Are Drones the future of predictive maintenance?
Growing up, I had always been a bit of a petrol-head and am a self-confessed fan of the popular TV show Top Gear. Now I know that Jeremy Clarkson is a polarising personality, but he appeals to the inner child in me.
Okay, I’m just going to come straight out and admit it; I am a big kid fascinated not just by insanely-expensive Italian sports cars, but all things that sail, drive or fly. The only things that fascinate me more are unmanned things that sail, drive or fly – drones.
Back in October last year, Jeremy Clarkson fronted a commercial for Amazon's Fire TV stick. And unlike the Top Gear producers, Amazon have invited him back and given him access to his own private air force. The good news for holidaymakers is that he isn't using it to escalate his hostilities towards caravan drivers; he is, in fact, promoting Amazon Fire TV.
There has been a lot written about Amazon Prime Air and for good reason. It represents the mainstream crossover usage of drones, removing the Sci-Fi and making them an everyday part of our lives.
If you are unfamiliar with the blitzkrieg of parcel delivery that Amazon is about to unleash upon us, Mr Clarkson will bring you up to date here.
Per the PR gurus at Amazon, this is their vision for Prime Air: “Amazon Prime Air is a future delivery system designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones. Prime Air has great potential to enhance the services we already provide to millions of customers by providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system. Putting Prime Air into service will take some time, but Amazon will deploy when we have the regulatory support needed to realise our vision.”
Apart from my fetish for Italian sports cars, my other equally glamorous passion is Enterprise Asset Management. You can imagine my joy at the knowledge that drones won’t only be delivering my next big Amazon purchase, but are part of my everyday working life as well.
Anywhere there are high-value, revenue-producing assets, there will be the need to inspect and maintain them.
In the utilities sector, pylons, dams or wind farms are in remote and sometimes dangerous locations.
The process of inspecting assets for structural or preventative maintenance using drones is quickly becoming commonplace. A good example of this in practice is the maintenance of wind turbines. Often precariously perched on the remote, windswept cliffs of New Zealand’s coastline, the cost and safety implication of getting a ‘technical and ropes expert’ to scale the towers is significant. Also, the people that carry out this perilous trade are few and far between.
Imagine a drone capable of simply taking shots of the structures and the time savings this could provide. Looking a step further, what if an artificial intelligence system could then automatically compare the images to reference images, identifying potential problems and points of failure. What if this intelligence was linked to your inventory management, so parts for preventative maintenance could be sourced and even automatically scheduled and dispatched to your remote location via drone?
Increased speed, efficiency, safety and asset availability – this is not far from becoming a reality for several of New Zealand’s utilities companies.
There is no doubt that whilst drones are a cool toy that are probably on all our Christmas lists, they are also powerful business tools for some of the largest organisations.
Integrating drones with your core operational systems and business processes can deliver real operational excellence and provide a point of differentiation.
Simply put, drone usage is not Sci-Fi. It is now standard practice and something that we should all be looking to leverage as we build out our operational models and seek to maximise the investments that we have made in our revenue-producing assets.
Are drones the future of predictive maintenance? Have your Say.