by David Kramer
Group Manager – Assets and Maintenance

June 2018

The rise and rise of drone technology continues to revolutionise the way we live, work and play. Within the facilities management industry, drones are changing the way we conduct inspections and manage assets. At Spotless we’ve embraced the use of this innovative technology to create efficiencies and value for our clients, reduce risk and enhance the safety of our workplaces.

What are drones?
Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV), or drones, are remotely piloted aircraft. Initially developed for military use, drones have been widely adopted and many industries now work with this technology as part of their daily business functions.

The universal term for drones is Remote Piloted Systems (RPS), as they are now also used for traversing land and surfaces, and for going underwater.

Towards zero harm
Spotless is committed to providing zero harm in the workplace for all employees, and drones support us to achieve our safety goals. We use them to access hard-to-reach areas for conducting inspections and audits, and to collect data and photographic evidence. Previously these activities would have been carried out by staff at high risk to their personal safety. We no longer need to expose our people to confined spaces, such as diving into tanks, or to working at heights to inspect masts, roof trusses or gutters. We send the drones in and operate them from a safe and comfortable distance. Drones also enable us to demonstrate environmental value as their ability to operate underwater removes the need to drain tanks or weirs.

Demonstrating financial value
What about the cost impacts? Typically, the use of drone technology to replace a previously manual task delivers value for clients, through a cost saving, an efficiency benefit or reduced risk. The speed, accuracy, consistency, and detail of information collection, and versatility of data capture techniques all combine to provide an enhanced service, well beyond the traditional manual delivery of tasks. We no longer need to fit out employees with appropriate safety or access gear, and assets such as roofs are no longer damaged by staff walking across them. Further, there is also no need for specialists to attend site, we can simply send the information to them, and with virtual reality technology, it’s as if they are right there.

Protecting precious assets
Recently Spotless completed an inspection of a large heritage-listed building in Adelaide for our contract with the Department of Planning, Technology and Infrastructure (DPTI). Drones were used to examine the roof and ridge cappings of the building, and to determine where elements were missing or in need of repair and replacement. This activity was completed at less than 10% of the cost, had the inspection been carried out manually.

We used the drones to conduct thermal imaging to find cracks, leaks and deterioration. Previously this inspection would have required the team to construct scaffolding, hire scissor lifts or use helicopters because there are no platforms, walkways or harness points, and being a heritage building, it is not possible to add them.

We now have fully detailed data including all sizing for capping and equipment before any major work or effort is expended on site. Our technology also created a 3D model by stitching together hundreds of photos, which will be hugely valuable for future works and to determine changes over time.

Looking through a new lens
The sophistication of imaging technology used with drones enables extraordinary data capture. High definition photo, video, thermal and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) provide access well beyond the surface. Thermal imaging enables location of hot spots, leaks or thinning walls and our teams use LIDAR to inspect kilometres of poles and cables across rough outback terrain. We can assess the condition of poles and cables in minute detail and examine the surrounding vegetation for interference with these assets.

Across the broader business, our mining groups are now using LIDAR to measure stockpiles - an activity that previously took days is now completed in hours. Results provide an accurate report on progress and productivity, which in turn enables the effective utilisation of resources and elimination of costly delays.

 

The potential for drones and imaging technology is unprecedented. With safety as our first priority, we are continuing to remove our staff from high risk environments and replacing the delivery of dangerous tasks with innovative tools. With layers of detailed data, information and visual documentation at our fingertips, we are delivering exceptional asset management results and cost savings for our clients, supporting us in our remit to ‘find better ways’.