By Scott Duffin, director of client drone strategy and business development, Skyward, a Verizon Company
Drones can come in handy for wind O&M technicians, as long as their use is accepted across all levels of the company. In order for wind techs to gain a helping hand from drones, they should avoid these common pitfalls that could limit a drone program’s full potential.
Failing to make a strong business case for adopting drones
It’s easy to make the mistake of focusing on the novelty and excitement of drone technology while underselling the value of the data that can be collected. To find long-term success and keep a program funded, wind techs need to be results-oriented from the beginning.
Stakeholders will want to see budget and ROI estimates, solid operating procedures and quality use cases. Start simple and track results. For example, some utilities first used drones to inspect bird nests on towers. It’s a simple use-case, but it saves time and reduces environmental impact. Later on, once a drone’s value has been proven, larger goals can be made, such as inspecting wind turbine blades.
Not tracking risk reduction as a primary benefit
For many wind O&M techs, lowered risk is one of the biggest perks of a drone program. Quantify this by making sure drone operations aren’t adding any unnecessary risk. A drone program’s policies and training standards should ensure crews won’t violate airspace regulations or local ordinances, cause damage or infringe on privacy.
Then, the ways drones increase worker safety can be tracked. Demonstrate how drones can be used to detect cracks and perform other maintenance needs for onshore and offshore wind turbines.
Picking the wrong aircraft for the job
Some companies purchase a drone before they’ve nailed down an initial use case. This can be a big mistake that can instantly tank a budget. Not all drones are created equal. Get the best drone by asking the right questions:
- What performance standards are needed to meet goals?
- Is the drone manufacturer reliable? Do they offer support?
- What maintenance or upkeep is required?
- What sensors are needed to capture data?
It’s easiest to start by using one drone model across an entire program. This simplifies training and allows for more consistent performance. But as the program scales up, users should expect to diversify the drone fleet, using the best aircraft for the job at hand.
Using the wrong software
Choosing the correct software is a critical part of setting up a drone program. Software processes the data and builds deliverables like 3D models. Software is also needed to manage flights, check airspace, and handle reporting.
A drone program’s software should support all missions and models of drones in use. Solutions should be flexible enough to handle what aircrafts are in use today and what may be flown in the future. Software solutions should also include LAANC access to controlled airspace for quick access to key service areas.
Underestimating training needs
Drone programs are aviation programs. Running an aviation program requires skills and protocols that may not be part of everyday business. Anyone who pilots a drone needs thorough training, whether they have aviation experience or not. It’s a good practice to set tiers for pilots based on hours logged or types of missions flown to ensure only more experienced pilots of a certain tier are flying more complex missions.
By avoiding these issues, a drone program can have long-term success in any wind O&M company.
Scott Duffin is director of client drone strategy and business development drone operations management specialist for Skyward, a Verizon company. Leaning on his extensive background in sales and drone technology, Scott works with companies to establish safe and efficient drone programs that are customized to their needs and helps guide Skyward’s growth in the flight operations management space.