Drones for Inspection: Drone Inspect's Alex Hall - COPTRZ

Drones for Inspection: Drone Inspect’s Alex Hall

Beth Jackson

12:00 pm GMT •

December 01, 2020

Drones for Inspection

Every day, workers around the globe perform inspections of hazardous inside spaces. Drones can perform surveys of challenging internal environments more safely and efficiently than a human inspector, now is the time to move towards drones for inspection.

Internal inspections involve access to some of the most dangerous environments in industry. Internal inspections are often carried out in inaccessible, confined, poorly-lit, dirty and complex areas.

When we think of drones, we tend to visualise images taken while soaring over rolling fields and hills. But an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designed for the task of working indoors or inside assets can locate flaws in tiny interior spaces using drone-mounted cameras and sensors.

This week we caught up with Drone Inspect’s Chief Technology Officer, Alex Hall to find out how using drones for inspection has transformed their operations.

Case study: Drone Inspect 

Drone Inspect are renewable energy specialists who carry out commercial and industrial UAV work across the UK and Europe.

As a business, Drone Inspect are continuously innovating and developing new technology to make the process of flying drones a safer and more efficient process. With the latest thermal imaging technology, Drone Inspect are able to carry out full thermal inspections, including Solar Farms – identifying dead cells on panels and wind turbines using thermography to get a deeper insight into blade health.

How did you end up falling into drones?

 “I used to work in events, I left that last year because I realised it was going in a different direction to what I wanted it to. I used to do a lot of work broadcasting, using drones to film live events. My passion for it came off the back of that.

“I saw a market for inspection and wanted to find another way of how drone technology could be used in this field. Drone Inspect took off from that.

“We are working our way into the renewable sector and trying to position the business in a way that we can offer a whole list of services.”

What drones are you flying at the moment?

 “Currently we are using the DJI Matrice M210 V2 RTK, along with the M300. We recently migrated over from the ELIOS 1 to the ELIOS 2, which was quite a big thing for us”

DJI Matrice 200 Series v2

Are you impressed with the new features of the ELIOS 2 compared to the ELIOS 1?

 “Very much so – it’s completely different. It’s so much easier to fly, and the quality of the camera takes double the resolution of the images compared to the ELIOS 1.”

How has the ELIOS 2 impacted the work you carry out?

 “At the moment, there are very few people with access to the hardware that we have got. It has put us in a much stronger position. It’s been interesting seeing how the marketplace is starting to pan out.

“The work we are trying to do with the ELIOS is internal weld inspection on wind turbine towers. We are also able to get inside the blades to have a look at them internally.”

You can see the Elios 2 in action in this video:

Would you say the niche of Drone Inspect is inspecting wind turbine towers?

 “Yes – the core part of our business is that we are trying to drive the inspection of the turbine blades externally and also the towers. If we have carried out an inspection and picked up a crack along the blade of a turbine, we are able to go inside and see if there is any internal structural damage.

“We also have an offshore site where we have partnered with a company in Switzerland that make the autonomous hardware that fits the M300. This means that after we have carried out an inspection and are doing the analysis afterwards, the data is far more accurate. For example, if there is a crack on the blade, it can tell us exactly how far away from the tip of the blade it is and the length of it to the exact centimetre or millimetre.

“With the offshore site, we are going to be using the M300 and perform inspections in an autonomous manner.

“We are currently working with a vessel operator who does the crew transfers offshore to provide a commoditised service. They go out to the vessel; the vessel goes out to the wind turbine for 3 or 4 days and carry out inspections both internally and externally.

“The ELIOS will come into its own out there, offshore blades are sometimes twice the length of onshore turbines. They are much more exposed out at sea, so there is a much bigger need for us to inspect those places. We are hoping to do this next year, it’s going to be a massive step forward.

“For us, the offshore market is a lot stronger. There is a big barrier for entry to a lot of people. We are also trying to promote that using non-destructive methods are a lot safer, followed by the fact they are more cost effective.”

How would these inspections have been carried out traditionally?

“Rope access teams, they would turn around 1 or 1 and a half turbines a day. Currently with the external inspections on a good day we can turn around between 10 and 12 turbines. It’s huge in terms of the difference, the more we can do in a short period of time the better.”

What is your client’s reaction to using drones?

 “I think when we show people how we are using the technology and how you’re innovating with the products, it creates an excitement. We like to show what ideas we are finding and focus on new areas where the drones can be used, where it wouldn’t normally.

“The turbines are interesting, whilst it is well known to our client that they can do external blade inspections, when we start talking about using the ELIOS for internal inspections, people start to think ‘we haven’t done much with that before’.

“People that don’t know much about the technology are quite inquisitive to learn more – especially if they think that they can save money or perform things in a safer manor. It is very much a cost driven thing; everyone is trying to save money.

“We have also been using the current situation with the coronavirus to push the use of this technology. While social distancing is in place, the number of people who are allowed on site is restricted, so we are trying to make people aware that there are other options available.”

What are you enjoying about being a business owner and working in the drone inspection industry?

“I enjoy the fact it is a streamline operation to run. I enjoy the evolving technology – looking at how else we can use things, how can we improve operations and managing the fleet. Just constantly trying to improve the way we are doing things and driving things forward.”

Finally, tell us how you’ve found working with COPTRZ:

“The level of service and knowledge from your team made me think ‘this is great, we aren’t getting a case buying a drone and that’s it, we are actually getting continuous assistance with things’ it makes a massive difference with the support we get, you guys are focused on the world that we are working in.

“The knowledge from George and James has been invaluable to us too.”

Parrot Anafi for Inspection

Drones for internal inspection – the bottom line

Manufacturers, industry experts and operators have demonstrated the difference that drones for internal inspections can make to the bottom line. Yet moreover, the benefits of the technology are especially apparent in infrastructure projects with high regulatory burdens and high consequences if something goes wrong.

There are a number of considerations to take into account before investing in a drone to perform internal inspections. But the business case to do so is almost always a sound one.

Before you invest in the technology and spend £’s and hours training staff and implementing procedures, discuss your requirements with us. Having helped multiple national and international companies find the best way to put inspection drones to work for their business you’re in good hands.

At Coptrz we have the largest range of commercial drone solutions available in the UK.  If you’re interested in any of the drones listed above, or want to learn more about drones for inspection then don’t hesitate to contact our team of Industry Experts today.

If you’re one of the organisations that’s still to embrace the technology, then we’re your UK Business Partner to get you up and running.  If you want to speak to George Burne, the UK’s leading expert on drones for inspection, then visit our Drones for Inspection content hub where you can get in touch.

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