7 Benefits of Using Drones for Inspections
Over the last few years, drones have been widely adopted for inspections.
The primary way that inspectors use drones is as an inspection tool for collecting video footage and photos that show the condition of the object being inspected.
In inspection terminology, these videos and photos are generally referred to as visual data.
Another type of data inspectors commonly collect by drone is thermal data, which they get by using a drone’s thermal camera.
In general, drone inspections can be broken into two categories—home inspections and industrial inspections.
On the home inspection side, drone pilots are flying over homes to get visual data showing the roof's condition.
This data can be useful for home inspections done during the sale of a house to show the roof's condition as part of evaluating the overall worth of the house. but it can also be used by insurance adjusters who are evaluating an insurance claim made after damage to a roof.
On the industrial inspection side, drone pilots are flying both indoors and outdoors to inspect a vast array of industrial assets like boilers, pressure vessels, or storage tanks (to name a few).
Using drones for these inspections presents several key benefits—here are the top seven.
1. Savings & ROI
Drones are being used to take the place of people for inspections, saving companies huge amounts of money in the process.
In home inspections, drones help companies save money by:
Speeding up the process. Drones can collect visual data on the condition of a roof much faster than a person can by climbing onto it with a ladder or surveying it from the ground—and this increased speed means significant savings over time.
In industrial inspections, drones help companies save money by:
Cutting down turnaround times. Turnaround time (also called downtime) refers to the amount of time an asset—like a boiler—or even an entire plant—like a power station—is offline while inspections and repairs are performed. When people perform inspections, they often have to install scaffolding to stand on, which is time-consuming. Drones can remove the need to build scaffolding for inspections, which significantly cuts down the time the asset is offline, thus saving companies tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars an hour in lost revenue.
No scaffolding. Scaffolding can be really expensive. The cost for scaffolding for a single inspection could be a few hundred thousand dollars—just for materials and labor. By using a drone to collect visual data instead of a person, companies can cut this cost entirely.
Liability insurance. If you don’t send a person into a confined space, you don’t have to be insured for the accidents that could take place once they’re in there. Of course, you still need to have drone insurance, but that is much less costly than the insurance needed for confined space entry.
2. Improved Safety
Inspections are inherently dangerous to conduct in person.
Inspectors risk falling from a roof, cell tower, or other high areas, getting trapped in a confined space, and being exposed to harmful fumes.
These life-threatening dangers can be eliminated by using a drone to collect visual data remotely instead of using an inspector to collect it in person.
Some industries, like the nuclear sector, present unique safety benefits.
In nuclear work, it is the duty of nuclear plant operators to reduce their employees’ exposure to radiation as much as they possibly can. This concept is codified by the phrase ALARA, which stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable—and it’s actually a legal requirement for these operators to constantly seek new ways to lower exposure.
Drones present a powerful tool for this mission.
Nuclear plant personnel can use drones to collect visual data remotely, avoiding the need for them to collect it themselves, and thereby reducing their exposure to radiation. New types of drones with new sensors, like dosimeters or ultrasonic sensors, present the possibility of lowering radiation exposure even more by enabling plant personnel to collect even more data remotely.
3. Improved Access
Access issues usually come up in industrial inspections when working indoors.
In these scenarios, there are some instances where it is humanly impossible to do a complete visual inspection inside an asset.
However, an indoor drone like Flyability’s Elios 2 (shown below) can often gain entry to these tricky, hard-to-reach places and collect visual data there reflecting the condition of the asset.
Here are some scenarios where drones can provide greater access to visual data than people can:
Amusement park infrastructure inspections
Wind turbine inspections
This list is just a starting place—once you start thinking creatively, you often find that the right drone can get you closer than a person can to the area you want to look at.
4. High-Quality Data
Many professional drones these days come with amazing, inspection-grade cameras, which means the data they collect is very high-quality. This high level of quality is useful for both home inspections and industrial inspections.
This high-quality output can be useful for inspectors who need to reference data for future inspections. It can also be useful to help pinpoint small defects and flaws in the visual data, which can be seen in crystal clear images captured.
Further, a drone flight will typically capture video footage of an entire area or asset, so you have high quality data of the whole object—even parts of it you didn’t originally realize you needed to look at.
Compare this to the visual record an inspector collects manually, where photos are only taken of problematic areas, and the difference is that the drone data is not just of a high quality—it’s also much more comprehensive.
5. Historical Records
All this high-quality data provides a historical record of the condition of the asset at the time of the inspection, which can be crucial when doing investigations to determine the root cause of a problem, or simply for tracking the development of a defect over time to make maintenance decisions.
For industrial inspections, visual data collected by drones can also be used to create 3D models or digital twins, which are so accurate you can zoom in and look closely at specific areas of interest.
For industrial inspections, OSHA has specific guidelines on how to create accident reports, and having a detailed historical record can be invaluable in ensuring compliance with that kind of reporting.
For home inspections, 3D models could also be used by realtors as another way to present a home they’re trying to sell. This use case doesn’t specifically meet an inspection need, but it is another way drone pilots can leverage drone data to increase sales.
6. More Inspections = Savings Over Time
Because drone inspections are much less costly than in-person inspections, some companies are using them to do more frequent inspections.
In construction, for example, drones are being used to quickly collect visual data on the progress of a building. Since work doesn’t always need to stop while this aerial footage is being taken, more frequent inspections can be conducted without disrupting progress.
An increased number of inspections means that assets are well maintained and that a potential defect can be caught and fixed earlier. And this kind of improved maintenance means the asset is better cared for, and will probably last longer.
This benefit doesn’t apply directly to home inspections, since they’re usually done as one-offs.
But the ability to quickly collect visual data could also come in handy when trying to determine the extent of damage on a roof, or simply the existing condition of a roof.
7. Flying Is Better than Crawling—or Walking
Drones are just one type of robotics solution being used for inspections.
Of course, if a robot doesn’t fly, it will have to move along the ground—there are ground-based inspection robots that crawl, roll, or even walk (as is the case with Boston Dynamics’ Spot).
But moving along the ground means the robot will face impediments. A flying robot, on the other hand, can maneuver more nimbly around obstacles, and fly straight to the place where the inspector needs to collect visual data.
And that’s why, in the world of robotics, drones are often the best option for inspections.