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Using drones and 3D models for asset inspection

How drone and digital twin technology reduced safety risks and saved time and money at Mt Piper Power Station

The project

Energy Australia is upgrading two 700MW-capacity turbines at Mt Piper Power Station near Lithgow, NSW. One turbine was taken offline for maintenance works in Q4 2020, with the second turbine due to be upgraded in Q4 this year. The upgrade means Mt Piper will be able to power an extra 55,000 homes without having to burn more coal.

Part of the maintenance works involved inspecting the concrete cooling towers for cracks and degradation. Coates Hire visually assessed the assets and developed a digital map of the tower.

The challenge

Traditionally, cooling towers are physically inspected by engineers using EWPs or scaffolding. “They would then just use eyesight to inspect the asset and determine what maintenance is needed,” says Tristan Oxman, Business Development Manager for Industrial Services at Coates Hire.

Manual inspections present a challenge in terms of the quality and quantity of data collected, which is often limited to drawings done by hand or photographs with accompanying notes. Along with the safety risks of working at heights, a physical inspection requires significant time and effort and incurs labour and equipment hire costs.

The solution

The drone captured images at millimetre resolution from all angles across the cooling tower. Using these photographs, a 3D model or digital twin was then created.

The 3D digital replica of the tower was uploaded to an online platform, where the model then allowed users to inspect the asset by drilling down to view concrete nodules and cracks that had been formed. Defects can then be tagged and shared with engineers regardless of their physical location globally to create a maintenance program.

“Energy Australia had actually used drones at Mt Piper before, but they were quite impressed by the capability of the new modelling system and its user interface” says Tristan.

The impact

Eliminating the need for a labour-intensive manual inspection at height meant the drone inspection was both cost-effective and superior from a safety aspect.

It was also much quicker and more efficient than a physical inspection. “We got confirmation from the customer on a Thursday and then we were on site the following Tuesday,” says Tristan. The drone operator spent four hours on site and the 3D model was available three days later.

Now armed with comprehensive data for the tower, the customer can track and monitor the asset’s condition over time and compare the same asset side-by-side to develop asset history. This allows maintenance planning, schedules and preventative strategies to be developed, promoting more informed decisions earlier and saving personnel from having to work at heights, as well as time and money.

For more information on booking a drone inspection, call 13 15 52 or contact your local Industrial Solutions team


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