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Wind Turbine Inspections: Comparing In-House vs. Third-Party Drone Inspections

25 Oct 2023 Written by Naomi Stol Zamir

The sheer size and complexity of wind turbines means there’s no escaping inspections. And yet, carrying out wind turbine inspections can be challenging, especially in hard-to-reach remote locations.

Historically, wind farms have overcome these challenges by relying on third-party companies and drone pilots to carry out yearly inspections.

But now wind farms have larger portfolios, turbines are more complex, and downtime remains as costly as ever. The old method of handling wind farm inspections is simply no longer sustainable.

What we know is clear: modern wind turbines have more complex inspection requirements, must optimize output, and identify any issues before they become costly problems. All of these things have become a key aspect of a successful wind farm asset management strategy.

So, what’s the solution? Instead of relying on third-parties, moving to an in-house method for conducting inspections results in cheaper, faster, and higher quality inspections.

 

Making the Case for Drone Inspections

Rope inspections were the standard inspection method for a while, but drones have proven to be a more effective, faster, and safer option.

But just like rope inspections, most wind farms didn’t want to have in-house pilots and pay for expensive drones. Third-party drone inspections quickly became the go-to option.

Wind farms remained reliant on third parties to carry out annual inspections to identify equipment defects, potential output degradation, and other concerns that may lead to unplanned downtime.

Now, as technology has continued to evolve, drone inspections have become more accessible for in-house teams, highlighting the advantages of insourcing this process. From cheaper hardware to the rise of autonomous drone software — in-house inspections have never been easier and affordable.

Let’s break down some of the pros and cons to help you decide which tactic is more suitable for your wind farm asset management strategy.

 

Pros and Cons of Third-Party Drone Inspections

Pros of Third-Party Inspections

Third-party drone inspections were the standard for several years because of the benefits they provide. While many of these benefits have lessened over time, they’re still worth discussing:

  • Experienced drone pilots: Hiring a third party means benefiting from the experience of their drone pilots and technicians. You don’t need to incur the cost of cross-training personnel or hiring new team members. However, autonomous drone inspections have made this perk less significant.
  • No initial investment: You’ll only pay the agreed-upon rate, likely per inspection or an annual fee. These agreements sidestep the initial investment of upskilling technicians and buying drones.

Cons of Third-Party Inspections

Many of the benefits of third-party inspections have waned in recent years, and now there are plenty of drawbacks associated with them, including:

  • Scheduling difficulties: You’ll be working on the third party’s schedules, which are often annual inspections, at most. You may miss out on faults or defects that affect output, wearing down expensive components while waiting for inspections.
  • Higher costs per inspection: You’ll be paying for the time of an experienced drone pilot on top of the drone itself. While you may avoid the upfront investment of an in-house team, you’ll likely end up paying more in the long run.
  • Less control over inspections: Handling inspections also means you won’t have access to raw inspection data, you can’t dictate which areas should be inspected, and can’t conduct them whenever necessary. For example, if a major thunderstorm moves through the area, you may not be able to conduct an inspection if your provider is unavailable.

 

Pros and Cons of In-House Drone Inspections

In-house drone inspections refer to having the right personnel and equipment to conduct your own inspections. Some of the advantages of insourcing drone inspections include avoiding scheduling issues, being able to conduct ad hoc inspections, lowering your cost per inspection, improving operational efficiency throughout the farm, and protecting your wind farm investment.

Let’s discuss the pros and cons so you know what to expect.

Pros of In-house Inspections

In-house drone inspections have become more common and appealing in recent years. Let’s explore some of the benefits of handling this critical task in-house, which includes:

  • Workforce optimization: You don’t need to hire or train professional drone pilots now that autonomous drone technology is readily available. Current field staff can receive minimal training and be ready to put these drones to work.
  • Decrease asset downtime: Unplanned downtime can happen at any moment, and you also need to schedule downtime to conduct inspections. It’s much easier to manage and cut down on downtime when you’re in full control of inspections.
  • Inspect at a moment’s notice: You don’t need to wait for a third-party company to fit you into the schedule and reach the location. If a turbine requires an ad-hoc inspection, you can deploy a technician to inspect the equipment.
  • Reduce hardware costs: Hardware costs for the drones required for in-house inspections have dropped significantly in recent years. Choosing to bring inspections in-house allows you to leverage more affordable drone models, capping expenses, inclusive of batteries, and avoiding potentially higher costs associated with third-party services.

Cons of In-house Inspections

In-house inspections have emerged as possibly the best way to handle inspections. However, here are some of the factors to consider:

  • Requires initial investment in hardware and training: Acquiring drones and providing training involve an upfront investment. However, the reduced costs of drones and streamlined training processes make this a manageable expense. Hiring or training someone for drone maintenance is an additional consideration but ensures optimal performance.
  • Revising resource allocation: Shifting from third-party reliance to in-house inspections requires revisiting resource allocation. Adjustments are needed to empower in-house teams effectively. This operational change, though notable, is a manageable adjustment for long-term gains.
  • Regulatory compliance: Aviation and safety regulations may apply to drone flights depending on the area. Staying informed and ensuring team compliance will help mitigate any potential challenges, safeguarding against fines or penalties. Vigilance in adhering to regulations is a small price for the autonomy gained through in-house inspections.

 

Power Your In-House Drone Inspections with vHive

The cost of drones and advanced technology has enabled wind farms to stop relying on third parties for wind turbine inspections. Autonomous drone technology reduces a wind farm’s investment by cutting down on required expertise, hardware costs have come down, and maximizing the output and lifespan of your turbines can be fully in your control.

It’s clear that in-house drone inspections enable you to minimize costs, maximize output, and extend the lifespan of every turbine on the wind farm.

 

vHive’s autonomous drone software allows you to conduct faster, safer, and more accurate inspections entirely in-house. Are you ready to step into the future and put autonomous drones to work on your wind farm? Let’s talk.

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