Confined Space Inspection Using Drones
Updated: Sep 19
Inspecting confined industrial spaces can be a challenging, but important part of running a successful and safe operation. Non-GPS inspection drones have made the industrial inspection process much easier than manual hands-on human inspections. Not only is using drones much safer than a manual inspection, but it is also much faster, creating less operational downtime.
Commonly used drones for confined spaces are:
1. Flyability Elios-1, 2 & 3
3. Loki MK2
Typical use cases:
Huge oil storage tanks Inspection
Industrial boilers Inspection
Underground coal mines inspection
Oil & Gas pipelines inspection
Spray Dryer in the food industry
Nuclear power plants Inspection
Other government critical infrastructure
Industries where indoor drones are used:
Oil and Gas
Food and Beverages
Navigating Confined Spaces
For the drone to fly in confined spaces, all of the hardware must be protected. Having the drone contact walls or objects during the inspection is inevitable. It is important that the drone is protected from being damaged so it can do its job. Just as important, the drone must not do any damage to the areas being inspected.
Some drones like the Elios and Skycopter encase the drone in a protective cage which allows the drone to bump into walls and objects without damaging the drone or the inspection spaces. Other drones like the Loki MK2, Scout 137, and Fixair Indoor have protection concentrated around the propellers ensuring that they can’t be damaged.
In addition to the physical projection for the drones, many of the drones like the Elios 2 come with LiDAR navigation sensors built into them.
Scout 137 doesn’t have a battery system, it has a tethered line to a base unit that is plugged into a 220v power outlet or supply. By doing this, the Scout 137 can easily fly for over an hour. This is an advantage for doing large confined spaces like a cargo ship inner hull inspection. The disadvantage is that you need to have access to a power source to plug the drone in.
The Elios 2 comes with a range extender option. This can be lowered into hard-to-reach confined spaces like a long tunnel connected to a vertical access tunnel. The range extender allows the pilot to still have complete control of the drone, which would not have been possible without the pilot going down far into the tunnel.
All of the inspection drones come with bright LED lighting to get clear pictures and videos in the confined spaces. Several of the drones let the pilot vary the lighting, especially for dusty environments like a smokestack.
The Elios 2 drone allows for different banks of LED lights to be used one at a time or all on at the same time. By being able to only have one side of the LED lights on, creates oblique surface lighting in the confined space. This allows for a perspective of possible areas of pitting, cracks, or buildup that may be missed or underestimated with full frontal lighting.
Most of the inspections drones have a video capture system. Since the drones are so close to the surface being inspected the video resolution doesn’t have to be of the highest resolution. This allows for lighter camera systems, keeping the drone small, light, and easier to maneuver in confined spaces. Many of the drones that have the LiDAR navigation systems also have the ability to tag images as they are flying the confined spaces where the pilot thinks there may an issue to investigate. Several of the drones like the Elios 2 have software that allows the reviewer of the images to go to these tagged areas for further review. Any other areas of concern that are identified by the person reviewing the videos can also be tagged and annotated along with comments about the area marked. After a review of all of the images, a report can then be generated showing the tagged areas along with any comments from the reviewer about the area marked.
Radiation and Gas Measurements and Detection
In addition to image capture, many of the confined space drones come with radiation and gas measurement systems. This allows the drones to be flown in areas that may possibly be dangerous to human inspection teams to get real-time readings of radiation or gas levels. The drones can be used simply for regular monitoring of certain areas of operation to make sure that any potentially hazardous areas are at compliant levels or for inspections of any issues that may be occurring.
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