EnWin starts using drones for inspections, maintenance

'The technology will allow us to get a good look, at close range, at power lines and transformers'



Drones will now be used to conduct inspections and help in routine maintenance of hard-to-access infrastructure owned by EnWin Utilities in Windsor, Ont.

EnWin has received a standing Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada, and is now fully licensed to employ the technology for infrastructure assessment and inspection, the publicly owned utility announced.

While the company has already used drones on a limited basis recently, a demonstration flight was held at noon Wednesday. Jean Pepin is EnWin's lead drone pilot.

CBC's Meg Roberts was there for the demonstration and shot the video below:

Drones will be used to routinely check EnWin transformers, power lines and other infrastructure.

"The technology will allow us to get a good look, at close range, at power lines and transformers, often detecting a potential problem before it becomes a danger," EnWin CEO and president Helga Reidel said in a new release.

EnWin says that if the power does go out for any reason, including a storm, the utility can use the drones to locate and assess the cause, without the time and expense of sending out a crew and a truck.

EnWin put a drone to use after a tornado ripped through a part of Windsor in August.

"The Aug. 24 tornado gave us a chance to see EnWin's drones in action for the first time," Windsor Fire Chief Bruce Montone said. "They have capabilities that can help prevent, assess and manage fires, as well as enhance our community emergency management in the event of a declared city emergency."


EnWin used a drone to capture this shot of a downed power line after a tornado Aug. 24. (EnWin Utilities)

Further benefits of working with drones include a reduction in costs related to infrastructure inspection, timely assessment, repair and restoration. Using them will free up skilled workers to repair and upgrade equipment, EnWin says.

The utility claims drones will also improve response times, and help avoid potential emergency situations.

Brian Manninger, of IBEW Local 636, which represents hydro workers at EnWin had no idea EnWin was looking into drones until CBC reached him by phone early Wednesday. He had no initial comment. He said he was to meet with EnWin management Wednesday afternoon.

Drones said to save money

Across the Detroit River, officials in Michigan have also started experimenting with drones.

In 2014, state transportation officials there conducted a study with the Michigan Tech Research Institute that found drones potentially useful for a range of transportation tasks, from assessing bridge decks and monitoring traffic to processing thermal data and inspecting confined spaces.

The first study determined that drones are safe, reliable, less expensive and help keep workers out of harm's way, said Steven Cook, a Michigan Department of Transportation engineer.

"A traditional bridge inspection for example typically involves setting up work zones, detouring traffic and using heavy equipment," Cook said in a statement. "(Drones) can get in and get out quickly."

Michigan officials estimate that a standard bridge deck inspection takes eight hours, a crew of four people and heavy equipment at a cost of about $4,600 US. The same inspection with a drone takes two people just two hours at an estimated cost of about $250 US.

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