Earlier this year, Netherlands-based Global Drone Inspection (GDI) was formed to meet increasing demand for specialist drone and ROV inspections, particularly in the maritime sector.
A sister to the established Robotics in Maintenance Strategies (RIMS), a class approved Unnamed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) inspection services provider, GDI now sits alongside RIMS while offering a different service portfolio based around the inspection of assets by drones and ROVs. Meanwhile, RIMS will support clients with the development and integration of new technologies into their maintenance strategies.
Currently, GDI is offering UAV inspections of cargo holds, ballast tanks, hull areas and cranes, among other parts of a vessel, and underwater ROV inspections of the hull, stern tube seal, propeller, rudder and bow thrusters.
David Knukkel, GDI’s chief executive, says: “With RIMS, we started with a drone which was originally designed for search and rescue purposes in the Alps and brought that technology into the marine industry. We have now added ROVs for the inspection of in-water ship assets, taking advantage of the fact that ROV prices are coming down to a reasonable level while they are also becoming easier to transport.”
GDI uses technology from Blueye Robotics, which offers a small ROV that provides high-definition video recordings and images. The equipment can live stream video, enabling real-time decisions about vessel repairs and maintenance to be taken.
Knukkel envisions GDI building on the pioneering work undertaken through RIMS. He explains: “Outdoor inspections were not new, but we were the first company flying in enclosed spaces in ships and the first to become an approved service provider for all the major classification societies, using remote inspection technology to support surveys by providing visual close-ups remotely. This means that no scaffolding is required and in some cases where thickness measurement is not needed, the requirement for human entry into tanks can be avoided completely.”
Demand for remote drone and ROV surveys is growing within the shipping industry and Knukkel is confident it will increase further over time. “Although the industry was sceptical to begin with, we can see that awareness and acceptance is growing and now the larger classification societies are promoting and accepting the use of the technology,” he says.
“At this stage the main focus is on the inspection of cargo tanks on large vessels as this is where the financial benefits are the biggest.”
Knukkel also highlights the important safety benefits of using drones to inspect enclosed spaces. “While many people feel the risks are properly mitigated by traditional inspection procedures, we all know that people still die by entering enclosed spaces,” he points out. “On top of that there are many near misses and accidents relating to slippery areas which are hard to reach and accessible only by climbing on the tank structure.”
Notable recent projects carried out by GDI have included the inspection of two chemical tankers during their intermediate and special surveys. GDI inspected the vessels with the drone operator standing on the deck, making video footage of the transverse and longitudinal bulkheads. The inspections of the vessels were completed in less than 1.5 days, with one ship inspected during a port stay and another during a drydocking period. Thereafter, GDI prepared a report for the client and for class.
Having established a presence in the remote inspection market with its drones and ROVs, GDI aims to expand the scale and scope of the operation, investing in new thickness measurement technology and increasing its service portfolio by getting its ROV inspection service class approved as well. The company also plans to expand its geographic coverage by setting up local service stations or working with reliable partings in strategically important locations.
Knukkel adds: “We have procedures and facilities in place to train pilots if required and we even have a drone simulator to train people in the basic inspection and navigating skills at home.”