Drones for Utilities: Panton McLeod

Panton McLeod provides water quality products and industrial services. They have worked with all of the UK’s major water companies plus many tier 1 suppliers. Panton McLeod has recently introduced drones for utilities into their operations to ensure they are carried out as safely as possible.

Their main services include inspection, cleaning & disinfection and asset maintenance. They focus on cleaning water storage, pipelines and water treatment plants.

Recently, they have introduced drones to help aid their inspection. They also use unique chemical processes and underwater robotic systems.

The amount of companies who are integrating drones into their work is growing every day. The drone industry is set to take off in the near future with more and more early adopters investing in internal drone teams for inspection and surveying.

We spoke to Jim Panton to find out how drones are helping him to carry out inspections around the UK…

What was your background before you started the company?

 “My father originally founded Panton McLeod in the mid 90s, I took over in 2011 when he retired. In a nutshell, I was a helicopter pilot in the army. I then worked in the charity sector where I became involved in the Scottish Poppy Appeal, raising money for the benefit of military veterans. I had been loosely involved in the business before I formally joined, but when my dad was approaching retirement the opportunity came up for me to replace him, so I took it.”

When did you first come across the idea of using drones for utilities?

“We had always been thinking ‘could we use drones?’ but at that point the market awareness of what drones could do wasn’t quite developed enough. We occasionally put it out there as a ‘what about this?’ but our clients couldn’t visualise what they would do with the equipment.

“We came across the ELIOS 1 about 3 years ago and it caught my attention straight away. In the early 2000s we had introduced underwater remote-control vehicles. So, we had nearly 20 years of doing large underwater ‘drone’ inspections.

“The concept now is very much the same, we have been working on industrial style inspections and remote-control data gathering for quite a long time. We just had to change vehicle and go above the water into the air.

“A very standard part of our work is putting people in to do inspections. If we can avoid putting people in to a confined space, by using a drone, then we have an obligation to do that.”

What was your rationale for using robots instead of humans to inspect confined spaces?

“The health and safety regulations for confined space entry with a human being state that if there is an alternative option that avoids putting a human into a confined space – you’re legally obliged to avoid the human entry option.  It can also cost a lot of time, effort and money to put people into these spaces safely. When you’re legally obliged to use a different method, it’s a no brainer really. Using a drone is a great alternative.

“Often we put people into these confined spaces for a variety of different reasons. The most common reason, apart from the inspection, is to clean the facility. Clean drinking water travels through these pipes on the way to people’s taps. There are regulatory requirements to keep them as clean as possible. The inspections were traditionally a secondary task that we do during the clean but they are now a much more important requirement for our clients.

“While we are in the assets, we are disrupting the distribution network. This can cause supply issues and it takes a lot of time and effort to manage a water pipeline network when you take a big storage tank in that network out of supply.

“We go in as rarely as we possibly can. However, this means that we try and do as much as we can in one go. When the tank is drained, there is an inspection happening as well as a clean. It all happens at the same time.

“One day, when drones can clean these tanks as well, we will be cleaning and inspecting without putting people in at all, which will be great."

Are you operating the drones yourself?

 “Using aerial drones is a fairly new concept for us. I wanted to be directly involved so that I could learn the capability of the equipment and understand our market. The enthusiasm and interest from my past as a helicopter pilot also came through and I was intrigued to see what the possibilities were. Buying the drones was a big investment, so I wanted to make sure we were doing something that made sense for our market.

“Our background is in the drinking water world, but this capability also gives us the opportunity to do inspections in other industries. We are always looking at other industries that could benefit from the services we offer. As the level of work, we do with the drone is increasing, we will be training more people so they can carry out the inspections. I’ve completed many flights personally now, so I have an excellent understanding of what is involved and what we can and can’t do.”

What is the drone you are currently using?

 “We have an ELIOS 2. COPTRZ held a drone demonstration day last year, and at this point I didn’t know the difference between the ELIOS 1 and 2. It just so happened that the ELIOS 2 was being launched at this time.  Having held back previously, it didn’t take long to appreciate what the ELIOS 2 could do and we placed an order that day.

“The ELIOS 2 is straight forward to fly and the sensors and camera are incredible. The amount of data you can collect on the 4K camera is amazing.

“One thing that is interesting about the ELIOS 2, compared to underwater drones is the battery life factor. This is 7-10 minute with the drone compared to unlimited power via a cable to the ROVs. Therefore, your flight is very carefully planned and you end up with less but more focused data to manage and work with afterwards.

If you want to find out more about the ELIOS 2, click here.

Managing Director at Panton McLeod, Jim Panton, comments on working with COPTRZ:

“I’m enjoying watching COPTRZ journey – it’s incredible to see how you have developed as a business in a short space of time. The breadth of knowledge you have combined with the wide experience and high levels of customer support is very impressive.”

Want to learn how you can use a drone for utilities?

You can see the ELIOS 2 live in action with George Burne by booking a demonstration. You can find out more information here.

We have expert UAV strategists from the Inspection and Surveying industry that would be happy to discuss your requirements and help you to build a drone strategy that fits your budget and can demonstrate the applications at your site. We can build bespoke solutions including the training, hardware and software needed to introduce a drone team to your business.

Get in touch today and start your drone journey