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Automated, Cognitive and Connected

Emerging technology and its application within the renewable energy sector by Ciarán Dennehy within the EMEA Maximo Centre of Excellence, Deloitte

Organisations within the renewable energy sector face continuous pressure to reduce operational and maintenance costs. This is combined with an increased demand to provide a higher return on investment across the full lifecycle of generation plants.

To meet these pressures, asset managers and engineers are increasingly turning to innovative and emerging disruptive technologies in the form of the Internet of Things, drones and cloud computing platforms.

Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones are already being used to perform surveys and visual inspections of high value assets in support of preventative maintenance strategies across the power generation sector in Ireland.  The use cases for drones in visual inspections include: transmission and distribution infrastructure; civil and electrical balance of plant; thermal and renewable power generation plant inspections and where there is a requirement for helicopter access for inspection purposes.

The current process of drone based visual inspections on assets requires a licenced commercial drone pilot, a subject matter expert in the specific asset being inspected and appropriate conditions on site.  The drone is flown around the asset, images are taken and subsequently reviewed by an engineer to look for any damage or degradation of the asset.  Where an issue is detected on the image review, an inspection engineer will escalate this to a maintenance team in order to rectify the issue.  The data captured from these inspections is becoming increasingly valuable to asset managers, maintenance engineers and O.E.M’s.  It provides insights into asset condition and uncovers potential issues that may cause asset downtime.  

Within the renewables sector, this process has significantly less risk and lower cost as compared to previous climbing works for wind turbine inspections.  However, it is still a time consuming process, requires the input and organisation of several different resources along with ideal weather conditions to be completed.  Deloitte are working with clients in the Irish renewable energy sector to leverage emerging, disruptive and innovative technologies to enable visual inspection process improvement, automation and optimisation.  

Our specialised resources in enterprise asset management (EAM), renewable energy technologies and cognitive cloud computing have developed a solution using drones for automated visual inspections.  These inspections consist of automated, unmanned drone flights which are automatically scheduled in line with required weather conditions.  The solution automatically recognises potential inspection issues and auto-creates a corrective work request, which includes the image of the issue and its location.  A qualified SME can then review and progress if required.

IBM Maximo is the leading Enterprise Asset management solution within the energy sector.  Within the Deloitte IBM Maximo Centre of Excellence for EMEA, based in Dublin, we have developed an automated solution for visual inspections and image analysis of energy related assets including wind turbines.  The solution utilises the following components:

  • IBM Maximo - The leading Enterprise Asset Management solution across multiple industries including energy.
  • IBM Bluemix - A cloud based platform for development of applications and infrastructure.
  • IBM Watson Services - Cloud services leveraging deep analytics to recognise certain attributes in images.
  • DJI products - A global consumer drone company and their software.

The two key attributes which support the solution are:

1.    Autonomous and standardised flight routes of drones around wind turbines.  The pre-programmed flights use GPS, which results in recurring exact points of image capture over the lifetime of the asset.  This negates the reliance on specialist drone operators to perform the inspection, while still remaining within the limits of the Irish Aviation Authorities regulations around drone use.

2.    Cognitive visual recognition services for image processing.  Each service is trained to a specific set of characteristics.  The longer the service is used and trained, the more accurate it becomes.

The results of these two key attributes are an increase in the number of assets which can be inspected, resulting in decreased costs, decreased associated health and safety risks and automation of the review of images.  Our autonomous drone inspection process takes approximately 30 minutes.  This provides an increase on manual drone based inspections from 10-12 to 15-20 turbines per day per drone, and a vast increase from the 2-5 turbines in previous manual climbing inspections.

Deloitte are working with energy clients to provide strategic input and technical services around emerging and innovative technologies within Ireland and across EMEA.  The drone industry as part of the larger Internet of Things technology trend is just one of many emerging technologies which we expect to continue to change the way we do business and how we provide increased value services to our clients.

The Deloitte EMEA Maximo COE is based in Dublin, Ireland and specialises in Maximo implementations, integrations, upgrades and extensions across multiple industries including energy and utilities.

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