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Rope specialist introduces drones to NDT at Eskom

DRONE INSPECTIONS Skyriders has added a drone to its NDT testing offerings at Eskom facilities

Rope-access specialist Skyriders has introduced the collision-tolerant Elios drones to its nondestructive (NDT) testing offering, and has started using them at State- owned power utility Eskom.

The drones are part of Skyriders’ turnkey solution offering that improves the efficiency of the NDT and quality management of the NDT done at Eskom.

Skyriders marketing manager Mike Zinn informs Engineering News that the drones are in the proving concept phase, but are being used at Eskom sites, including one of the largest power stations, in Mpumalanga. The Elios drones are from Switzerland-based drone manufacturing company Flyability.

The Elios drones allow for rapid visual and thermal inspections of difficult-to-reach areas, and they are equipped with a high-definition camera, thermal camera and an on-board light-emitting-diode lighting system. The drones do not break on impact with a wall or other object and are designed specifically for collisions and flying around confined spaces.

Skyriders has been using drones since 2015, “We have since learnt a lesson about the synergy between rope access and the drones,” Zinn emphasises. The drones are able to do the operations that are sometimes considered dangerous for initial human entry, such as a large coal silo with potential coal hang ups as an example.

Further, the drones are more efficient as they move around structures faster and can locate problem areas faster, points out Zinn.

“Once the drones have done the initial visual inspection, rope technicians can be sent in to focus on the problem areas,” Zinn maintains.

In addition, Skyriders has recently completed several jobs for Eskom, as well as petrochemicals and mining companies. The drones are used to do the initial inspection, bringing back high-quality visual data through live feed or recordings. The initial visual inspections are discussed by the engineers, and solutions for problem areas are discussed. “It is a lot cheaper than building support structures, such as scaffolding, or using cranes,” Zinn adds.

Turnkey Solutions

Skyriders now offers multiple solutions in one offering to a client, instead of a client having to hire multiple contractors and subcontractors for one contract, Zinn emphasises.

Further, the quick turnaround time needed for large shutdowns can be a concern when a client has hired multiple contractors. Normally, a contractor is needed for the access system, another for the initial visual inspection and yet another for cleaning the silo. Subsequently, there are more people on site which means increased safety risk.

“With our turnkey solution, we are the drone provider, our drone pilot does the first visual inspection and our inspection manager does the reporting, allowing the client to make the necessary informed decisions. Where necessary, our rope-access technicians can follow up with a more detailed inspection such as core sampling or ultrasonic material thickness testing. Once the scope of the maintenance is determined, the Skyriders technicians can access the area using rope-access techniques and complete the necessary repairs (welding or concrete) or cleaning and painting – all while saving considerable time and money,” Zinn states.

The drone can be sent in after repairs or cleaning, to complete a quality-control inspection of the work for the client.

Skyriders is renegotiating its existing contracts with Eskom, as the contracts expire at various times, from 2018 to 2021.