Early this year, Applus+ advanced its growth strategy with the acquisition of the Australian company Aerial Photography Specialists (APS), specialised in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone inspection services.

Drone InspectionThe main advantage of the UAV inspections over other methods is its ability to fly in three dimensions in and around obstacles, allowing it to gain access to areas with ease. Drones significantly reduce the time required to gain access, saving time and money, as well as making it more feasible to visit these areas regularly.

Safety is another key aspect of drone inspection. The ability to mobilise the UAV and other equipment remotely allows all personnel to operate from a safe distance.

UAVs offer different perspectives because of their ability to fly anywhere in three dimensions. For example, radio tower inspections are normally performed by personnel climbing up inside the structure and looking from the inside out. A UAV can also look from the outside in, giving customers a 360° perspective on all surfaces.

Applus+, through APS, offer aerial inspection services for powerlines, flare towers, bridges, jetties, wind turbines and chimneys. We carry out aerial surveys for mining volumetric mapping, DTM modelling, contour mapping, environmental surveys and civil engineering surveys. We also conduct thermal imaging inspections of pipelines, LPG tanks, powerlines and flare towers.

Additionally, these UAVs can be used for gas sensing, as the drone can fly while taking gas readings and PPm levels.
Fixed infrastructure inspections for rail and power line inspection have significant potential, as they generally consist of thousands of items or thousands of kilometers of infrastructure that need to be inspected regularly.

Aerial inspections and mapping also has considerable potential in the volumetric calculations of stockpile or mining and other large earthmoving applications where routine and frequent volumetric data is needed to monitor product.

Key projects

Jetty Inspections: Jetty inspections we perform have the potential to save the client millions of dollars and months of man hours by using intelligent technology and camera inspection techniques. With the power of high-end cameras and the intelligence of remote access, we typically take more than 30,000 individual images, per jetty, in defined areas from specific perspectives.

Rail: We inspected over 200 km of electrified rail network with towers every 60 m. Our technology allowed us to cover thousands of individual assets in less than two weeks.

The larger jetty and rail projects are the most complicated. Projects that roll out over large distances need a lot of planning, given the different variables and logistics involved. Significant amounts of data are captured and these need to be recorded accurately for the client

Main challenges for the future

Most people assume that UAVs are all the same and that anyone can operate one for any task. A UAV is a whole system, with human personnel, technology and hardware all working together towards an outcome. It’s the trained personnel behind the equipment that is central to its success and this is something that has to be learned and built over time.