Wilmar Sugar Australia, the nation’s largest sugar producer and a major provider of renewable electricity and bioethanol, required a cost-effective, efficient and highly-accurate method to inspect the internal walls of its raw sugar manufacturing vessels as well as confined, human-inaccessible ducts and pipelines across its plant. An important requirement was that the inspection method needed to have no direct human (inside) intervention given the confined spaces and inherent safety risks.
“We needed a cross-asset inspection solution that would not only examine the wall integrity of our vessels, but access our confined space ducts and pipelines,” said Tienie Van Blerk, Asset Manager Engineering. We also required a method of securing high-resolution images and video so we could take actionable intelligence on any issues identified.”
Looking at the assets that required inspection and the physical challenges they presented, Wilmar recognised the value of the technology available from Flyability.
“Traditional methods of accessing these assets for intelligence purposes are not only costly, but carry a high exposure to risk that we are not prepared to accept. The risks are typically associated with working at heights and managing confined spaces,” Tienie said.
Contacting Sphere Drones, a leading Australian commercial UAV specialist, they collectively set about developing a solution that would meet all of Wilmar’s inspection requirements.
“Looking at Wilmar’s needs, a solution became immediately apparent,” said Paris Cockinos, Managing Director, Sphere Drones. “The collision-tolerant Elios drone by Flyability, would not only allow Wilmar to access the entire internal vessel wall structure, but be small and agile enough to travel through the pipework and ducts. More importantly, it could do so while securing HD images and video.”
Purpose designed and built for the inspection and exploration of indoor confined, unsafe, or human-inaccessible spaces, the Elios has the ability to navigate indoor asset areas without the concern of damage to the UAV unit, payload or the asset being inspected.
“The Elios is considered the world’s first collision-tolerant drone given its 360-degree protective frame,” added Paris. “Even though captive in the frame, the drone’s flight is not impeded in any way, allowing it to get up close and personal with the asset being inspected.”
For the chimney inspection at one of Wilmar’s raw sugar mills in North Queensland, the Elios drone navigated the internal walls with the drone pilot operating safely outside and with full First Person View (FPV). With high-lumen lights fitted as part of the Elios payload, navigating the drone in the dark was not an issue.
For the pipework and duct inspection, the Elios was navigated inside the dark and human-inaccessible recesses and with the protective cage, could (and did) manage multiple impacts in the confined space with no damage to the drone or impact on the image taking process.
With the Elios, the chimney walls, pipework and duct inspections and high-resolution image-taking were a comprehensive success.
“We were impressed by the Elios’ ability to seamlessly navigate around the internal wall of the silo,” said Tienie. “It was able to access every point with ease and with the FPV, we could see everything the drone was seeing in real time so could secure and transmit the exact imaging we required.”
The pipework and duct inspections proved to be an even greater achievement given the space, physical length of the inspection required and the lack of GPS signal.
“The Elios drone navigated the pipework and ducts with ease,” added Tienie. “With its payload safely secured in the housing frame, there was never an issue of it getting damaged – or us not securing the images we needed – despite repeated collisions with the pipework walls.”
In addition to the protective frame, the Elios comes with GPS-free stabilisation, ensuring complete flight control even where a signal doesn’t exist. In addition, a ‘distance-lock’ feature allows the drone to fly a distance-managed route along the inspection asset ensuring consistent and constant HD image streaming.
“It is exciting to know the Elios drone and its payload technology can provide us with a safer and more cost-effective solution to our inspection requirements,” Tienie said.
“This technology will revolutionise the way our industry conducts asset assessments into the future.”