The applications for drones in industrial facilities such as chemical plants, refineries, and manufacturing sites are seemingly endless. These types of operations require constant monitoring and maintenance of their facilities to ensure uninterrupted production, competitive levels of efficiency, and, of course, increased safety. These large-scale operations also require the management and oversight of thousands of critical processes. Heavy industry is fraught with constant dangers that can affect operations. Potential disruptions include equipment failure, security breaches, and tragic disasters. Industrial drones are emerging as a promising new tool to help those in industry improve the efficiency and safety of their operations while reducing cost.
So, what is the difference between a commercial and an industrial drone? For starters, the application for which the drone is used and designed helps determine its classification. Industrial drones are equipped with specialized equipment to enable them to operate in rugged work areas like mines and construction sights. Commercially available drones are not able to cope with the severe conditions industrial sites include – for example, extreme altitude, depth, high winds, and long flight times. This type of work requires a drone specifically designed to accomplish these difficult tasks – and such a sturdy drone cannot be bought off the shelf at the local hobby store.
Inspection of industrial facilities is one of the largest areas where drones are being deployed, as they are more than capable of carrying out critical tasks vital to a plant’s operations. Crucial jobs like capturing close-up, high-resolution images, detecting gas leaks, and monitoring equipment can be performed more efficiently, cost effectively, and safely than with traditional methods. Routine inspections in the industrial sector are often carried out with the use of ropes, pulleys, ladders, and rigs to allow a worker to scale the sides of large machinery, towers, and buildings. It’s not only dangerous for inspectors, but it also costs valuable time and money when equipment has to be shut down during the inspection process to keep personnel safe. Nevertheless, repeated inspections are required for many operations to continue running safely and without unexpected breakdowns, interruptions, or, even worse, catastrophes.
Drones offer inspectors a valuable tool for reaching areas that are difficult to access, which can greatly improve the safety and cost effectiveness of an inspection. Drones can also gather more critical insight to vital operational processes, since equipment can sometimes even remain operational during a drone inspection. Drones can even be completely automated. The operator of the drone can create an autonomous routine in which the drone is preprogrammed with a specific mission and flight pattern and is deployed and returned without the need for a human operator. Drones carrying out routine inspections in this way analyze the aerial data they collect, while providing inspectors a clear picture of hard-to-reach machinery. They provide more efficient, cost cutting, and safe inspections through the ability to remotely inspect difficult and dangerous areas and prevent disruption to operations.
Security is another realm of industry where drones are making their way into what were once solely hands-on tasks. Providing security support for perimeter surveillance with extended visibility and intruder alerts is just one level of sophistication drones add. To support security needs, drones are able to provide real time information and insight to security and emergency situations. They help deliver precise control over intelligence gathering, provide situational awareness, and enable better informed decision making. Many industrial operations are under constant safety and security threats for which these capabilities are perfectly suited. Drones are the perfect platform for security and emergency purposes, because they provide a user-friendly tool for collecting limitless aerial data, real time information, and imaging of potential security threats and emergency situations. The efficiency of security operations is vastly improved through automation, and emergency response benefits most from flexibility and real time information. Up-to-the-minute information is relayed directly to response teams on the ground, allowing for more informed decision making in all safety and security situations. The ability to rapidly investigate an incident from the air, along with remote hazard detection and the ability to monitor evacuations in the event of a catastrophe, are revolutionary. This ability to quickly deal with security, equipment, and other issues is arguably one of the most important functions of industrial drones.
Historically, when considering heavy industry, workers on the ground had to be completely hands-on, using tried and true methods like ropes and ladders to get up close to structures and machinery that required inspection, despite how dangerous the jobs may have been. If the inspection required an aerial view, workers had to attach equipment and sensors to traditionally manned aircraft, fly over the site, and analyze the information manually. This extremely involved process is the perfect place for the implementation of drones, which can be automated, can process the data more effectively directly from the sensors, and can automatically make sense out of the information using machine learning and artificial intelligence. The bottom line is that the latest industrial drones can save time, money, and lives.