To Fly or to Crawl
With unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) becoming more advanced, easier to use and more functional, many asset maintenance teams are taking advantage of the tech. But how do they compare to crawlers? Is one robot superior to the other? Should they be used in conjunction with each other? In short, which is better – or do they both have a place in your NDT inspection armoury?
The simple answer is that they both bring something to the party. The more extended version we delve into below…
To Fly or to Crawl? That is The Question…
Let’s first determine exactly what each technology is capable of.
Crawlers can carry out inspection and NDT on a wide variety of assets. Tankers, pipelines, pressure vessels, ex-rated locations… The list is long and, while most are usually used on ferrous metals, advanced crawler options can adhere to a variety of surfaces. These robots can carry out many tasks, including:
- Visual inspection.
- NDT – such as UT, thermal, leak testing, radiography and more.
- They can traverse complex geography.
- They can enter non-oxygen and hazardous atmospheres.
- They can enter narrow pipelines.
In short, as technology brings us more and more advances, crawler robots are able to perform virtually all the visual and NDT tasks that have historically been performed by humans.
The common consensus is that UAVs, on the other hand, are only really useful for solely inspection tasks. Or – at least – that’s what the majority of people think (and so does Google, if you do a cursory online search – living proof that you really shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet).
Today’s tech means this bold statement couldn’t be further from the truth. The latest UAVs are more than capable of performing many NDT elements – and doing so in record time and with extreme accuracy.
Examples of cutting-edge UAV deployment for NDT (and inspection) purposes include:
- Infrared thermography: Equipping a UAV with a high-resolution thermal imaging camera is a fast and cost-effective manner in which to analyse any heat leakages.
- Laser vibrometry: This acoustic NDT method can be achieved via UAV, where the sound source and laser measuring equipment are mounted on the drone and flown close to the surfaces to be tested.
- LIDAR: Utilising LIDAR technology allows a highly accurate 3D map to be built. For example, Flyability’s Elios 3 platform has recently been launched and provides this upgrade. The advantages this brings are nothing short of miraculous. Not only can the UAV fly in tightly confined spaces and return highly accurate visual data, but the addition of LIDAR makes this a truly versatile inspection tool.
As you can see, both crawler and aerial inspection vehicles have their strengths. The wise maintenance manager doesn’t simply think about which one is better. Instead, they consider which one is better for the task at hand. The complexity of inspection and NDT means that no two jobs are the same. Each has its own unique challenges and, therefore, often requires a bespoke approach.
While both UAVs and crawlers are highly efficient inspection tools, comparing the two is akin to asking whether a ferry or an aircraft is better. Both have their pros and cons – it really depends on what you want to achieve from the journey that counts.
And this is where partnering with an equipment specialist who analyses the challenges of the inspection and/or NDT that needs to be carried out before considering what the right tool (or tools) for the job might be is key. Versatile UAVs, like the Elios 3, might be the answer. Or, perhaps an advanced crawler, such as the Snowcat could be better suited. With both being customisable according to inspection needs, you’ll probably be surprised as to the art of the possible…
Find out more about Advanced Aerial Inspection with Elios 3.