SSEN Transmission keep the power flowing with the early adoption of drones, IoT and visualization software

Power Grid

As one of the pioneers in its industry, SSEN Transmission – part of the SSE Group – has been utilizing drones and digital solutions since 2012.

At the end of last year, SSEN Transmission published its digital strategy, which outlined its commitment to safety, innovation, and environmentally friendly practices. Effective data collection and management are integral to the success of this strategy – and this is exactly where Cyberhawk comes into play.

Cyberhawk has revolutionized the way that utility companies, like SSEN Transmission, captures, stores, and manages integrity data. Cyberhawk delivers drone-based inspections across SSEN Transmission’s network in the North of Scotland, monitoring over 11,500 transmission towers and almost 150 substations, providing actionable insights via its cloud-based, IoT-enabled visualization platform, iHawk. The adoption of iHawk has offered SSEN Transmission’s operational, project and asset teams unprecedented levels of access to multi-level data, allowing them to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the network, exposing integrity risks, and revealing opportunities for improvement. “iHawk’s innovative approach to data management is key to managing our network assets, central to how our operations team manage inspections, maintenance, safety, and compliance.”

A single data-driven view of investment potential

By using iHawk to capture and manage the data, strategic planning across the North of Scotland’s transmission and distribution networks can be coordinated, even informing other utilities of planned developments.

This has offered SSEN Transmission real value in that the visual data has supported multi-million-pound investment decisions.

“iHawk’s innovative approach to data management is key to managing our network assets, central to how our operations team manage inspections, maintenance, safety, and compliance.”

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Maintaining a safe, reliable, and secure power grid.

Faults and disturbances can have a significant effect across the network. The loss of any key power corridor can mean the loss of crucial green energy from Scotlands renewable generation base or result in the loss of customer supplies.

This is why SSEN Transmission’s activities are all verged to ensure a robust inspection and maintenance program. This includes engineers climbing the transmission towers to carry out routine inspections. However, this requires circuit outages and has the obvious inherent risks associated with working at height.

If left, towers and their fitting condition can deteriorate over time, leading to potentially catastrophic incidents. SSEN Transmission's commitment to providing a safe and secure supply of electricity means the risk is too high to leave inspections for lengthy periods. To overcome this, Cyberhawk supports SSEN Transmission by conducting regular drone-based inspections, which are agile, time-effective, and safer than the in-person alternative.

By conducting drone inspections on a regular basis and ensuring the data is efficiently processed and accessed on iHawk, the SSEN Transmission’s operational teams can identify issues early, focusing interventions on the highest priority items before they are allowed to fail.

Earlier this year, through Cyberhawk’s visual inspection data, SSEN Transmission was able to identify a missing split pin on a tower insulator fitting. An outage was planned, and a repair was carried out the following weekend. If it wasn’t for the drone data being available on iHawk, it could have resulted in a failure, causing a network fault on a key transmission circuit.

By ensuring their transmission lines are kept in top condition, SSEN Transmission can retain the current high level of network reliability at the lowest cost possible, ensuring it delivers the best value for consumers -

Data collection supports compliance.

Cyberhawk recently supported SSEN Transmission to pass an audit by the Electricity Safety, Quality, and Continuity Regulations (ESQCR), which is enforced by the Health Safety Executive (HSE).

The ESQC Regulations (2002) dictate that electricity distribution and transmission companies must inspect and maintain accurate records of their assets. Without these records, SSEN Transmission would not be able to comply.

iHawk put the data at SSEN Transmission’s fingertips, allowing teams to rapidly access historic information in one centralized place, categorized and easy to navigate. They are able to pinpoint key information, such as the general condition data, a number of defects reported during any given time period and in any given area or circuit, even able to detail the work orders that had been raised.

As a result, SSEN Transmission demonstrated its commitment to safety and compliance with the regulation.

Helping to reduce SSEN Transmisson’s environmental impact

The utility recognizes that the digitalization of its systems and processes, underpinned by rich, local, and accessible data, reinforces this commitment to reducing its environmental impact, in line with COP26. SF6 (Sulphur hexafluoride) has been used extensively as an insulation medium in high voltage equipment for over 60 years. However, in 2005 the Kyoto protocol identified the gas mixture as a greenhouse gas. With little in the way of proven alternatives, SSEN Transmission works tirelessly to improve leakage performance of its SF6 assets.

SSEN Transmission benefited from the decades of oil and gas experience within the Cyberhawk team. We recently introduced a new, ground-breaking pressure monitoring system that will allow SSEN Transmission to remotely monitor an asset's SF6 density.

Cyberhawk has integrated an IoT sensor that monitors for any leaks of the colorless, odorless, synthetic gas. As soon as the system identifies a reading, regardless of the volume and how minor the leak, the operations team is alerted so that they can take remedial action immediately, limiting the effect on the environment. This will enable proactive management of SF6 leaks and improve network performance, allowing outages for gas top-ups to be coordinated in a wider program.

Covid-19: business as usual

When the impact of Covid-19 on the UK population became clear at the start of 2020, many businesses faced disruption of their day-to-day operations.

Keeping power supplied in the form of gas and electricity has been essential throughout the pandemic, and more pressure than ever was placed on utility companies and their employees to continue to deliver this essential service.

SSEN Transmission has an unwavering commitment to keeping its people safe; in fact, its motto is: ‘‘if it’s not safe, we don’t do it”. Therefore, the utility faced the challenge of ensuring critical inspection and maintenance activity was carried out whilst complying with the social distancing requirements in place.

The iHawk tablets and associated work order systems had shown their worth long before then, but with no reliance on paper-based systems of old, the need for face-to-face contact between the maintenance teams and engineering staff was kept to a minimum.

iHawk defect reporting functionality enables efficient reporting of defects identified during substation and overhead line inspections, allowing team members to tag defect notices to any given asset or location, with the ability to add pictorial evidence and user commentary before autonomously passing to maintenance managers for approval and scheduling.

Stuart Knight, Head of Operations and Maintenance at SSEN Transmission, said:

“SSEN has been working with Cyberhawk for a number of years now. I have been extremely impressed with the quality of inspection data and functionality of their tool, iHawk’s innovative approach to data management is key to managing our network assets, central to how our operations team manage inspections, maintenance, safety, and compliance.

“When I was first introduced to the SSEN Transmission data held on iHawk, I could not believe the quality of data we were able to obtain at the touch of a button, from any location. It is unrivaled compared to other data management tools I have seen being used in the energy sector.

“iHawk is embedded into the operations teams now, and when a new recruit joins, they receive a tutorial of how to use the tool as part of their training program, and it very quickly becomes their natural guide to operational life at SSEN Transmission.

“The Cyberhawk team is a pleasure to work with. Their professional approach, coupled with their proactive suggestions, makes them an ideal inspection and technology partner. We really benefit from Cyberhawk’s experience in the oil and gas sector and how they can apply those lessons learned to the work we’re doing. We at SSEN Transmission are looking forward to building on this long-standing relationship.”


In early 2016, Cyberhawk completed an inspection on twelve 100m tall cooling towers at the Drax coal-fired power station near Selby, UK.


Capital Projects
North America

In June 2016, Shell took the final investment decision to construct a world-scale petrochemicals manufacturing plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The plant will consist of an ethylene cracker and three polyethylene derivatives units. In November 2017, Shell completed an extensive site preparation program and the multi-billion-dollar project entered the main construction phase. Commercial production is estimated to begin sometime in the next couple of years. The plant will use locally sourced ethane from the Marcellus and Utica basins to produce 1.6 million tonnes of polyethylene each year. Polyethylene is used in many everyday products, from food packaging and containers to automotive components. The facility is being built on the banks of the Ohio River in Potter Township, Beaver County, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north-west of Pittsburgh. The plant is strategically positioned close to both feedstock and the customer base. More than 70% of the North American industrial polyethylene demand originates in the North-East, within a 1,100 kilometer (700-mile) radius of Pittsburgh. The plant’s Pennsylvania location offers the customers a short, dependable supply chain. The project’s scale is impressive with 300 miles of pipe, more than 1,600 items of manufactured equipment (the largest lift – 1,400 metric tons), and 294 pre-assembled modules. The construction workforce reached its peak in 2019 and into early 2020 with up to 8,500 workers on site, including more than 30 contracting companies. 600 permanent jobs will be created after the project is complete.

Due to the intense level of construction activity, careful planning and constant information sharing have been critical in maintaining project schedules. Managing Pennsylvania’s largest construction project for decades has demanded new ways of working, and state-of-the-art tools to facilitate them. As the project team discovered in 2017, some of the demanded functionality did not exist in the marketplace at the time and had to be innovated. The project team needed a digital approach to manage the flow of information in this construction project, to make informed decisions, develop and adjust execution plans, stay on top of progress and costs, ensure quality, and above all, keep people safe. The team sought to contextualize multiple layers of information in an interactive, map-based platform taking the digitalization to the next level, enabling full progress visibility, operational efficiency, and stakeholder communication at all levels.

“Since the introduction of iHawk to the project back in 2017, we have seen an exponential increase in the usage of the GIS information across critical execution activities such as field engineering, site coordination, environmental monitoring, construction management, and workforce planning, materials management and many others."

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In 2017 Shell Polymers selected Cyberhawk’s iHawk visualization platform as the foundation digital tool for managing the construction site. The two companies started to collaborate to develop a set of unique, differentiating capabilities to meet a wide range of challenges that the project team was facing.

iHawk, a cloud-based, IoT-enabled visualization interface, enables a community of 700 active users from Shell and 40+ execution contractors to work off the same baseline – in the office, in the field on mobile devices, and remotely. 45 interactive, touch-enabled screens have been deployed around the construction and in the future operation team’s offices, in meeting rooms and to collaboration areas. Everyone on the team has a direct, on the spot access to iHawk. The easily accessible smart screens foster collaboration and teamwork and have made iHawk an integral part of all planning and coordination meetings on the project.

Today iHawk combines visual data gathered by the UAVs (drones), ground 360 cameras with data from a myriad of field sensors and IoT devices enabling real-time equipment location tracking and performance monitoring, locating construction materials across five laydown areas using RFID technology, and more into a single visual interface for site planners, contractors and executives. According to the Shell IT director on the project, “iHawk has become an inseparable part of what we do, it is now part of the landscape for Pennsylvania Chemicals, and for all future Shell projects.”

Visual data management is not limited to drone imagery. Site inspection imagery, for example, taken in large volumes by quality inspectors and construction engineers, is notoriously difficult to gather, catalog, and manage centrally. On this project, Shell and Cyberhawk developed a simple self-service workflow for this kind of content to be captured, uploaded, linked to an equipment tag and assigned keywords in a few clicks, or screen taps on a mobile device. The images can then be instantly shared across the project team, for example, to report the need for remediation action.

The Site Master Plan module was developed in response to the needs of the main EPC contractor managing the site. The joint owner and EPC project management team relies on the high-resolution GIS data, developed from drone imagery, and enriched with layers of contextualized information, to plan heavy equipment moves and oversized deliveries, organize equipment staging, and to manage congested laydown area space across the busy 380-acre construction site.

Historically difficult to manage offline with Gannt charts, space planning clashes and constraints can be instantly detected and resolved in a visual domain. The ability to assign a physical area for a specific task and purpose, assign a responsible individual, and publish this information to the stakeholders, is crucial. Not only does iHawk put hundreds of real estate assignments on the timeline and make them visible to everyone on the team, but it also helps to drive personal accountability for the success of every task.

The team uses iHawk to track the position and usage of construction equipment – in this case, the dozens of heavy cranes deployed across the site by seamlessly integrating industry-leading IoT solutions.
The cranes are fitted with vibration sensors that report uptime and other telemetry data, which is aggregated in iHawk for interpretation and analysis, helping the area managers to derive the most value from the investment in the equipment.

The result

The collection of site imagery captured over time by 360-degree ground cameras and by drones has contributed to countless progress and cost reviews with the major contractors and subcontractors, making them factual, evidence-based, and ultimately transparent and fair.

iHawk empowers cross-functional teams to hold each other accountable every day, generating significant value. The monthly cumulative usage of the portal approaches 10,000 hours, exceeding the most optimistic targets and expectations. It is estimated, that every hour of iHawk’s usage translates in the equivalent, often even greater, efficiency gains in the field.

The FindAll module was developed to address one of the most significant challenges inherent to large, complex projects – finding the relevant information quickly. FindAll reaches across multiple databases and information sources, historically disparate, to locate and retrieve engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning documentation and data, up to 90% quicker than some of the traditional methods and tools, saving 3-5 minutes per search. Up to 50,000 searches are performed each month.

Customer testimonial

iHawk is a modular system that integrates with a wide spectrum of business and real-time systems via low-cost low-maintenance APIs. Amid 20 integration options available already, with the option to quickly deliver additional interfaces as the customer needs evolve, iHawk is strategically positioned in the heart of the IT architecture of this and future projects.

Commenting on the success of the project, Dmitry Gurevich, IT director Pennsylvania Chemicals at Shell, said:

“In the early days of the execution phase, we chose Cyberhawk to be our drone content management partner amid a rigorous competitive evaluation process, concluding that it was best in class solution for the needs of a multi-billion construction megaproject. The depth of knowledge and expertise the iHawk development team has, enabled Cyberhawk to provide a near real-time response to the evolving, challenging functional requirements, that the project team continues to come up against.

“Since the introduction of iHawk to the project back in 2017, we have seen an exponential increase in the usage of the GIS information across critical execution activities such as field engineering, site coordination, environmental monitoring, construction management, and workforce planning, materials management and many others.

“iHawk has enabled a digital revolution across the owner’s team and the contractor community. We see iHawk as a tool that offers opportunities for safety improvements through increased efficiency and improved visualization prior to work activities.

“The data collected throughout the execution phase is a resourceful legacy that will continue to empower the asset operations team for the entire plant-life.”

“It is exciting to see the platform has grown so much in capability in such a short period of time. We look forward to continuing our journey together with Cyberhawk. The strength of the team behind iHawk was the deciding factor that enabled Shell to install iHawk as the global standard for the project and asset visualization”


Cyberhawk is providing long term support for the construction of a multi-billion dollar expansion project in Central Asia, providing drone-captured site data which is allowing the client to monitor construction progress.


Power Generation

Many wind turbine owners, operators and OEMs new to the world of UAV inspection are dubious about the accuracy and quality of data that can be achieved through this solution. We could tell you all about how we can size defects down to +/- 5mm accuracy, or position the defects to a few centimetres from the root and leading edge, but we thought a real-life example would be more interesting….

The interesting part, however, is that our UAV inspection identified a crack on the trailing edge of one blade which the inspection using a ground camera failed to pick up. Trailing edge cracks can be difficult to see and if not detected and monitored from an early stage, can become progressively worse, leading to structural damage and costly repairs.

In a recent project for a major OEM, Cyberhawk was tasked with inspecting blades at an onshore wind farm in the UK. The OEM was keen to compare our drone captured data to that from their traditional ground camera solution. Despite 25 knot (12.8m/s) wind speeds, our team mobilised to site and conducted the inspection in just a few minutes.


This example proves an important point. It demonstrated that an experienced UAV inspection team can not only match the quality of traditional inspection methods, but can actually identify defects which may not previously have been picked up – without requiring technicians to work at height.


As part of a client’s ongoing fabric maintenance campaign, Cyberhawk was appointed to conduct a detailed inspection of four offshore vents and two onshore flares.


Land & Rail

The project, completed in one day, saw Cyberhawk provide an orthophoto, 3D point cloud and oblique images of the site to aid the distribution network operator (DNO) identify exposed underground cables or areas where cables could become exposed in the future. UAVs were selected for this project, as traditional survey methods, including ground based total stations or laser scanning, would have involved working close to the cliff and would take a long time to complete. Cyberhawk were chosen to conduct this work scope thanks to our extensive experience of working in challenging coastal environments.

The team utilised a multirotor UAV to complete this work. This platform provided flexibility in acquiring imagery for generating a topographic model and also oblique and panoramic images. Our experienced team of surveyors delivered the project successfully and on time, with the client reporting significant cost savings.

Due to the survey’s location, the main challenges on site were high winds, wet weather. The project was also affected by the tide; so keeping to strict deadlines and timescales was paramount.


Our client provided existing CAD drawings of the known underground cable positions. These were overlaid on our orthophoto imagery providing additional information about potential future issues due to erosion on the coastline.

The survey data was provided electronically and also via our secure online portal.


Cyberhawk was approached by an offshore gas operator in Italy to complete UAV structural inspections of its assets.