Drones And The Emergence Of Unmanned Asset Management

Asset management is bolstered by using innovative technologies such as drones to proactively inspect critical assets and to ensure these are maintained effectively.

By Wayne Bobby

Consider the following: The commercial applications market for unmanned aerial systems and vehicles is projected to grow from $2B in 2016 to over $127B by 2020. The potential benefits of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have received a lot of attention as more and more uses have been identified. Quick access, low cost, and the ability to document asset conditions in an automated fashion are all benefits of using drones. As the technological support for drones advances, professional facilities, infrastructure, and asset managers are beginning to realize the benefits of using a drone to perform fundamental maintenance and security activities.

droneToday, the use of drones has extended to government and commercial buildings and structures, where they can provide visual inspections of hard-to-access spaces. Through the use of remote-controlled cameras, drones can relay images of building structures, machinery on a rooftop, or an off-shore oil rig in remote locations, or high atop bridges or vertical cliffs. With the use of this advanced technology, field technicians monitoring equipment performance can obtain valuable viewpoints and details about critical assets — all without risk to personnel.

Monitoring performance and conducting preventive maintenance are critical to expanding the life cycle of facilities and infrastructure. This is particularly true of mission critical equipment that cannot fail, such as generators, security systems, fuel tanks, weapons storage, wind turbines, electrical towers, and oil drilling and mining equipment. The ability to pull high-resolution imagery from difficult-to-reach places is often enough to help us make condition-based assessments. At other times, it helps field crews determine where to focus their attention and resources. Beyond photographic images, drone technology can also supply infrared and X-ray images to detect structural issues or dangerous leaks in an environment potentially unsafe for humans.

Due to these advancements, the use of drones by facility management, fleet management, and asset management has expanded the capabilities of field crews. Technicians no longer need dangerous ladders or expensive scaffolding to inspect the conditions of their facilities and infrastructures. Physical inspections, over time, can begin to be replaced with the ability to capture historical images for real-time assessments, and the use of building energy management systems will be increasingly used to help isolate inspection areas for energy leaks or other concerns.

The use of drones alone, however, only solves one part of the challenge faced by today’s asset managers. The data and imagery provided by the use of drones must be paired with a sophisticated asset management solution that incorporates historical records, maintenance standards, and other sensor information to assess condition levels and determine maintenance needs. Examples of such use include corrosion identification, detection and analysis of hairline cracks, spillage and leak detection, dilapidation assessments, and land surveys.

Data collected specific to each of these areas must be assessed and captured in real time by the receiving asset management solution. Capturing information in real-time allows for asset managers to compare the condition of assets today with previous imagery and sensor readings, and then compare them to manufacturing or industry standards to determine the next course of action in the asset management lifecycle. Maintenance and repair are then scheduled directly from the asset management system, causing minimal disruption to operations.

Today, drones are being used in a variety of industries to maximize the lifespan of their assets, including building and structure management, bridge maintenance, airline fleets, shipyards, roads, railways, utility lines and towers, and military bases. These industries, and the others that are currently evaluating the implementation of drones, are encouraged by return on investment that this new technology promises. A comprehensive asset management strategy that includes the use of drones for inspections provides a meaningful alternative strategy to traditional asset management. Such solutions have the ability to shift operations and maintenance processes from reactive to proactive.

Asset managers must continue to innovate and improve the methodologies from which they approach infrastructure and asset management — from both operational and IT perspectives. This includes the use of drones, sensors, and comprehensive asset management solutions working together to extend the useful life of critical assets. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the combined value of non-financial assets in the United States is $12.5 trillion, and the backlog of necessary maintenance for these assets continues to grow, which could be as high as $3.6 trillion according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Prudent asset management practices, combined with innovative technologies like utilizing drones to pro-actively inspect critical assets, ensure that these valuable assets are optimized in an era of tight budgets and scarce resources.

droneBobby is vice president, Federal Government Solutions for Infor, an enterprise software company headquartered in New York City. He leads Infor initiatives for the U.S. Federal government, and in that capacity, Bobby helps to expand the company’s reach within the public sector. As a former Oracle executive, Bobby has roots in both the Federal space and technology industry. Prior to his work in the private sector, Bobby served for more than 16 years as a director of financial management services for the U.S. Department of State. He earned an MBA from the George Washington University, located in the center of Washington D.C. Infor has collaborated with Drone Aviation Corporation to create a tethered drone-based enterprise asset management solution.