After flying all around Europe, America, Asia and Africa to inspect thousands of infrastructures, in October 2019, Sterblue landed in Oceania for the first time ever!
The goal was ambitious: automate the transmission grid inspection process of an important Australian Transmission System Operator (TSO) using off-the-shelf drones and Sterblue’s artificial intelligence (AI).
Curiously, this mission ended up with a switch in roles. For a change, Sterblue wasn’t the only one bringing new and efficient processes to the table... But no spoilers just yet! Here’s a great customer story:
What was so exciting about this mission?
In the energy world, Australia definitely stands out. According to the Guide to Australia’s Energy Networks, the Australian electricity network extends about 918 000 km and could circle the equator 23 times. This impressive network manages more than 11 million electricity customer connections to Australian homes and businesses.
Transmission lines alone extend for almost 50 000 km. Under Sterblue’s watch for this project, was the inspection of a 1700km transmission network with more than 15,000 circuit kilometres of transmission lines. As you can probably guess by the numbers, we were dealing with one of the main providers of high voltage electricity transmission network services in Australia.
Playing such a critical role in the lives and economy of an entire region, this customer takes the inspection and maintenance of its assets very seriously. To ensure ongoing reliability and security of electricity supply, it often makes use of innovation to position its services for the future. Well, here was where Sterblue came in hand!
Safer, better, faster, stronger (data collection)!
Before getting to know Sterblue, our Australian customer used to carry out routine inspections to their transmission towers making use of 3 different methods: from the ground using 4WDs, at heights using Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs), or from the air using helicopters. Depending on the location and type of work needed, the most suitable option would be chosen.
As the years pass by, some of these methods are becoming outdated due to high safety risks and poor angles of view, failing to successfully capture an entire transmission tower during inspections. Plus, these are complex, costly and time-consuming techniques with a considerable amount of human error at stake. Luckly, Sterblue helps energy and utility companies make the bridge from traditional data acquisition methods to more advanced and efficient ones.
Using off-the-shelf drones and the automatic flight mode on Sterblue’s Mobile app, our first Australian customer observed a direct increase in general inspection productivity. The company was able to start inspecting 10 to 15 towers per day, cover 100% of each structure, save time and reduce human error. In addition, safety was drastically reinforced as the drone pilot only needs to supervise the flight from a distance.
Standardization and automation are inspections’ best friends!
Traditional inspection methods typically lack automation, standardization and traceability. As our customer was using different methods and devices for image collection, the storing and analysis of these pictures had later to be done manually. And when we are talking about thousands and thousands of them... It can be a real nightmare! On top of that, the odds of making a mistake are obviously very high.
With Sterblue Cloud platform, all it takes from the customer side is to upload the pictures. Once this step is completed, the images are automatically sorted and analyzed by a combination of AI algorithms and human experts which are able to detect and categorize defects and equipment on infrastructures. In the end, an inspection report is automatically issued with all the relevant information and recommendations for asset integrity management. Yes, it is that simple!
Thanks to Sterblue software, the Australian TSO has now access to a digital twin of its entire transmission network, knowing exactly where it is located and which images are associated with each tower. This way, the company can actively consult the state of an asset and plan when to inspect it again or actually repair. This is especially relevant for corrosion control, one of the biggest threats to transmission towers’ integrity.
Monitoring everyday keeps corrosion away!
Until here we’ve approached how Sterblue's solution helped the customer transform and automate the transmission grid inspection processes of data collection, data storage and data analysis which were, as explained, previously done manually. However, the Australian TSO had a pre-existing final step that deserved our close attention.
Briefly speaking, the company used SAP - a software to manage business operations - to control corrosion levels and compute asset health indexes. By doing so, the organization could closely monitor how these values evolve and rationally take decisions concerning maintenance workload and budget.
“In the course of this project I got to know one of the smartest asset corrosion strategies that I have seen among Transmission System Operators! A customer with a remarkable policy when it comes to spending the right amount of money at the right place and time.” Samir Belasri, Senior Business Development at Sterblue
The last challenge we faced in Australia was precisely to integrate the new inspection workflow created by Sterblue with the pre-existing corrosion assessment system powered by SAP. Sounds simple right? Well, let’s take a look at some of the details.
Challenge accepted: Sterblue integrates with SAP!
The Australian TSO was highly demanding in regards to pictures’ quality and the inputs required to assess asset health. Consider a transmission tower between 25m and 38m high. To avoid missing a single corrosion spot, around 180 pictures need to be taken per tower. Then, the thousands of corrosion spots found in each image have to be distributed among 4 categories depending on their severity. As you can imagine, classifying these detections was a challenging team effort, with the experts watching over the shoulders of Sterblue’s proprietary AI.
There were 2 main features of our product that helped us facing the challenge on the technical side. First, our ability to receive data from multiple sources - such as helicopters, mobile phones, drones, satellites, etc. And second, our customizable inspection reports where the customer decides on the preferred type of file - PDF, CVS, HTML - and the inspection data and dashboards to be displayed. Long story short: the flexibility of our software.
Although this integration was definitely a premiere for our team, generating actionable analytics is at the core of Steblue’s value proposition. Our solution is built to be versatile and portable in order to meet different customer’s specifications. Thanks to this, our Australian customer is now able to perform efficient inspections with the Sterblue Mobile app, gather and analyse the information in the Sterblue Cloud platform and directly feed external systems, such as SAP. As an output, the overall health of each infrastructure is determined. Mission accomplished!
The central platform for infrastructure inspection
The Australian TSO is an example of a customer who understands where the future of transmission grid inspections is heading and how to stay updated and increase the quality and efficiency of maintenance operations.
As for Sterblue, apart from visiting beautiful Australia, this project put us one step closer to a more and more customized solution that is able to match our customers' needs and expectations. And ultimately, to become the central platform for infrastructure inspection!