Did Asset Management Just Get Really Cool?
As a small boy, I can remember seeing a remote control helicopter for the first time. I was instantly in awe; what small boy wouldn't be. It was literally the coolest thing I had ever seen. That Christmas, I knew exactly what I wanted. Summoning the best penmanship that an eight-year-old could muster, I prepared a letter for Santa.
“Dear Santa, please can I have a helicopter that is black with a red stripe like the A-Team van? It needs to have missiles, guns and night vision cameras.”
Well, come Christmas day I was distraught. Sure, my new etch-a-sketch was cool, but it was not an unmanned, attack aircraft that I could use to get revenge on little David Clark for stealing the chocolate bar out of my packed lunch.
The years have now rolled on and I am no longer a little kid; nope, I’m a big kid! And you can imagine my excitement as I started to explore the very real use-cases for drones within asset-intensive industries.
As these industries start looking to the future and talking about ways to achieve operational excellence, the topic of drones seems to be popping up more often.
Drone usage is no longer a sci-fi concept. A lot of you are already testing or using drones, or looking for ways to integrate them into your business, while many others are still keeping a close eye on the technology and waiting for it to fully mature. No matter what side of that fence you’re on, the consensus seems to be that drones are here to stay, offering the promise of driving down the cost and time it takes to collect data and safely maintain revenue-generating assets.
I mention safety as this is a benefit that has long been delivered by unmanned drones – think army bomb disposal or deep-sea cable inspection. Whilst thankfully, most of us don’t work in fields as hazardous as these, HSE is still a primary concern for the industry. For many years, field engineers and service personnel have operated within high-risk environments. They are tasked with monitoring and maintaining assets all over the world, crossing unfriendly and dangerous terrain over long distances and in remote areas with little other infrastructure. Drones have the ability to safely and quickly deliver the same results, removing the risk of personal harm.
The costs of maintenance and monitoring assets are significant but are also an essential part of maximising the ongoing health of revenue-generating assets. Access to up-to-date and accurate information about the status of the system can help build better and more accurate routines for condition-based and predictive maintenance of the equipment in the field.
In addition, advances in field mobility and application design, mean that you can now put this data in the hands of the people who need it the most.
Drones in action
- Photovoltaic cell outages
- Tower structure integrity
- Blade integrity (4 sides)
- Gear box integrity
- Post construction/Pre-acceptance images
- Warranty/Insurance claims
- Damaged equipment
- Flashed connections
- Conductor and bus condition
- Cracks in concrete
- Structural integrity
- Broken insulators
- Broken pins
- Hot/Corona connections (infrared)
- Grounding concerns
So, like me, you want one. Well, who can use drones and what is the legislation in New Zealand?
In New Zealand, drones are aircraft and, as such, present a number of safety risks, particularly close to controlled airspace and over densely-populated areas. Every person in New Zealand’s civil aviation community shares responsibility for safety and security and the Minister of Transport has recently created the Civil Aviation Rules to make sure this happens.
Those rules are divided into groups of related rules called ‘Parts’. The two Parts that relate directly to RPAS or Drones are:
The basic premise here is that RPAS weighing between 15 and 25 kg must be constructed or inspected, approved and operated under the authority of a person or association approved for this purpose by the Director of Civil Aviation. Part 101 only applies to RPAS of 25 kg and under. To operate any aircraft over this weight, the operator must be certificated under Part 102.
Part 102 is based on the risk of the operations and applicants must submit an 'exposition' showing that they have identified hazards and risks of their operation, and ways they will mitigate those risks. Operating a drone in this classification requires commercial certification.
Additionally, operators of RPAS also need to be aware of other rules that affect them, for example, Part 91 General Operating and Flight Rule
Drones are becoming increasingly valuable, especially considering the diverse and expansive geography of New Zealand. Integrating the information that they capture into your systems of records and pushing it back into the field where it's most useful, standpoint are quite modest and this will lead to a rapid expansion of use cases.
Will drones become a valuable part of your business operation in the near future?
And if anyone does have an attack-equipped drone, can I borrow it? I still want my revenge on little David Clark!