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Leading from the Home Front

Like many CEOs right now, I’m running my company from my home. After more than twenty years working from our headquarters in Carlow, Ireland, it’s been quite the change.

In March, when Ireland first went into Covid-19 lockdown, I converted my kids’ playroom into an office, creating a business hub within the house. It worked well, at least initially, as I reclaimed a lot of time previously spent travelling between our international offices. My family was happy too — previously I was away 30-50% of the time, whereas now I was based downstairs, focusing on managing and adapting Delmec’s operations across 40 countries.

As time progressed, though, the lack of social interaction began to take its toll. Delmec is a lively place, bringing together engineers and executives from all over the world to strategise solutions: I missed the energy of the office, and the day-to-day conversations with my colleagues. I knew I’d need to put a plan in place to help me cope with the transition, mentally as well physically.

The solution came with establishing a rigid routine: I’d start the day with a 5km run at 6am, followed by a good breakfast. To mimic my old commute, I’d drive for a take-away coffee at 7:15, and be back at my desk for 8am. Once there, I’d dive into regular phone calls with my management team and close clients — I’m a hands-on leader, and I like to be involved.

My stomach starts rumbling by 12:30, and I usually leave home again to grab some lunch. After that, it’s onto reviewing plans, discussing strategies and checking in with overseas sites. As a company, Delmec adapted quickly to the change in circumstances because all our systems are online. We deliberately designed them that way, so our international offices can work together seamlessly, while thousands of miles apart. I try to call it a day by 6pm GMT, and head out for a brisk walk or a game of tennis to wind down and clear my head.

We’re fortunate to be able to continue our work from home, but it’s not without its challenges. Just as before, leadership is about care as well as guidance. I soon realised that like me, our staff were missing the social interaction of the office, and I needed to support them through this change. We launched policies and initiatives to keep people connected as well as safe: our teams meet once a week and each person spends two days physically in the office. For newer staff members, we have extra support, with on-site training and induction with a designated supervisor. Our hope is that this new framework will help us to foster more workplace flexibility once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

The initiatives have been well-received; we had predicted some hiccups, but were surprised by a few softer issues too. We’ve worked hard to build a culture of support and encouragement at Delmec, and we understand the need to evolve as we all adjust to a new working environment. We don’t know what the coming months or even years will hold for us in our industry, but adapting is something we’re good at in Delmec. Whether it’s from a mast 500 feet in the air or at the desk in my kids’ playroom, I’m proud to be leading an incredible team into a bright future, whatever it might look like.

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TowerXchange Forum on Drones & Digital Twins

Delmec proudly sponsored the latest TowerXchange Data Collection & Utilisation Working Group forum, focusing on ‘The Application of Drones and Digital Twins’. The popular event, which took place on the 17th September, brought together leading stakeholders from around the world to drive enhanced data strategy within the global tower industry. 

Participants gathered to examine the potential of drones and digital twins, discussing their projected evolutions and asking ‘what promise do they hold, what limitations still exist and are towerco data sets ready to get the most out of them?’

Key Findings

A number of key findings were highlighted by the TowerXchange team, who found that the use of drones in the TowerCo industry is inevitable. While the technology’s capabilities are still being reviewed, those companies already using drones found the data to be good, if not better than that obtained through conventional techniques.

Damien Kelly – Delmec’s Head of Engineering and Innovation – spoke at the event, sharing his expertise and experience with the audience. He emphasised the importance of data in crafting client solutions, particularly with regard to Capex reduction and more efficient overall portfolio management. Drone technology offers many benefits in the collection of data and may also pay for itself in the long run. “Predictive maintenance is a clear advantage of using drones,” Damien said. “This can also act as a strong metric to calculate the ROI of using this technology.”

He cautioned that drone technology isn’t yet the answer to all TowerCo challenges, though. “Using drones in favour of current processes needs to be thoroughly thought out due to the vastly different capabilities when compared to the standard approach,” he noted, pointing out that regulation is a major limitation cited by TowerCos when it comes to using drones on their sites.

Analysing more important than Visualising

For the most part, analysing is more important than visualising; by themselves, drone images offer very little, but the ability to index, search and interpret the data is potentially game-changing. Suppliers offer varying capabilities in this regard – some are involved in simple data capture, others develop platforms to support their drones’ usage, and some even add a layer of artificial intelligence.

It’s important to choose carefully when selecting suppliers, as companies have different strengths. While the technology is rapidly becoming more sophisticated, tower owners strongly advocate for standardisation and open formats to enable wider choice and enhanced flexibility in the supply chain. It was also noted that Building Information Modelling standards are likely to become the norm in the tower infrastructure space.

For many towercos, the platforms’ immaturity and the challenge of their integration are key barriers to the introduction of digital twin technology. Most companies are currently keeping digital twin data separate from other data pools, but integration is important going forward and inevitably, operations will need to adjust their workflow to adapt to this. Complete, reliable and well-organised baseline data will be vital in fulfilling the potential offered by this technology.

Additionally, some companies cite uncertain ROI as giving them pause for thought, even as the industry has identified a number of clear use cases. This concern will likely fade as more use cases emerge. One such example is monetising the data that was initially collected for internal purposes: other operations, including those outside of the industry, may be willing to contribute to the technology’s cost in return for access to the information obtained by drones.

Smart Solutions

Delmec’s renowned infrastructure management skills enable clients to optimise value from their tower assets, and as a result the team are actively involved in utilising cutting-edge technology to bolster this key service. We will continue to explore the application of drone and digital twin technologies within our field, engaging with leading technology experts around the world to create smart solutions to our clients’ toughest challenges.

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Drones: Delmec’s Eyes in the Sky

As in any business, telecommunications tower companies (telcos) are always looking for ways to make their work better, safer and more cost-efficient. One of the most popular advancements in this area is drone usage. We’ve all seen these machines in action, whether in photography, security or even on our shopping channels – an Amazon or Domino’s drone may soon be winging its way to your door. 

Drones have become increasingly popular since the Covid-19 pandemic limited traditional site  inspections, particularly during periods of restricted travel. Gartner Inc. recently announced that 2020 sales of enterprise (flying) drones increased by 50% since 2019. They point to construction, insurance and government institutions as rapid adopters of this technology.

In the telco field, drones are increasingly being used to conduct telecoms infrastructure surveys, providing up-to-date information on towers without the need for specialist climbing teams or safety equipment. Delmec is watching this development closely; the technology is progressing quickly, and we intend to be at the forefront of this newest evolution in our industry.

The Drones

Delmec has used drones as part of our services for years, adapting our existing systems as the machines’ abilities grow. Our clients trust our expertise and experience and rely on our technological innovation. We’re currently developing a solution which will allow us to use drones for due diligence surveys, where we help clients to get an accurate understanding of what a proposed purchase really entails – we hope to issue this shortly. We also plan to use them for line of sight surveys and they will be especially useful for emergency site investigations, particularly if the towers are too dangerous to climb or access is blocked. 

However, the data collected by the current range of drones effectively entails detailed photographs of the tower. These images are then converted into point clouds, which combine to build a picture of the tower on our computer screens.

Most drone types can gather this type of visual intelligence, although to a varying degree of accuracy or usefulness: for example, they can’t yet judge steel grades, coating thickness or stay wire tensions. Their MM accuracy is slowly improving and they are only now being used to determine tower geometry and material sizes. In this regard, experienced engineers such as ours are often still needed to collect and analyse critical data. 

The Software

The most exciting development in this field is not the use of drones themselves, but the software that processes the information. This is becoming increasingly adept, utilising algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) to assess complex issues onsite. Companies such as AirMap, Visual Intelligence and Bentley are adapting their software to allow for a range of drone enhancements and integrations, including:

  • Digital Twinning – this is a useful application that allows comparison between what’s currently on site and what has been designed for the site, i.e., what the revenue models are based on. Ensuring complete adherence to revenue models will reduce the $6bn that PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate is lost to tower owners globally in this way.
  • Ancillary Comparison – by comparing what’s currently on site with what was there in the past, companies can ensure that they’re only being charged for facilities currently in place. Again, this will allow us to deliver even better value to our clients. 
  • Design Solutions – improved drone software offers more accurate dimensions, allowing for better strengthening solutions or new tower design. These will help us offer economic solutions to our clients, saving them large amounts of material, time, and expense.
  • Intelligent Maintenance – by identifying and targeting known risk issues, maintenance can be deployed more accurately and efficiently. Such improvements will assist Delmec in our national and international maintenance operations.
  • Structural Assessment – making major engineering decisions will become easier and safer when used in conjunction with up-to-date data and effective modelling. This will also help to minimise site visits and reduce costs. 

The Future

Delmec is continuously expanding our drone and data collection ability, working with software development teams around the world to ensure our clients benefit from the most advanced technology available. 

We’re also actively adapting our Telecoms Information Management System (TiMs) and its online app to process data from drones in real-time, assisting or perhaps eventually replacing our teams on the ground, whether they’re in Africa, Asia or Europe. Our smart data management already reduces administration by up to 50%: improved drone usage, software integration and AI will represent a major leap forward in this regard. Over time, these advancements will allow us to use drones to make engineering assessments and determine outcomes and solutions to onsite problems. Eventually, drones may even become capable of performing remote engineering tasks, moving from passive inspections to autonomous missions at the flick of a switch.  

Drones are undoubtedly becoming a key tool in our industry, and we fully intend to utilise this exciting new technology to add value for our clients, at home and abroad.