Drone Powerline Inspection: The Workflow, Advantages, and more

M300 Taking off
We present you this article owing to the fact that we live in a DIY Era and there is NO better alternative to powerline inspection than a drone powerline inspection! So, how would a typical drone-based powerline inspection looks like? Let’s find out.

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Workflow of Drone Powerline Inspection

  • Planning & Risk Assessment
  • Conducting the Inspection
  • Data Analysis
  • Final Report

Planning and Risk Assessment

To ensure we aren’t putting our license, equipment, resources, or the whole operation at stake, it is crucial to have a checklist to run before every flight operation. The primary objective of a checklist is to eliminate human error to the maximum possible extent. From physical checks to the required document validation, this checklist can be used by the pilots to prep everything before the actual take-off. There can be multiple kinds of checklists – Mission Planning Checklist, Packing Checklist, Pre-flight Checklist, and Post-flight Checklist.

Likewise, risk assessment before the drone takeoff is an indispensable part of every drone-based powerline inspection. The safety risk assessment mainly falls into 4 phases:

  • Safety Hazard Identification
  • Safety Risk Assessment
  • Safety Risk Mitigation
  • Safety Documentation

Confused about the final step – Safety Documentation? You have to make sure that just like the drone-inspection results, the whole drone safety risk assessment process should also be documented which helps to maintain continuous safety. This document can also be utilized for future references as well.

Curious to find out more, we asked Nikin Mohan James, the Head of Operations at FEDS to tell us more about the risk elements that could destabilize and impede drone missions. – “Risk assessment is not only for drones!” Of course, we have to make sure that the batteries are good to go, the weather is favourable for the drone to take off, and so on. Likewise, the health and safety of the human beings involved too should be cross-checked, for instance, whether the climatic conditions are favorable for the pilot to safely perform the operations.

Well, that hits differently! Just think of the traditional powerline inspection. It is really concerning to think of a human being literally climbing heights to inspect the live high-voltage powerlines located on difficult terrains. Don’t you think ‘dangerous’ is an understatement in the context? Well, this is one of the many reasons that make drones the best choice for powerline inspection – It is Safe.

Here is a list of some of the major safety hazards that you’d have to take into account when drafting your risk assessment:

  • Loss of altitude, control, or transmission
  • Collision with aircraft, buildings, power lines, or any objects.
  • Loss/failure of navigation systems
  • Unfavourable weather conditions
  • Existence of corrosion
  • Rotor failures
  • Unfavourable take-off or landing incidents
Operating DJI M-300
Operating the M-300 RTK

Capturing Data

The most exciting yet impactful part of the process – the flight takeoff! Now depending on the drone, you use the procedure you follow would naturally be different. Nikin uses DJI’s M300 RTK. That being said, an even more advanced version of the same – DJI M30T – has been recently released. We think that the much anticipated DJI M30T could be powerline inspectors’ next best friend!

DJI M300RTK - Drone-based powerline inspection
DJI M300 RTK on mission

However, not everyone who can fly drones are qualified to conduct powerline inspections. First of all, we need to make sure that the drone operator is well-experienced and trained specifically for powerline inspections. For example, in powerline inspections, pilots must always be mindful of the effects of EMIs (Electromagnetic Interference). And we found that this is the reason why Nikin prefers to use DJI’s M300 RTK; he says that the drone is extremely resilient against the effects of EMI.

"Degree doesn't matter... it is your SKILLS that matter when it comes to operating drones. An important tip would be to PLAN your drone-based inspection properly, and fly accordingly."

A drone pilot conducting a powerline inspection
FEDS Drone pilot on mission

Now back to the basics. The flight is when the actual ‘inspection’ happens. There are mainly 3 kinds of powerline inspection – Visual, Thermal, and Corona Discharge Inspection or UV Inspection. The pilots fly the drones and closely examine every component of the powerline towers, including Insulators, Conductors, OPGW, Jumpers, Vibration Damper, and so on, which is, of course, not possible by an on-ground inspector. Even if they do, by the time the traditional inspection is done, even a minor issue may just have developed to cause a catastrophic accident. Drone powerline inspection is way faster! The automated mode of operation and the ability for real-time monitoring make it even more flexible and efficient.

Economically, the major disadvantage of using ground teams for a closer inspection is the fact that you would have to shut down that entire power line to make it safer for human contact, resulting in increased downtime. However, with drones, you can fly extremely close to the live high-voltage powerlines and conduct thorough inspections without causing any downtime or disruptions. With drones the downtime is significantly reduced which makes the inspections more cost-effective.

A drone-powered LiDAR scan provides precise data points from optimal perspectives, which in turn can easily identify overgrown vegetation that poses a risk to your powerlines, and help identify issues before they become problems. The drone pilots identify and note all the possible information regarding every anomaly they spot during the inspection.

M300 RTK inspecting power line LIDAR scan zenmuse L1

Imagine coming back to the office only to realize that you have to re-fly over a certain zone? Please make sure that you cross-check the gathered data while you are still in the field to avoid any further delay in the process.

Reporting & Analytics – Better visibility, clear data

Turning raw data into insights, this is where drone data really shines. Subsequently, this is also where the downsides of traditional inspection methods have greater effect. The data gathered by ground teams lack the resolution and visibility compared to drones; while helicopters provide an extremely limited top-down view. These significant disadvantages can cause faults and degradation to go unnoticed which can then cause catastrophic accidents.

Drones capture multifaceted high resolution data that is geo-referenced. Let’s decompress that sentence; For example, if you were using the DJI M300 RTK, you could attach multiple payloads, or a payload with multiple sensors like the DJI Zenmuse H20T to capture thermal and visual data. This allows you to conduct visual and thermal inspection and switch between the two seamlessly. The geo-referenced aspect helps pinpoint the location in question which comes in handy during maintenance and it allows the data to function well when integrated with a digital solution. Using the location the data can then be displayed in a much more intuitive manner, by visualising the grid itself on the map. With the DJI M300 RTK you can safely fly closer to the live powerlines; but the high resolution data allows inspectors to zoom in without losing clarity to identify even small and intricate details like loose bolts and even pins. The consistency of drone data unlocks the powerful potential of historical data.

The insights you gain from analytics are game changers; they allow you to make more informed decisions! With drone-powered inspections, you can reduce or even get rid of unplanned shutdowns by taking action ahead of time and making plans to keep the same thing from happening again.

Experience the Advantages

Drones in the Energy Sector make operations Safer, Efficient, Accurate, Quick, and way more Cost-effective, as contrasted with the traditional practice of manned inspections.

If you’d like to see the drones live in action— would you like to have a demo on how drones can improve your inspection operations? Feel free to get in touch with us.

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