Commercial use of drones is on the increase - and for good reason. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), once the sole remit of the military, now have a broad range of applications for a wide variety of sectors. Any plant manager or site foreman will be sitting up to listen right about now, because if there's one place a drone makes itself useful, it's on an industrial plant.
Industrial. The very word sums up huge factories, operations spanning large sites, and many hazardous areas for staff. Drones can take away many risks involved with working on any type of industrial plant, be it waste, production, nuclear power, or refinery. This is because UAVs are small and incredibly mobile, able to fly into dangerous areas to provide a comprehensive assessment before sending in a team of people. More often than not, such as in the case of gas detection, a team of people are no longer required at all! The drone can do it all safely, quickly, and – ultimately – cheaply.
A drone is useful to any industrial plant thanks to the multi-tasking properties made possible by variable payloads a UAV can carry. Some have a fixed use, such as fixed wing aerial survey – or geo mapping – drones, while others have swappable components that allow users to pop on different types of camera or sensor depending on the job required.
A typical payload for a drone could be a visible spectrum camera, providing high resolution photographs and video footage – often in 1080p or even 4k on some models – which are handy for several situations. Building and structural inspections, site progress reports, and even disaster response are all ideal for a visible spectrum camera.
Another example is the near infrared (NIR) camera, a multi-spectrum camera that picks up different wavelengths not usually visible to the naked eye, or a thermal imaging camera to detect heat. Drones can also be fitted with sensors for gas detection, or air analysis, helping to create a picture of the environmental health within and surrounding a plant.
Working on dangerous sites of means hazard pay, additional staff for safety, high risks (and potential lawsuits), and often difficulty in gaining a clear overview of a site or situation in a timely manner. Incident response can be difficult due to unique problems faced by industrial plants, such as potential radiation, chemical spills, or other environmental factors preventing quick action after an incident. Drones are able to operate where people cannot go, helping to speed up incident response and mitigate risks.
On a day-to-day basis, UAVs are able to deliver huge amounts of repeatable data, access hazardous areas for inspection, and provide a clear overview of site operation – all without the need for a large supporting team. The speed at which tasks can be completed with a drone compared to traditional labour resources provides significant savings for any industrial plant, especially when used as a preventative measure (such as thermal imaging for fire prevention) as well as an inspection tool.
There really are so many applications for industrial plants to use drones – don’t believe us? Keep reading!