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African Petrochemicals is Africa’s leading bi-monthly print and digital trade magazine featuring all the latest petrochemical industry news, special reports, technological advances etc.

The real and virtual worlds are integrating at a steadily increased pace, the Internet of Things is pushing the evolutionary journey towards the fourth industrial revolution with various far-reaching consequences.

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Skyriders soars with latest drone technology from Switzerland

The latest inspection technology for indoor and confined spaces has been introduced to South Africa by Skyriders, which has acquired an Elios collision-tolerant drone from Flyability of Switzerland.

The leading rope-access specialist has already deployed drone technology specifically for visual inspection purposes in indoor environments like the large coal fired boilers and ducting at Eskom. The problem with using traditional drones is that they tend to lose their GPS tracking and stability when used indoors, which means that exceptional piloting skills are required.

“We then came across the Elios drone from Flyability,” Skyriders Marketing Manager Mike Zinn adds. The Skyriders pilot went to Switzerland in September 2017 for extensive training in terms of the  European process and Elios procedures, and now has all the necessary documentation in place for the Elios drone to be operated locally.


The Elios drone includes a full HD camera a thermal camera and an onboard LED lighting system with remotely-adjustable intensity

“The drone is already in use at a major petrochemical company in Mpumalanga. They were extremely impressed, as this now means they have access to parts of their plants not accessible to visual inspection before, as either visibility was too poor, or it was too costly to do so,” Zinn elaborates.

“The fact that it is collision-tolerant means now not only can we only enter furnace areas, but can go right up to a burner, for example. It opens up huge possibilities for us. With certain limitations, the Elios drone can even be flown ‘blind’,” he highlights. This means a repeater can be placed in a boiler, for example, whereupon the drone can be flown in from the outside. A sufficiently experienced pilot can fly around without having to enter the structure at all.

By enabling remote visual inspection in any indoor environment, the Elios drone means that technicians no longer have to enter hazardous areas themselves, or be exposed to potentially dangerous situations. Another major benefit is the speed with which a visual inspection can be carried out, slashing the time required from days to mere hours.

The Elios drone includes a full HD camera, a thermal camera, and an onboard LED lighting system with remotely-adjustable intensity. This means that an array of onboard tools is available for any lighting conditions. A cutting-edge wireless communications system with a live video feedback means that the drone can be brought into usually inaccessible places up to many hundred metres beyond the line of sight.

The Elios Ground station comprises a remote controller, a tablet, and a purpose-designed ground-control application, providing the pilot with live data, an SD live video stream captured by the drone, and all the information and controls on hand for efficient and safe remote operation. In addition, the drone is dust- and splash-resistant, and can operate in environments from 0°C and 50°C.

Skyriders has also sub-contracted its Elios Drone team out to various third-party inspection companies to assist them with inspection work. Zinn reveals that Skyriders is in the process of training additional pilots, and ordering a second Elios drone in order to allow it to expand its remote visual-inspection capability. “The new Elios drone sets a new benchmark in inspection technology in South Africa,” he concludes.

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