Effectively scaling power grid inspection services

Power grid operators adopt a variety of inspection techniques to maintain a safe and reliable electricity network.
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01 August 2022

Drone inspections support ground crews by capturing visual data from difficult-to-access areas on live structures, or by performing a clean-up operation after helicopters have completed an initial aerial survey of transmission and distribution lines.

Drones capture more detailed visual data, safely, and in less time than conventional inspection techniques. With this proven capability, it's clear that drone technology is becoming a key enabler in effectively scaling power grid inspection services.

While scaling power grid inspection operations can provide more valuable data about the overall condition of entire electricity networks, the process is subject to growing pains.

The challenge of effectively scaling operations becomes two-fold for power grid operators and the supply chain:

  1. How can inspection teams manage the increased data flow of information?
  2. How can power grid operators manage large volumes of data from multiple sources?

Flying Safely

Cyberhawk works closely with power grid operators, around the world, to help them effectively scale inspection operations for transmission and distribution lines which span thousands of kilometres.

In California, Cyberhawk successfully scaled the inspection of 4,000 transmission structures to 30,000 per year, within a two-year period.

Expanding the number of field teams from 4 to 25, played a huge part in meeting this increased demand, however, the ability to scale operations effectively often extends beyond the recruitment drive.

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Cyberhawk’s first priority was the safety of these field teams, as the number of structure inspections increased five-fold.

Investing in additional supplies, essential safety equipment and communications technology were ramped up to account for longer days out in the field.

Even the weight of a drone pilot’s field kit became a careful consideration. Whereas longer flight plans increased the number of batteries pilots would normally carry, it meant teams could complete inspection routes more efficiently - without losing time having to return to the remote location of the structure.

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Planning & Logistics

Planning and logistics capability had to be optimised to accommodate for the increased volume of inspection services. Cyberhawk developed a planning system, using a GIS platform, that essentially unlocked drone operations to enable very quick and effective scaling.

The GIS solution automated large parts of the previously manual flight planning process and provided full visibility of transmission structure locations, priority structures, previous land access issues and airspace requirements.

Due to the planning system being used within a GIS platform, it also enabled the use of live feeds to provide up-to-date information, such as weather conditions and any significant events (such as wildfires ).

What started as a planning tool, quickly transformed into a centralised project management solution, with reporting functionality available to the customer.

Data Flows

During that time, data volumes increased from uploading 100 GB of data per week to over a Terabyte. 

Transmitting high volumes of inspection data quickly, and securely, from areas that were far from a reliable broadband connection was challenging.

To overcome this, Cyberhawk implemented a private cloud network and cellular routers to solve connectivity challenges and accommodate the increased data flow securely.

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Cyberhawk were able to maintain high data flow rates and transmit visual data to the power grid operator's quality control teams without any operational delays or downtime.

Additional quality checks were also performed by Cyberhawk’s global teams. This helped to scale the inspection program into a 24/7 operation, while maintaining high standards of data quality, and enabling the reporting of critical safety defects as quickly as possible.

Data Aggregation

Scaling field operations to capture more visual data is only half of the battle.

How do power grid operators process, manage and analyse this increased volume of inspection data to determine the overall health status of an electricity network?

Visual asset management platforms support power grid operators to analyse data on an unprecedented scale and facilitate more evidence-based decision-making.

In the UK, power grid operators are successfully processing large volumes of data from third-party sources using Cyberhawk’s cloud-based analytical software, iHawk.

iHawk is a data agnostic solution which manages data collected from drones, linesmen and helicopter surveys to accurately assess the condition of a structure, overhead lines or substations.

Download our iHawk capability flyer for reliable power grid operations:

Visual Asset Management

iHawk software augments processes and integrates with existing systems to help power grid operators scale inspection, repair and maintenance (IRM) regimes efficiently.

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User-access controls can be configured to assign a specific inspection route to an engineer and this prevents a duplicate inspection of the same structure.

Structural images that contain defects are categorised in accordance with the power grid operator’s pre-defined inspection criteria, and this consistent naming convention helps to streamline reporting.

Integration with existing EDMS, CMMS or ERP systems supports power grid operators to manage audit trails, prioritise maintenance, plan resources and schedule work order activities.

Effectively scaling inspection services require power grid operators to establish a digital ecosystem, which layers high volumes of data from multiple sources, to ascertain the most pertinent information and deliver data-driven decision-making as a single source of truth.

Would you like to learn more? Download our Power Grid Capability brochure: