Guest Post by Emily Folk
Big improvements in drone tech over the past few years have made them cheaper, faster and more reliable than ever before. As a result, businesses are beginning to investigate how drones — which were previously limited to just being consumer tech — can be used in commercial settings.
Already, several companies have outfitted drones for specialized tasks — like helping to deliver packages, grow crops and assist with facility management and inspections.
Here are some of the advantages that drones can provide facility managers, and why so many supervisors are beginning to use them.
Speed and Safety
Drones provide two major advantages for facility management: They are often faster and safer than manual surveying.
Manual surveying is typically slow and costly. In some situations, especially after a natural disaster or equipment failure, surveying can also be dangerous for workers.
This is especially true when equipment is difficult to access by design. Workers may need specialized access equipment to inspect a roof, which drones typically do not require. As a result, people aren’t put at risk, equipment costs are lower and inspection can be wrapped up quicker.
Drones can also further speed up inspections by instantly providing facility managers and supervisors with valuable survey data by using specialized sensors. Cameras can be used for basic visual analysis, infrared scanners can measure roof saturation and even miniature methane sensors can detect gas leaks. These drones can also be equipped with AI-powered image analysis software that can identify damaged areas where the structure may have been weakened. This would be difficult or impossible to spot with the naked eye.
The result is quicker response times. With drones, management staff can know sooner whether or not critical equipment is at risk or if an environment is safe for workers.
Remote Facility Inspection
Drones can also be deployed quickly if stored on-site. Often, the drone pilot doesn’t need to be there at all, meaning the entire supervising team can launch and finish an inspection without needing a single employee at the facility itself.
This makes drones useful in situations where facility managers need to rapidly launch an investigation while supervisors aren’t there — or if a building is particularly remote or large.
In Alaska, for example, drones are already being trialed by oil and gas companies that need 24/7 monitoring of pipelines in areas that are difficult to access and prone to severe weather. Despite needing more staff to pilot a drone, one company found that the speed and equipment costs of drone-based monitoring were cheaper and more efficient than traditional manned flights.
In certain cases, drones don’t even need a pilot to perform their investigation. Self-piloting drones are already being used to inspect individual turbines on wind farms, and doing so faster than any other inspection company in the industry. As a result, a wind farm that would have taken three days to inspect can now be fully examined in just one day.
Drones can also be effective on agricultural sites, especially those where equipment is spread out over many acres and manual inspection would require lots of travel time. Drones can also help provide location surveying in the design of complex sites like grain storage facilities, which have specific terrain and layout requirements.
Drones Make Facility Management Safer and Faster
Significant improvements in drone technology over the past few years have made them a great fit for certain commercial and industrial applications — including facility management. With drones, it’s possible to quickly and safely inspect equipment or infrastructure for damage or stress, sparing workers from dangerous or difficult working conditions. The result is money saved and a safer working environment.
Emily is a green tech writer who covers topics in renewable energy and sustainable design. You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks.