Sustaining infrastructure requires good design, construction and handover, but ultimately, it’s the operating context and the inspection and asset care program that dictate how well an asset will perform over its lifetime and how long it will last. Know what the latest breakthrough in technology for maintenance inspections is? Drones!

Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley recently announced the acquisition of Acute 3D while at the ARC Advisory Group’s Industry Forum. Bentley shared his insights on how this software can dramatically enhance productivity, turning a simple series of digital photos taken with a smart camera mounted on a drone into a 3D reality mesh model. The result is a compact, intelligent representation of the asset in its current operating context. He confidently predicted there will be a drone in every major infrastructure maintenance organization by 2016. Using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and normal digital photography, inspectors can observe existing conditions, then track and trend the condition over time with the ability to compare to the design basis or any point in its life. In fact, there are a growing number of uses of drones in industrial maintenance, reliability and integrity inspections.

Creating 3D Plant/Asset Drawings

Many existing plants have no information model, no accurate records and possibly some unreliable or outdated 2D drawings. If you are operating in an existing plant with poor engineering records, today you can now capture a precise 3D model using simple digital photographs taken from UAVs using software to render an information model that you can maintain going forward. It’s called reality modeling. You can then take updated photos to observe current state and compare them to the model as time goes on. To model a given plant/asset, the image acquisition process requires a minimum of three sharp overlapping photographs. Anyone following this rule will be able to capture suitable imagery data sets, whether using a smartphone, a compact digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, or a high resolution professional camera like those used for airborne acquisition.

Conducting Inspections on Infrastructure Assets in Hard to Reach Areas

From structural integrity issues on bridges and roads to wind turbine blades and rig inspections to pipeline monitoring for wall thickness, welds, corrosion and other structural integrity issues, UAVs with mounted cameras are helping maintenance organizations to more easily and cost-effectively observe these out of reach conditions. Bridge and road inspections, especially as regulatory guidelines move towards reliability- based inspection practices, will require flexibility as the frequency of inspections changes based on operating context. Water and power utilities are benefiting from unmanned drones using high definition sonar to conduct subsea inspections. All in all, the use of drones can make what used to be a difficult and costly task an easier and more cost-effective one.

Drones and reality modeling can and should be part of every maintenance organization and every proactive maintenance workflow to dramatically enhance productivity and safety in infrastructure asset inspections.

About the Author
Sandra DiMatteo leads the marketing strategy and positioning for Bentley's asset management and operations products. www.bentley.com

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