For energy companies around the world, it's critical to keep employees and customers safe, and offer reliable service when people need it most.
Investor-owned utility company Evergy is no different. Serving over 1.7 million customers across Kansas and Missouri through its operating subsidiaries KCP&L and Westar, the 139-year-old company knows the importance of innovation in reaching those goals. In keeping with their relentless pursuit of worker safety and service uptime, Evergy decided to start their own in-house drone program in 2015—and they’ve never looked back since.
Soon after launching the new program, Evergy brought in Mike Kelly, Sr. UAS Coordinator, to lead the initiative. “We started off with a pretty basic visual inspection program with no full-time pilots or centralized processes,” says Kelly. “My job was to formalize the program around more stringent criteria and goals. Five years later, our fleet has grown to over a dozen drones manned by a host of operators who have been trained in flying drones for inspections.”
Using drones to accelerate inspections and improve worker safety
One of Kelly’s first tasks was to utilize drones within Evergy’s Transmission Department to inspect high voltage lines throughout Missouri and Kansas. Previously these inspections took dozens of hazardous worker hours to complete. With the voltage of such transmission towers varying between 34,000 - 345,000 volts, it’s very risky to have workers perform manual inspections—after all, as little as 42 volts of electricity can be lethal. Other dangers include the risk of falling from upwards of 150 feet in the air, and even the risk of fire.
It’s also time consuming to ensure the proper protocols are followed to keep workers as safe as possible. Kelly knew that adding drones to Evergy’s workflow would save time, enabling faster, less invasive inspections of transmission towers, substations and more.
“What traditionally took hours to inspect with a drone could now take minutes,” says Kelly. “So we always carried drones in the back of our truck and had them at our disposal. We could get the drone out of the back of the truck in less than five minutes and fly down the line, looking at multiple structures versus just one at a time. Plus, with the use of a drone we no longer had to put workers in harm's way by having them climb dangerous structures to perform visual inspections.”
In addition to saving time and keeping workers safe, Evergy’s drone program has led to happier customers. Not only are drone operators able to quickly identify active and potential issues with lines, they don’t have to encroach on customers’ property to do so.
“Instead of having bucket trucks driving through someone’s property, we can park at the nearest intersection by the line,” Says Kelly. “In most cases we can see far enough to be able to keep the drone within line of sight through our inspection. From that point, we can decide whether we need to fix the issue right away or schedule it for maintenance down the road.”
Scaling up with drone fleet management software
Like many drone programs, Evergy started managing their fleet without fleet management software. “We only had a handful of drone pilots at the time, and everything was manual—paper logs we’d then transfer to an Excel spreadsheet.”
According to Kelly, that was fine at first. But soon, Evergy outgrew their system of manual logs and data uploads. “Once we started training additional individuals within the company, we needed a solution that better managed all of those flights and the data as well.” In other words, Evergy needed to scale up their drone program—and that’s where Measure came in.
Measure Ground Control now helps Evergy to keep up with the general management of their drone fleet, including:
- Flight tracking
- Data collection, storage, processing, reporting and analysis
Complete Compliance and Flight Tracking
A major and immediate benefit Kelly has seen since incorporating Measure Ground Control is improved compliance—both governmental and internal.
“Being able to track the who, what, when, where and why of each drone flight automatically—and knowing that they’re following all rules of compliance—is an enormous time-saver,” Kelly tells us. “And we’re not just talking about compliance under the FAA Part 107 regulations, but also our internal policies and procedures, which I can add as pre-flight checklists within Measure.”
For major energy companies, cybersecurity is a serious concern. You’re dealing with major pieces of infrastructure on a daily basis, and you don’t want that information getting into the wrong hands. And if you have a highly sought-after government contract, you need to make sure that your cybersecurity is robust, modern and impenetrable.
Much of the original cybersecurity concerns stem from flying drones through their default application software while online. While using default apps is typically fine for hobbyists, it’s not sufficient for organizations looking to guard against aggressive cyber attacks. Before Measure, Evergy used a work-around solution that was time-consuming and resulted in delays between capturing and analyzing data.
“Before Measure, we had a long pre-flight checklist.” Kelly tells us, “We had to check every flight to make sure we’re flying in offline mode. And then, once we collect the data we’d scan the cards—just a whole list of things like that.”
According to Kelly, flying through the Measure app streamlines those processes and eliminates those cybersecurity concerns. “Being able to fly the aircraft through a separate application like Measure—which has US-based servers and their own security measures—really helped give our security folks a lot of comfort. It’s a lot less restrictive and it saves us a lot of time as well.”
Seamless Data Integration and Reporting
Among the most significant of Evergy’s day-to-day challenges was being able to integrate raw data with their own data and reporting systems—something they’ve been able to do with ease since incorporating Measuring into their daily operations.
“Integrating drone data with our existing workflows is key. We're now able to take the raw data and imagery we collect, and turn it into a usable format or report that we can send to various work groups. Those groups can then make decisions based off of that inspection report, driving our work and scheduling.”
Prior to Measure, Kelly and the Evergy team relied heavily on Excel spreadsheets. Though the process worked, it wasn’t exactly scalable. The previous process involved:
- Opening each individual image
- Investigating each image
- Jotting down notes in an Excel spreadsheet inspection form
- Trying to correlate those images to the spreadsheet
With Measure, the process has been streamlined significantly. “Now we can upload all the data and Measure drops it on a map, right by the structures. We can click on the image, annotate it, and assign severity levels and then generate a report. It’s much more user-friendly.”
A Partner in Measure
In addition to providing fleet management software that has helped Evergy successfully scale their drone program, Mike Kelly has found a true partner with Measure.
“Working with Measure has been great,” Kelly tells us. “They’ve been there to help at any given moment. From having regular meetings throughout the year to discuss how things are going to one-on-one emails and calls, Measure has been very good to work with.”
Kelly stresses that Measure’s customer service has helped Evergy shape the Ground Control app to work within the Evergy team’s existing needs and processes. “The Measure team has been able to handle any changes we need and requests we send their way very quickly and professionally.”
How Can Measure Help You Grow Your Drone Program?
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