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Inspectioneering Journal

Release the Drones - Inspection with UAS Technology

By Nick Harwood at Aetos Group, and Aaron Cook at Aetos Group. This article appears in the September/October 2015 issue of Inspectioneering Journal

Introduction

Today, you are living in a world of aviation revolution. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, are being integrated into the National Airspace System and allowed to operate commercially with special approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (see article previously published in the March/April 2015 issue of Inspectioneering Journal). New opportunities and ways to use this technology are starting to be recognized by the petrochemical and oil & gas industries. In fact, these industries are a hotbed for permit applications and development opportunities. So, how can someone realize the benefits of drones when it can seem like a daunting task to run the internal gauntlet of approvals? This article is intended to provide some helpful insights, and to hopefully put you on the path to safer and more cost-effective inspections utilizing UAS technologies.

Why should I consider this technology?

If you’re reading this article you probably have some ideas on how to put drones to work. If not, keep an open mind and understand that drones can be used in many ways to save time, improve safety, and reduce costs. Remote visual inspection from an aerial perspective using very high resolution, high zoom cameras is the number one application for drones in the O&G and petrochemical industries. Infrared cameras, gas detection sensors, multi, and hyperspectral cameras are several additional capabilities of a drone.

Using the aforementioned cameras and sensors, elevated work can be minimized or even eliminated. Drones coupled with these advanced technologies can also help narrow the focus to specific areas so maintenance crews know exactly what they’re dealing with before they leave the ground. This is especially useful for turnaround planning. Areas that were once only accessible with scaffolding or rope access can now be accessed using drones at a fraction of the time and cost. Moreover, equipment can remain in service during drone operations; flare stacks are a good example of this. Other applications include inspecting insulation for damage and early detection of CUI on difficult to reach operating columns, reactors, and piping, just to name a few.

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