How the use of drones is changing the electrical engineering industry
Harnessing the power of drones to obtain large amounts of inspection data – across a variety of projects – has been central to success of their adoption. And, as the increase in demand looks set to reach new heights in 2019.
Recently, our business development manager Danielle Tile, spoke to Electrical Times magazine, to explain how the technology continues to shape the industry – and why we’ve invested in our very own drone and pilot.
Drones mark a natural progression in the application of technology within the electrical engineering arena. For firms which offer turnkey services, investment in new techniques can provide a window of opportunity to deliver a more efficient service to clients.
Renewable energy sources
Due to the nature of the infrastructure associated with renewable energy generation, inspections using traditional methods can be tricky. Take the locations of wind farms for example – the best place to harness the wind’s power is often offshore or at the top of mountains – places which don’t offer easy access for maintenance and inspection crews.
The use of drones provides far greater efficiencies during the inspection process. Engineers can ‘travel’ there as-the-crow-flies and explore turbines from the air – revolutionising the way engineers collect data.
A similar efficiency emerges with photovoltaic panels, as drones capture much more than just video. Heat-mapping cameras can pick up faults across solar farms, for instance, which may not always be visible to the naked eye.
Cable route planning
Drones have a crucial role in the pre-construction preparation phase too. The technology makes cable route planning much more efficient as the bird’s-eye-view highlights where there may be obstacles – such as woodlands, wetlands, water courses and railway lines – to overcome during the cable-laying phase.
The remote viewing capabilities of drones enable engineers to carry out quick – and relatively inexpensive – inspections of large expanses of challenging terrain. Details which were previously difficult to obtain during the investigatory stages now provide engineers with a window of opportunity to speed up the entire design process.
Power line inspection
Drones cut the cost of power line inspection significantly – an important benefit given utilities companies are increasingly demanding more efficient processes which improve safety, reliability and reduce any ‘down-time’ associated with inspections.
Whether carrying out a routine visit or looking into potential damage following adverse weather, power lines present a number of challenges when it comes to inspection. By using drones, many of these difficulties could be all-but eliminated, providing quick and efficient access to these hard-to-reach places.
Drones can streamline the whole process of routine inspections. The complexities and dangers associated with high-voltage maintenance call for extensive planning and inspection prior to work being carried out.
By adopting drone technology to carry out the first stage of inspection work, an electrical plant – for example – can be inspected from overhead, without having to isolate equipment or disrupt day-to-day operations.
With the advantages of safely capturing images and collecting data increasingly coming to the fore, the technology is ideally positioned to become a crucial part of the electrical engineering toolkit. Smith Brothers invested in their own drone and pilot last year, both of which have been utilised across several projects. You can view some of the on-site footage from the Tullymurdoch and Welton of Creuchies wind farms in Scotland here.