The Power Of Historical Inspection Imagery — How utilities are benefitting from quantitative UAV data sets to improve asset management

Drones are benefiting asset management by providing historical condition data

One of the often overlooked benefits of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for inspections is historical imagery. UAVs capture consistent high quality imagery from a variety of vantage points for every structure inspected while conventional inspection methods typically only take detailed photos of specific components which have failed or have “significant” damage. As a result the option to “go back in time” and quantitatively compare the condition of components year over year is not available using conventional methods. Inspections are limited because they lack historical data.
Without a point of comparison, maintenance and asset management engineers lack a clear understanding of the progressive deterioration of components. These valuable insights are needed to allow them to develop effective inspection and replacement strategies. Here we look at two examples of how historical inspection imagery helps improve asset management.

A real life example demonstrating the benefits of consistent UAV inspections is corrosion monitoring. In this case annual inspections of the transmission line utilizing Aeriosense automated inspection software were conducted routinely over the last 5 years, capturing detailed imagery. Inspections revealed that a number of structures had a growing area of corrosion on an insulator mounting bracket. A year-over-year comparison of bracket corrosion provided the maintenance engineers a better understanding of the rate of corrosion progression. By identifying sections where the corrosion rates are the most aggressive a replacement schedule prioritizing the most urgent areas can be developed. This will allow them to perform the replacement over a number of years. Efficiencies are gained by coinciding replacements with scheduled maintenance outages in more favorable conditions.

2017, 2019 and 2021 photos of the same bracket showing corrosion progression

Conventionally the asset management engineer would only receive a photo of the component at the end of its usable life. In this case, realistically their only choice would be to recommend replacement of all potentially effected components as soon as possible to prevent in-service failure. As a result, a hasty replacement project would be conducted on a tight timeline, likely during less than optimal conditions. The cost of a rushed replacement project would be much higher than a replacement planned well in advance.

In another example utility found a use case for their UAV inspection data set to help scope a guy wire replacement project. Using imagery from a previous inspection to accurately assess guy wire corrosion for every structure, the team can develop a comprehensive inspection strategy. Again their conventional methods of ground patrols and helicopter inspections failed to provide the historical quantitative data needed to allow this type of analysis.

Using automation software like Aeriosense and a routine UAV inspection program, asset operators are able to consistently track and monitor a variety of issues that can arise with electric transmission and distribution facilities. Hence reliability is increased, and a better replacement and repair prediction model is provided.
After all a picture is worth a thousand words…

To see more of the benefits offered by utilizing drones and our inspection automation software, take a look at our website.

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