Unmanned Automobile Applied sciences – Scaling Drone Operations – Drones Information


Unmanned vehicles are growing and developing new skills at a rapid pace. After just a few steps, your utility work could become a lot easier and more reliable than it is now. Here is the UVT guide on how to scale drone operations.

Your questions answered

“Why should I use drones when I can do things the way I am without spending the money?”

Drones aren’t cheap, we don’t deny that, but once your operation reaches a certain point, your team becomes thin and your most valuable asset becomes your time and efficiency. By using drones, you can increase the efficiency of your processes and relieve your employees in order to support more customers. The more customers you can support in a day, the better. Drones can help with that.

“What are some signs that I might benefit from operating utility drones?”

Drones are used for everything in utilities from vegetation programs to general operations, transmission and distribution inspections to storm response, solar field inspection and monitoring, contractor acceptance, and much more. Contact us if you would like to find out more about how unmanned vehicles can save you energy and time.

Where do you start

We brought in our friend Eric Bitzko, a systems maintenance manager at Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC), the largest electrical cooperative in the country, to learn about the specific steps and benefits of integrating drones into utility work.

Eric’s advice is to start small and focus on your worst performing areas. You can first focus on the specific feeders that have more downtime than the others and examine them with drones. This method will help you perform your drone operations in the most cost-effective way the first time you launch. UVT offers a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise QuickTac Bundle and a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual QuickTac Bundle. These bundles are the perfect starting point for most programs.

The QuickTac bundles contain most of the items you would need other than third-party applications or streaming solutions. Other accessories that we don’t sell but often find useful are inverters for charging from a vehicle. We recommend buying a pure sine wave inverter with at least 1,000 watts, which you can buy on Amazon.

As your program grows and you realize where you can find the greatest value, it’s time to consider more powerful systems like the DJI Matrice 300 RTK with triple payload, IP45 rating, and nine mile range. For a full list of the drones, accessories, payloads, and bundles that UVT offers, please visit our website.

Eric also recommends focusing on visual sensors first before complicating your operation with infrared / thermal sensors. Visual sensors, when used properly, can identify a vast majority of problems at a much lower cost than infrared / thermal sensors and can be used in more ways than infrared / thermal sensors. For more information on what infrared / thermal imaging means, please see our full list of UAV Terms You Need to Know.

the next steps

Once you get started, Eric suggests identifying broken devices, failing devices, and upgrading older frames and devices. Older devices are obsolete or old devices that may not have problems now, but are likely to have problems in the future. For this reason, it has a lower priority than defective or faulty devices.

The next step is to determine the ratio of drones to repair crews. The PEC ratio is around 1: 4 drones: repair crews, but keep in mind that they are the largest electrical cooperative in the country. It’s important to develop the drone ratio that best suits your team and your own challenges. UVT will be happy to discuss various options with you.

As PEC gained momentum and process evidence, they switched to using drones for cyclical inspections or scheduled inspections of the infrastructure, which usually take place at a set time and are sometimes regulated. If you take this step with your drone operation, UAVs will be further integrated into your regular processes, which will fuel future success.

Proven increase in reliability

Implementing drones into your utility work will reduce the errors that are often caused by human error. The use of drones on a scale made a big difference to PEC’s SAIDI measurements, which can be used to calculate reliability.

Once PEC’s drone operations were on a large scale, they went from 103 SAIDI in 2016 to around 40 SAIDI minutes in 2020. SAIDI minutes, or the System Average Interruption Duration Index, are widely used as a reliability indicator by electricity utilities. Essentially, it is a term from the energy industry that measures the failure of businesses or residential buildings in minutes over the course of a year.

For example, a company that served PEC before the drone operation was on scale would suffer an average of 103 minutes of downtime per year, typically due to outages, storms, rehabilitation, etc. As PEC’s drone program has grown they are approaching 40 SAIDI minutes average which leads to happier customers. For comparison: In 2017 the average SAIDI in the US (excluding major events) was a little less than 2 hours. This is still more than the 103rd SAIDI PEC witnessed before the drone operations were on scale. Overall, this shows the increased reliability that the operation of supply drones offers.

How UVT can help you

UVT has sold, leased, rented, repaired and consulted Eric and PEC on their program. Even if you have no idea how to get started, contact us and we will point you in the right direction. If you have specific UAVs, bundles, or payloads in mind, get a quote today. We’d love to help you scale utility drone operations to bring you more reliability and happier customers.

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