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?’
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.
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.