We think anything that flies is cool, and so we ended up at two drone events: first at an NVDO meeting on drone inspections, and then at the TUSExpo on Unmanned Systems. Because we love gadgets, but mostly to explore what drones can do in asset management. Because drones can throw down lifebuoys (at sea) and deliver beers (at the pub), but most of all they can provide high-quality images of hard-to-reach places.

Take a large coal-fired power plant

Once in a while, they built a 50-meter-high scaffolding there to inspect and maintain a shaft. That took them three weeks. Now a drone flies down the shaft. The inspection is completed in three hours, and not for a moment have people been in danger. The scaffolding is now only needed to perform work from inspection.

People think of a drone primarily in terms of flying objects, but there are also sailing and driving drones. A drone can be a small (dive) boat or a cart. It can do its work in a crawl space, above dikes and under bridges. Past windmills, church steeples and electricity pylons. The hallmark of a drone is that it carries "payload," usually equipment it uses to make observations. A still camera or infrared camera, for example .

Using drones for numerous measurements

A drone with an infrared camera can visualize how much oil is in an oil storage tank and can detect leaks, including in pipes, for example. Drones with cameras can take photos and videos of installations, for example, to detect rust spots. They can make 3D models of tunnels. Where people cannot or have difficulty getting to, the drone offers a solution.

But beyond that, the drone market is not really there yet.

Drones perform inspections - the time when a drone can also perform repairs seems a long way off. Moreover, the data collected by drones are not used properly. Measurements by drones are not yet included in the maintenance loop - for example, the maintenance management system does not yet automatically create a work order when the drone has spotted a rust spot.

In addition, it is still far from being possible to make a business case.

Buying a drone can run into thousands of dollars, and that's not including the certification (around 10,000 euros) and insurance you need to legally use your drone for your business. If you use the drone for something that people can also easily do, does it make sense? We don't really know yet what it brings in terms of cost reduction and better inspections. Companies that do use it are still pioneering.

Drone suppliers and drone 'users' must therefore sit down together. Because users are still far from knowing all the possibilities and suppliers do not yet know exactly what users need.

Added value

From an asset management perspective, the added value of drones can increase if the accessed images become more useful. Currently, image retrieval can already be done in both 2D and 3D, but we think one step further to make this phenomenon truly suitable for the asset manager:

  • Compare the images of successive inspections (automatically) to discover trends;
  • Connection to existing systems of the asset manager such as the maintenance management system (for example, to convert inspection results into work orders) and the configuration management system (for example, to link existing information such as year of construction, type, manufacturer and other specifications to images).
    So far, the market is quite focused on "technology push. There really are a lot of useful applications to come up with. But then the information must be opened up in a smart way for the asset manager and the business case must also be clearer.

In any case, we will continue to monitor developments closely. And we will gladly accept the challenge of making a business case for clients who see opportunities with drones. And if you prefer to stick with a drone that delivers beers? Then we are happy to participate in that too.

Marco van der Kruijf and Kees Raateland

PS: Want to know more about all the legislation concerning drones? Email Kees at kees.raateland@compris.eu!

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