof inspections are one of the areas where the general public will start to see drones being used more often.  These are great for commercial properties that have large and wide roofs to potentially inspect, but we have started to see more residential properties with drones flying above them to looking for things like broken tiles and general conditioning of the roof.

Drones are able to get up and see any potential damaged really quickly and relatively cheap compared to other methods of inspection.

As well as using drones for maintenance to stop and prevent any potential damage to roofs, drones are also being used to inspect any damage after any accidents such as storm damage.

Insurance loss adjusters are starting to use drones to look at any damage and are able to use the data to help with the insurance claim process.

Most popular drones to use for inspection purposes

Drones being used for inspection need to be of a certain calibre to be able to complete the job.  Some need to have the ability to change payloads so you can use different cameras, some need to be small and nimble with the ability to fly indoors and other need to cover large areas.

Some of the most popular models of drones being used for inspection are the DJI Inspire 1, Inspire 2 and matrice 200 series.  With the ability to have zoom lenses and thermal camera these are some of the easiest to fly drones when using them for inspections.

Ascending technologies are also another popular manufacturer who along with Intel (who now owns them) developed the sense and avoid technologies  which is one of the go to features of an inspection drone.

Other popular drones being used are the Aeryon Skyranger famous for its ability to fly in challenging environments this also has the ability for high resolution and thermal images.

The dangers of using drones for inspection

There are many benefits of using a drone to help save money and speed up an inspection process but there are also risks involved using drones and particular laws which need to be abided by when operating your drone for an inspection.

If you are charging for your inspection you will be classified as a commercial operator meaning you will have to have completed a qualification to show your competence flying a drone and prove to the local aviation authority that you know the laws around flying.

Dependant on the type of inspections you will be carrying out this can vary to how risky it may be and it is always best to have a good risk management solution in place.  This will always be different for each company as to the type of claims that somebody could have.  Imagine if you were doing a solar farm inspection and your drone fell out of the sky smashing some of the solar panels – you would be liable to pay for the replacement of the panels and potentially any lost revenues caused from non-working panels, the cost could rise for this pretty quickly.

It is not just the liability aspect which you need to consider, some thermal imaging cameras can cost thousands to replace.  It may be that you crash your drone on a flight and are lucky enough to miss everything in sight except the ground smashing your drone and payload to bits.  It is not cheap to replace these things so most people consider getting coverage for drone damage.

In the UK this means applying for a permission for commercial operation and obtaining the right insurance which meets EU regulation EC 785/2004.  If you are using a drone for commercial inspection and need help sorting out your insurance then please give us a call to see how easy it is to get insurance for inspection use.

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