A Case Study: The Future of Confined Space Drone Inspection

June 18, 2018 |

As the scope and availability of technology increases, the need for risking personnel safety decreases.

No longer are our personnel and clients hindered by lengthy downtime, significant scaffolding costs and needless safety risks when inspecting hard-to-access areas. Kiewit frequently demonstrates the value of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology to the energy, building and infrastructure markets in resolving those issues.

Kiewit used drone technology to conduct a confined-space inspections of a concrete product-storage silo and evaluate the condition of the roof support, searching for any deterioration. To prepare for the excursion, the UAV was equipped with a collision-tolerant cage, HD camera and onboard LED lighting. This particular inspection drone was designed for manual operation from a safe, remote location beyond the line of sight, a departure from the typical UAV designed for outdoor operation with the aid of a GPS.

The inspection began with the drone flying through the open manhole into the storage silo. Once inside, the UAV was immediately enveloped in air thick with concrete dust. Still, the HD camera provided adequately clear footage of the condition of the silo. After close examination of the beam pockets, it became readily apparent they were covered in years of concrete dust buildup. It was impossible to determine the deterioration without first manually removing the buildup.

Although the initial finding was disappointing, the team quickly discovered the drone was still able to fly within the silo for further evaluation of its overall condition. The pilot was able to see level indicators, support beams, the feeder inlet condition and the pneumatic air blower inlet and supports. In the end, both the client and the Kiewit team were pleased with the performance of the drone.

Moving forward, Kiewit can use this technology in the same way for other facilities with confined spaces and hard-to-access areas – projects with different requirements but similar applications. Kiewit’s UAV can be safely flown into otherwise hazardous environments, such as coal-fired boilers up to the super heater. In process, chemical and power facilities, storage tanks or pressure vessels can be inspected for weld conditions. What’s more, the integrity of agitator shafts, blades, feed pipe conditions and roof conditions can be visually inspected for corrosion or structural integrity.

Drones can visually inspect beam caps and, in some cases, beneath the deck on bridges. The system can also be used in barges and ships to inspect the general integrity of cargo and ballast tanks. All footage can be reviewed by a qualified confined-space inspector to determine whether the facility or space requires immediate manual entry for further evaluation.

Following the success of the storage silo inspection, Kiewit has increasingly used drone technology for visual inspections to mitigate the costs of specialized equipment cost and man-hours and, most importantly, greatly reduce confined space man-hours and the associated risks.

About the author

Jonathan Beaty leads Kiewit’s Field Inspection Services group. His career in power, infrastructure and food and beverage projects over the past 11 years includes extensive experience in LiDAR and drone technology. Jonathan is responsible for developing and utilizing the latest data collection and analysis methods to increase Kiewit’s expansion into the engineering services markets.


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