By 2025, the global unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market is expected to top $63 billion (up from $4.4 billion in 2018). Although commercial drones comprise only 6% of the US two-million unit drone fleet, it is enterprises that drive 60% of the drone industry’s revenue.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at drone-based industrial inspection solutions, which make up 28% of commercial UAV use cases. You will learn how oil and gas, construction, and utility companies leverage drones to automate routine equipment and infrastructure checkups.
The use of UAVs in industrial settings primarily revolves around collecting sensor data and high-quality images of equipment and installations that require frequent monitoring and planned maintenance. These include transmission lines, power plants, oil rigs, and wind turbines. To make sense of heterogeneous inspection data, companies turn to Machine Learning models deployed in the cloud. This way, they can pinpoint gas leaks, evaluate equipment wear and tear, monitor coastal erosion, and track project progress on large construction sites without exposing employees to environmental, physical, and chemical hazards.
To perform inspections and facilitate remote maintenance of critical infrastructures, drones should be able to:
A combination of hardware, software, and connectivity technologies allows drones to perform these tasks:
When choosing a technology stack supporting the operation of drone-based systems, industrial companies should pay attention to several factors, including:
Additional challenges may be associated with meeting the UAV industry regulations for flying drones outdoors. These include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines in the USA and the European Union Aviation Safety (EASA) regulations, which apply universally across Europe.
Compared to helicopter surveying and ground-based inspections, drones help companies perform asset inspections faster and reduce the corresponding costs by up to 30%. Speaking of remote equipment maintenance, UAVs could yield a 10-40% reduction in field service costs by eliminating the need for in-person technician visits and guiding maintenance teams on where to go and what tools to bring before proceeding with repairs.
Whether you decide to start an in-house drone inspection program or partner with a 3rd-party provider, it is essential to identify your company’s pain points and goals. In terms of mass adoption and usage, UAV technology is still in its infancy, so you may need to hire a skilled Business Analysis team to align your company stakeholders. It is also necessary to assess the cost of launching and maintaining a drone fleet and the underlying data analytics infrastructure.
Next, you must ensure that your drone pilots have FAA/EASA certificates.
Last but not least, drones are part of the Internet of Things, and any IoT device is a magnet for cybercriminals. There is strong evidence that Chinese-made UAVs are sending sensitive data to manufacturers and (possibly) to the Chinese government, which could lead to cyberattacks targeting power grids, nuclear power plants, and high-end equipment.
2020 is a turning point for the UAV industry. Amid the global lockdown, more businesses, healthcare organizations, and governmental entities are beginning to investigate technologies for industrial inspections, remote equipment and critical infrastructure maintenance, and public safety. And here’s where drones come in useful.
There are several factors behind the rise of commercial drones. These include:
And although we’re still a few years away from self-sufficient, AI-powered drones that will replace inspection crews, chances are that drones will soon be working alongside human specialists to speed up further digitalization of the industrial sector.