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  • Team Volar Alta

Powering Boiler Inspection With Drone Technology


Boilers play a significant part in the functioning of industrial settings. The heat generated by fuel combustion is transferred to the boiler via a hot flue gas. The heat then turns water into steam to drive turbines and generates electricity. Boilers are massive cuboids with a height of about 60 meters. Their walls comprise pipes bursting with circulating water for a cooler edifice. The black liquor is suckled inside the furnace over nozzles and burned at higher temperatures.


Since boilers provide heat and power to machines and equipment, their flawless operation is crucial for coal-fired power plants and industrial manufacturing facilities. But the main question is – how to inspect the boiler thoroughly within frequent intervals?


Traditional inspection has an array of loopholes owing to the inaccessibility to reach confined areas of the boilers. Besides, it is an expensive and time-consuming procedure, involving a threat to workers' lives. As it is done manually, there is always a scope for human error in interpreting data derived during the inspection. So what can be done to eradicate these issues? The answer is simple- leveraging drone technology!


Many questions might pop up in your mind regarding the drone inspection. Let us dive into the inventive world of drones and understand how they can be advantageous for maintaining industrial assets.


How a drone inspection of a boiler is a healthier alternative to the traditional one?


Manually inspecting a boiler puts you across a bounty of technical challenges as it contains multifarious tiny pieces of steel which are required to be closely examined. Do you know that even a single abrasion in the steel pipes can disrupt the boiler’s functioning if left unidentified and unrepaired?


During the traditional inspection, the low-pressurized water is propelled across the steel pipes to check for the potential spots through which it can escape. However, drones can do the same task, yet in a different way! They cruise through the complex areas inside the boilers, such as pipes, to capture visual images and detect leakages or other anomalies. Besides, the drones are also collision-proof, enabling them to travel flexibly in the boilers without the fear of breaking down.

Picture : Flyability

Drones are embedded with state-of-the-art tech integrations like multiple sensors, wireless transmission systems, and oblique lighting. Thus, they can view the darkest and hard-to-reach surfaces and their depth which the direct light source can squander. They provide live visuals to the pilot, which can be digitally archived on board. Afterwards, the company's members and rope access specialists review the footage to determine which boiler parts need maintenance.


If the same inspection had been done manually, the workers would erect a scaffolding to reach inside the boiler and search for the inconsistencies using a flashlight which take many hours to complete. Not to mention, the drone can collect HD visual data to generate an insightful report in an hour. Can you imagine how much downtime could be cut-down if drones are deployed for inspection? Undoubtedly, they will skyrocket the plant's operational efficiency to a significant level.


What are the challenges of traditional inspection, and how are drones combating them?


The manual or traditional inspection method requires a large workforce, expensive scaffolding, and interaction with hazardous exteriors of the boilers. However, it is more than what meets the eye! The following are the significant challenges associated with manual inspections, which can be resolved by leveraging drone technology.


1. Reducing the costs:


As you know, workers must build scaffolding to get inside the boiler. This step costs around $20,000 for each boiler and many hours or days to set up and construct the scaffolding. Likewise, the boilers must be shut down during the inspection and reparation work, leading to a loss of millions. Drones eliminate the need for scaffolding, saving extensive man-hours and shutdown time.


2. Non-interaction with an unsafe environment:


A boiler retains dust and other deposits like calcium, iron, magnesium, aluminum, silica, copper, and silt in its topmost furnace. These deposits can impair workers' visuals and trigger respiratory ailments. According to a study in 2019, 38% of workers had asbestosis, whereas 45% experienced pleural plaques, owing to their interactions with the boiler’s hazardous interiors. The drones conduct the safety assessment of the boiler's condition without human involvement. Likewise, the inspectors need not climb to assess the ash hopper.


3. Maintenance within regular timeframes:


Boilers are steam-generation assets in which deposition is a crucial issue. The accumulation of certain deposits on its surface can result in corrosion and overheating, eventually leading to unscheduled downtime. Therefore, drones can improve the frequency of inspections to detect such issues, ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of the equipment with timely reparation.


4. Limiting the emission of harmful gases:


The air emissions from factory boilers include nitrogen oxides and unstable organic compounds. They amalgamate under the sunlight to generate ground-level ozone, reducing the life cycle of the boiler. In addition, it also causes asthma, lung damage, and irritated eyes. Such emissions can be restricted to a certain level by checking and averting leaks and other defects in a boiler using drones.


5. Deterring inevitable accidents:


On 4th June 2022, 12 people lost their lives, and 20 got injured after a boiler explosion. This unfortunate incident occurred at a chemical factory in the Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh. If the steel pipes leak or if there is any other defect in the boiler's components, it can propel the heat pressure. Using drones, you can facilitate good upkeep of the boilers, fixing the anomalies in time before they become a life-claiming disaster. You cannot even imagine how many precious lives proper asset maintenance can save!


The Summary

The boilers' burners, tubes, and complex openings are challenging to access during a manual inspection. But the same task can be simplified by utilizing drone technology. Industries such as oil and gas, paper and pulp, power generation, construction, manufacturing etc., can deploy drones to inspect the boilers on-site to keep their operation in top condition without incurring losses due to downtime or scaffolding. Indeed, drones are the new ray of light, bringing efficiency, automation, and safety into boiler inspections!


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