Flying high: drones and FM
Do you need a drone in your life? ARIAN BAHRAMSARI looks at the many and varied ways they can be used in facility management.
Drones are becoming more ubiquitous in our world and are increasing in importance in their potential to have an impact upon our lives. These unmanned aerial systems attract plenty of attention and they’re also well on their way to being accepted tools in the FM world.
There is significant scope for drones to be used in facility management, including security, façade and roof inspection, and solar and thermal inspection… to name just a few.
Drones could be deployed as part of facility security activities. Traditional CCTVs (closed- circuit televisions) are limited to static coverage and position, whereas drones can be directed to any suspect areas and blind spots. There is a strong potential for them to deliver better coverage and tactical advantage compared to traditional fixed systems.
On a large open facility, a drone could provide security staff with an aerial view of the entire facility without workers having to step foot into a potentially unsafe area. In some facilities drones are programmed in line with motion and light sensors to spot and track intruders and even recognise number plates.
Consider the top section of a building façade that is hard to reach by a ladder or requires other major equipment to access. The advent of drones with high-resolution cameras gives facility managers inch-by-inch precision in inspecting the façade. Drones can be particularly useful for facility managers conducting routine inspections to find out if:
- there is any corrosion or hairline cracks on the façade
- window seals have deteriorated
- there is a need to tag and measure vertical stones, panels and structure
- paint on the façade has peeled off and needs further evaluation, or
- there is water damage/staining on the bottom of slab soffit because of overflow pipes or disconnected downpipes.
This is one of the main reasons to deploy a drone, especially when it comes to multiple facilities with very large roofs. It goes without saying that using a drone to evaluate roofs will improve safety and reduce the associated risks and cost of working at heights for facility managers.
Drones can be beneficial tools in roof inspection in several ways:
- One interesting feature of drones is the ability to scan the roof with an infrared camera, enabling facility managers to analyse roof conditions to spot potential or existing roof leaks. They can identify trouble spots, which are not easily detected on a visual inspection.
- Facility managers can get a superior insight on the position of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) units and roof-mounted plants and be well-prepared to deal with possible future issues and forthcoming developments.
- Drones also have a growing place in the future of inspection of asbestos roof surveys. Normally, asbestos roofs are too flimsy for staff to conduct physical assessment and they may collapse with the weight of a person walking on them.
- Loose items and unsecured materials, such as dislocated cowls on roofs, can be blown around and pose serious risks. Facility managers can eliminate these hazards through the visual aids provided by drones.
- Roof hail damage insurance reports are possible through the use of GPS-equipped drones.
Other valuable possibilities for facility managers are the use of drones for glazing inspections, chimney and spire checks, sprinkler tank examinations, skylight assessment – and even for checking for birds’ nests.
With the widespread adoption of rooftop solar photovoltaic systems, drones can offer a range of detailed surveying services for maintaining the energy efficiency of solar panels.
They may assist facility managers to map out the roof and get an accurate measurement required for solar cell installations.
Aerial imagery provided by drones can also be used to identify solar panel faults such as dysfunctional cells, shades/objects on panels and dead/hot spots on the roof.
Aerial thermal technology can capture heat loss, moisture, refrigerant lines, poorly insulated areas, and malfunctioning heating and cooling equipment on the roof. Thermal scanning of a building can also gather information about the roof’s sealing performance and generate thermographic images for facility managers.
Thermal imaging can be used to monitor heat escaping and building’s energy loss and create CAD (computer aided design) topographic models of the building envelope.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE …
Drones can also be deployed to make sure that employees are using appropriate personal protective equipment and safety systems correctly. They can be used for inspecting wind turbines and power lines, job progress tracking, illegal storage on balconies, clothing lines and the illegal dumping of rubbish in an area.
Being a drone ‘pilot’ is not an obligation for facility managers as yet, but this could change in the next few years and companies may add this skill to their required hiring criteria.
RULES FOR FACILITY MANAGERS TO FLY DRONES
The primary function of CASA (the Australian Government’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority) is to conduct the safety regulation of civil air operations in Australia.
As facilities management is a commercial operation, facility managers are required to get in line with standard operating conditions listed on CASA’s website. Rules vary depending on the weight of the drone. When operating in this commercial category, it is essential that you review the information, instructions, reading material and standard operating conditions listed on the CASA website.
For drones weighing between 100 grams and two kilograms, there is no need to hold a RPA Operator Certificate (ReOC) or a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL). If a remotely piloted aircraft weighs over two kilograms, however, facility managers will need to hold a ReOC or RePL.
Arian Bahramsari is a Melbourne-based facility manager.
This article also appears in the Feb/Mar issue of Facility Management magazine.