Drones Offer Many Advantages to Mechanical Contractors

By Shawn Holmgren


The PC-1 VTOL drone features extremely durable airframe made of carbon fiber. Its eight rotor design offer maximum reliability in any weather condition and environment.

Drones are increasingly being used by mechanical contractors to study the thermal signatures of commercial buildings. The advantages of performing a thermal study with a Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), are the time savings, and accuracy of the study. Drone flights can record the elevation and GPS coordinates, as well as video or images of the surface(s) being studied for use later in measuring, or even constructing a 3D model of the data using a program such as Pix4d.

Radiometric, Infra-Red, NIR, Multi-Spectral and Lidar are some of the types of sensors that can save you countless hours of engineering analysis. These devices can range in cost from a few hundred dollars, to well over a hundred thousand dollars, depending on it’s intended use, and need for accuracy.

Thermal image of rooftop units.

A drone can fly these sensors just a few feet above roof-mounted equipment to tell whether fans are running, or compressors are overheating, and observe corrosion and other deterioration on the equipment. A drone can do this much faster than a person with a ladder could dream of, and document it with video that can be analyzed now or later.

A drone can detect moisture and heat in areas of the building’s roof, mansards and exterior walls, which may indicate leaks or other factors that need to be addressed, in order to provide the proper climate control, and rooftop maintenance.

While a person with a standard thermal image camera can capture much of this data, more advanced radiometric sensors can actually record the exact temperature

variations, and log them individually, so that the drone operator and mechanic can tell the difference between inlet and outlet temperatures on chillers, for example, within 1 degree of accuracy. Radiometric data will also help identify motors and compressors that are overheating, or inefficient cooling systems before they fail.

Roofers, as well as mechanical contractors, use aerial drone data to see moisture evaporating from failed areas of a roofing system, and leaks of air or moisture at the rooftop penetrations, in ducts and soffits. It is often better to obtain a drone aerial video, and images that are geo-referenced, than it is to have an in-person evaluation. One reason is you can use numerous people to evaluate the visual cues available from data that is collected and assembled into a 3D model. Another is the ease of measuring and estimating from the computer researchable data.

Property managers are beginning to use drones for inspection of roof systems, and equipment that is difficult, or dangerous to inspect, like HVAC systems and roof-mounted communication equipment. High-definition drone data enables them to discuss solutions over a video-conference call, during or just minutes after a flight. Once data is uploaded to a cloud server, software analysis makes it possible to map out problems, measure areas affected, identify equipment serial numbers, and even send out alerts or e-mails to responsible parties if a dangerous condition exists.

Using a drone survey of a rooftop enables the owner and contractor to fully understand a maintenance task, cleaning process or failure before sending a technician up. This in turn, dramatically reduces the amount of time spent in a dangerous work-space. Pre  and post-repair drone flights can provide lasting proof of conditions that were found and corrected; a task that used to require a helicopter or airplane to accomplish.

Programs and apps like DroneDeploy and Skyward allow the operator to plot out a mission using an image from google maps, or similar. The mission may require the drone to take high resolution photos every 10 feet over an area that covers 10,000 s.f. and after a few mouse clicks, the mission is uploaded to the drone, which then flies the mission autonomously. GPS, altimeter and compass readings are all geo-tagged onto the images for precise location and measurements to be based on. The mission can be saved and repeated by the aircraft over and over to provide day to day comparisons of progress or installations.

Drones reduce maintenance costs significantly by collecting more accurate data, quicker than humans can. That translates into less man hours for diagnosis and less downtime for equipment which often equals money saved for both contractors, and their clients. Using a drone to perform these aerial inspections can also lower Workers’ Comp insurance costs, and reduce injuries on the job.

A drone with a thermal camera costs around $10,000-$12,000, or maybe more depending on the equipment selected. Check out http://www.ukrspecsystems.com/pc-1/ as an example of an affordable Day/Night system. When you think about how many job-site climbing injuries can be prevented, this system pays for itself very quickly.

Drone-related laws are very much affecting the commercial use of drones, and are constantly evolving. Anyone who wishes to use a drone commercially needs a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate (RPA) or another type of pilot license with additional endorsements. Additional information regarding this FAA guidance is available at https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/fly_for_work_business/becoming_a_pilot/.

About the Author:

Shawn Holmgren

H. Shawn Holmgren is the editor and creator of the blog sphere at www.palmbeachdrone.com. Shawn has been a resident of South Florida since the early 1970’s, and uses his blog to share his experience and views on Surveillance, Drones, and Robotic Technologies.

He has studied computers, industrial electrical wiring, low voltage, networking,  security,  surveillance, automation and robotics. He is also a veteran FCAM and FCAM instructor, having managed premium condominiums on Palm Beach Island for more than a decade, and serving on multiple Boards of Directors. Shawn is a natural teacher, author, educator and developer.

Visit his website at www.palmbeachdrone.com or email Shawn at: editor@palmbeachdrone.com.

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