Drones in facility inspection

FM newsroom – maintenance, drone technology. Drones have changed the way facility managers think about facility inspections. Now, managers who need to gather information on the condition of roofs, facades, windows, and doors do not have to send technicians up on ladders, scaffolding, and mobile elevating work platforms. With drones, managers and technicians can stay safely on the ground while machines fly to hard-to-reach areas.

Expanding applications

With drones, managers and technicians can stay safely on the ground while the machines fly wherever they are directed to gather images of hard-to-reach areas of facilities. New-generation drones have expanded these capabilities using technological advances that make drones more appealing to managers.

One such application involves investigations into leaks in steam or chilled water systems, especially on large campuses with distributed underground piping networks. “One hospital that we work with had been looking for a steam leak,” – Tracy E. Wagoner, senior preconstruction manager with Henderson Building Solutions, told Facilitiesnet. “They knew they were losing steam but did not know where they were losing it. They had been looking for it with other methods for a month. We were able to go in with a drone and did not have to vacate parking lots or inconvenience the facility at all. Within a couple of hours, we had the leak pinpointed down to within 8 inches of the actual leak.”

Managers have also deployed drones to assess damage to facilities caused by severe weather. There is a clear advantage to drone inspections in case of storm damage because of the speed of response and the drone’s ability to thoroughly analyse the roof’s condition or installed equipment on the roof. “If there is a storm and there is storm damage, you would deploy drones quickly to get an assessment of what the scope of work could be to restore that facility.”- Rajat Malhotra, executive director and global lead for engineering operations with JLL, pointed out.

Security aspects

A drone application can also increase security, especially in large areas like warehouse complexes. Even if intrusion detection systems are already in place for such waste premises, how quickly security personnel can respond or how quickly a workforce can reach a given location is also an important factor.

“The response time with a drone is really quick and acts as a solid deterrent. If you have an intruder and the drone is flying overhead, the intruder knows that he or she has been detected.” – Rajat Malhotra highlighted.

AI advances in drone technology

Not surprisingly, artificial intelligence (AI) has also made its way into the process of drone inspections. It allows the drones to fly in closer and get much better images of the facilities. With better sensors, they can also access areas where before it was difficult for a drone pilot to get to. The AI can actually make a decision for the pilot where it can get closer to air handlers.

“The exciting evolution of technology has been more on artificial intelligence and analytics in drone platforms. You have technology platforms available that can take all of those images and analyse them, giving you an exact view of what the defects are and what could be the investment to make good those defects. All of those smarts have been built into the AI platform, which goes along with the high-resolution images,” – Malhotra said.

The ever-expanding equipment packages available on drones include more powerful cameras, such as 4K, 6K, and even 8K cameras. New-generation drones also incorporate infrared imaging systems and, soon, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology.

LiDAR builds out 3D images or renditions of an area that is surveyed, so that has some interesting use cases in facility management and in project management. If you use LIDAR, for example, to assess roof units for post-storm damage, that can give you great qualitative data to go with, and you can properly assess the scope of work for restoration. We should be seeing in the next two to three years some use cases emerge on the application of LIDAR as a combination with drones,” – Malhotra predicted.


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