The Fundamentals Of Drone Maintenance And Repair
Investing in a drone to add value to your business is not a nominal outlay. These high tech pieces of kit require regular maintenance and servicing to maximise their safety and effectiveness.
In some ways, the commercial drone market is still fairly young. And it is. It was only in 2015 that the CAA paved the way for regulators around the world to follow suit and permit hundreds of companies to use UAVs in their operations.
But with thousands of drones now performing surveys, inspections and other commercial applications, investment in these magnificent flying machines is at an all time high.
Protecting that investment is essential. We may be some way from the AA adding a “D” to its initials but the roadside rescue service of the future may well add an airborne division to its product offering before long.
Global conglomerates are able to swallow servicing and repair costs within budgets, but for the small enterprise gaining a competitive edge by deploying UAVs it is imperative to keep the rotors turning.
Implementing a cycle of UAV servicing and maintenance need not be off putting. It will ensure your drone fleet remains in a safe and tiptop condition.
In this overview, we’ll cover:
- Understanding how each drone component works;
- Implementing a pre and post-flight checklist;
- A programme of routine drone maintenance;
- Tips for drone repairs;
- Troubleshooting when something goes wrong.
If you’re interested in learning more about drone maintenance/servicing or would like to speak to one of our experts, click here.
Understanding each drone component
All of the components of a drone work together to enable the UAV to take flight and perform the functions for which it is intended.
It is worth developing an understanding of what each part is and what each part does. Here’s a very brief overview of the essentials of a quadcopter:
- Propellers – you’ll find two types of propellers. The “tractor props” at the front pull the quadcopter through the air and the “pusher props” do exactly as the name suggests. Propellers spin in opposite directions to provide lift off – it’s physics.
- Motors – the latest drones use a “brushless motor” which are far more efficient than their brushed predecessors. Motor efficiency is essential for battery life and efficient flight to enable the drone to stay in the air longer.
- Motor mount – this is sometimes built into the combination fittings with landing struts or can be part of the UAV frame. It mounts the motor. Simple.
- Landing gear – Most drones have a fixed landing gear. However, high-end drones will have retractable landing gear giving a full 360 degree view when in the air.
- Booms – in many drones, the boom is part of the main body. Other drones have a boom as a separate part. Shorter booms increase manoeuvrability, while longer booms increase stability. Booms must be tough enough to hold up in a crash, while interfering with prop downdraft as little as possible.
- Main body – the central hub which houses the battery, main boards, processors, avionics, cameras, and sensors.
- Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC) – an electronic circuit which acts to vary an electric motor’s speed, its direction and possibly also to act as a dynamic brake. The ESC converts DC battery power into 3-phase AC for driving the brushless motors.
- Flight controller – central to the whole functioning of a UAV, the flight controller regulates motor speeds, via ESCs, to provide steering, as well as triggering cameras or other payloads;
- GPS module – without GPS location tracking, drones would have very limited uses. The GPS unit provides latitude, longitude, elevation, and compass heading.
- Antenna – for receiving inputs into the receiver unit. Like any antenna.
- Battery – does what it says, provides the power. A battery monitor displays power level monitoring and is crucial to avoid crashes caused by running out of juice.
- Gimbal – a pivoting mount, which rotates about the x, y, and z axes to provide stabilisation and control of cameras or other sensors.
Makes and models of drones vary enormously. Depending on your version and the applications it is used for, there will be all manner of sensors mounted onboard, including collision avoidance sensors.
So, now you know the basics it’s time to fly – almost.
The drone pre-flight checklist
We’ve covered the essentials of a pre-flight checklist elsewhere so there’s no need to revisit the detail in this post.
But we can’t stress enough that just as you would check over an HGV or a fork truck before it begins its shift, the same principle applies to drones.
Implementing a post-flight process is equally as important. Both will assure operators and operations managers that the UAV has been rigorously tested before and after use, and aid in maintaining centralised maintenance logs.
Implement a routine drone maintenance strategy
Managing one, tens or hundreds of UAVs in any small, large or enormous organisation is not an easy task unless there is a clear strategy.
- Overseeing the efficient operations of the devices.
- Enforcing regulations and compliance.
- Monitoring and maintaining the UAV equipment.
- Addressing logistics, training, safety and other issues.
The “fix-it-when-it’s-broken” mentality for machinery and vehicles has long gone from industry. Proactive maintenance keeps costs down and prevents problems before they arise.
The basics of routine drone maintenance
Like all things with moving parts and electronics, regular or constant use causes wear and tear. For drones, it’s advisable to implement a routine maintenance programme on a per-flight basis rather than set dates in the calendar.
Take care of the essentials and clean dirt and from the chassis. Anything that flies through the air will accumulate a buildup of muck, dust, insects and pollution.
Remember that you’re dealing with an electronic device so a little care is required. Don’t start interfering with electronics and circuit boards unless you know what you’re doing. You’d be amazed at how useful some elementary soldering skills are though.
Even the smallest crack can cause flight problems. Use an anti static cloth, a compressed air cleaner and a light brush to keep the UAV in a shiny, out-of-the-box condition.
Check components, check that screws and fastenings are suitably tightened, but not over tightened as this can cause stress. You know the drill but it’s important to regularly make sure everything is neatly held together.
Examine the motors regularly. Make sure they are clean and free from dust. Just as you grow familiar with how your car runs, get to know how your drone sounds. Most of the noise from a drone comes from the motors. If it doesn’t sound right, then examine your drone.
Propellers need to be subject to regular scrutiny. Faults or damage can easily lead to catastrophic consequences once the drone is in the air. Propellers need replacing at intervals recommended by the manufacturer.
Check the propellers are free-spinning (disconnect the battery first). You may need to disassemble them from the unit to identify what the problem is if they don’t rotate easily.
The landing gear also needs a check to make sure the UAV returns in one piece. The last thing you want is to be performing a smooth landing only for something to shatter just as the drone makes contact with the ground.
Clean out the motor chamber and note the condition of wiring and solder joints. Make sure the antennas are free from debris to ensure a good connection with the base.
The camera may need a wipe over with a suitable soft cloth and non-abrasive cleaner that you can pick up from a photography retailer. Many of today’s drone cameras have self-cleaning sensors, protective seals, or filters covering the sensor itself.
Check that firmware and software are up to date and running the latest release. Update mechanisms are usually inbuilt to UAV systems but it pays to ensure it hasn’t been accidentally switched off.
Drones are complex pieces of kit, even for seasoned technicians. It’s more than likely that any repairs above what can be carried out simply will need to be sent off to the manufacturer for expert work to be carried out.
Coptrz offers two levels of servicing and can repair any issues you may have with your drone. You can access the service portal here.
There are some basic repairs you can perform yourself. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions and assure yourself that you are at least reasonably competent to perform the task.
Basic drone repair – propeller replacement
If any of the propellers are broken, or bent, you should replace them.
Smaller drones have propellers that attach using a friction fit, or a single screw holding the propeller to the drive shaft.
Microdrones use push on propellers that only need your fingers to remove and replace them. Mini drones use a small Phillips head screw, so you will need a small screwdriver kit in order to replace these propellers.
Basic drone repair – motor replacement
Your motors may need replacement after extended flying and usage. It may sound a little daunting but actually replacing motors is quite simple on most drones.
Some motors are connected to the electronics board by a simple plug-in, while others may require that you solder the motor leads to the main circuit board.
Drone Repair Troubleshooting
The first step in any troubleshooting is to check for exterior damage on the drone. If there is none you can perform some basic tests to make sure your drone is fully functional.
Remove all of the propellers, use a different battery, power up your drone and attempt a flight sequence. Check if all of the motors are responding. Go through the drone boot sequence, the internal checks will examine the firmware, sensors, and camera.
The next step is to go for a simple flight test. Don’t fly too high, and don’t attempt any high-speed manoeuvres. If your drone is responding correctly, then you can keep flying. If this flight test fails, then something is damaged and there is an internal problem with your drone.
Keep your drones flying
The key takeaway is to implement some planning to make drone repairs as painless as possible. Perform pre-flight and post-flight inspections. Log everything you do. Keep a record of where each drone is located, any inspections or maintenance carried out and log each flight undertaken.
Become very familiar with your drone and its parts. Recognise odd sounds or performance changes.
Take advantage of the manufacturer’s warranty and understand what is and what isn’t covered.
If you’re interested in learning more about drone maintenance or would like to speak to one of our experts, click here.