Drone Bridge Inspections

Shot Taken by Unit Used in Drone Bridge Inspections of Bridge Substructure
Importance of Regularly Inspecting Bridges

Applied Technical Services is a consulting engineering firm that performs inspections for clients who need to determine the condition and maintenance needs of their bridge. We offer drone bridge inspections to complement traditional inspections — a more modern and efficient method of assessing these important pieces of infrastructure.

The various entities that own the world’s bridges share a common understanding. They all know that a bridge is a complex feat of engineering that needs regular assessment and maintenance to ensure it continues to work without fail.

Inspectors need to analyze various areas of concern for signs like cracking, corrosion, or other damage to determine the overall health of the bridge. Take for instance a steel girder bridge intended for a high volume of vehicle traffic: girders support a great deal of weight from the underside of the bridge. Cover plates, which are welded onto the bottom flange, strengthen these girders. The load caused by traffic is applied to the cover plate at a perpendicular angle every time a car passes overhead, making these components especially susceptible to stress-related (fatigue) damage. If tiny stress fractures develop in one of these cover plates, it can undermine the structural integrity of a section of the bridge over time. It is an inspector’s job to investigate known or expected problem areas like these and quantify any findings.

Regularly scheduled inspections serve to alert concerned parties of smaller issues and suggest preventive maintenance to avert greater problems. The potential impacts of bridge failure all but demand good inspection practices; the ability to avoid lengthy traffic shutdowns, large repair expenses, preventable injury, and even loss of life serves as a strong motivator. Luckily, ATS is a trusted structural consulting engineering provider and has a long background providing inspection services.


Conventional Bridge Inspection Methods

While inspectors can observe certain areas of interest from the ground or the deck of the bridge, plenty more needs to be scrutinized. Components like suspension cables stretched high in the air and support beams running beneath the bridge are difficult to access and yet need the most attention from inspectors.

The methods used to access these areas have remained largely unchanged for decades. While small bridges over shallow waterways can sometimes be accessed using a ladder, inspections of larger bridges have been completed using one or more of the following methods:

  • Rope access is often used to examine the superstructure of certain types of bridges
  • The substructure is investigated from a specialized inspection vehicle (often called a snooper truck)
  • Aerial work platforms (AWPs) can lift a technician from the ground to inspect the foundation and substructure of the bridge

These methods have certain limitations, however. Using snooper trucks and suspended access require lane closures for vehicle traffic bridges, which inconveniences drivers and increases the total cost of inspection. AWPs are completely inapplicable for examining foundations and substructures of bridges spanning bodies of water. Renting specialized equipment, namely a snooper truck or AWP, increases the cost of inspection. Finally, although each of these methods takes precautions to ensure the safety of the personnel performing the inspection, they each involve an inherent risk of an inspector falling from significant heights.

ATS Engineering recognizes the limitations inherent to these conventional methods and uses a powerful supplementary tool to increase the efficiency of inspection services: introducing drone bridge inspections.


Advantages of UAV Bridge Inspections

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or small unmanned aircraft systems (sUASs), offer ATS inspectors a variety of benefits over conventional inspection methods.

Advantages (continued)

Drone-assisted visual inspections are nonintrusive, versatile, cost-effective, and perfectly safe compared to older methods due to the flight capabilities of these small units. By consulting the high-quality footage taken by the powerful cameras mounted onto these highly maneuverable UAVs, ATS inspectors can quickly and efficiently conduct thorough visual inspections of areas of interest. Our units’ multiple camera mount positions let inspectors look at substructure bridge elements; by mounting the camera to the top of the unit, inspectors can look up at areas of interest (like piers and abutments), unlike other units that can only look downward.

Furthermore, the UAVs we use for bridge inspections:

  • Utilize multiple camera mount positions (both above and below the unit) to ensure footage is captured from a good angle
  • Can hover in place to produce very stable video and images
  • Achieve long flight times by using a multi-system approach
  • Navigate by interfacing with a system that provides centimeter-accurate global positioning

While drones cannot fully replace the need for other means of access, such as in the case of nondestructive examination or small repairs, they represent a powerful tool for inspectors to implement in the visual inspection process. By using these units alongside our rope access capabilities, ATS can provide a more comprehensive and more efficient bridge inspection for a lower price.

Our engineering department also employs a set of units capable of inspecting areas inaccessible to GPS signals, such as inside a building or piece of large equipment.


Regulations and Standards for Commercial Drone Use

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulates the commercial use of UAVs in the interest of maintaining order and safety in the airways. ATS abides by the following rules when performing inspections with our UAVs:

  • Each of our units is registered with the FAA under part 107
  • A technician licensed by the FAA for commercial drone use pilots the unit during every flight
  • Flights are conducted below the regulatory limit of 100 mph
  • Our pilots fly the unit within line of sight at all times during outdoor inspections
  • Each unit weighs 55 lbs or less upon takeoff (this includes any payload like cameras)
  • No pilot flies their unit directly over a people’s heads
  • No flight is piloted from a moving vehicle


ATS' Drone Inspection Services

Founded in 1967, Applied Technical Services provides engineering consulting, inspection, and testing services of unmatched quality to clients around the world. During the five decades that ATS has been in business, we have grown to serve clients from a variety of industries with an ever-growing list of analysis capabilities. Although our UAV bridge inspection services mostly apply to clients in the construction business, the following industries can also benefit from our broader drone inspection capabilities:

  • Aerospace
  • Commercial Properties
  • Communications
  • Manufacturing
  • Military
  • Nuclear
  • Oil/Gas
  • Power Generation
  • Pulp and Paper
  • Steel and Aluminum

Every drone-assisted inspection is conducted by an inspecting duo: one FAA licensed pilot to fly the drone itself and one experienced camera operator to ensure safe flight and quality footage. This team locates areas of concern, collects images and video, and analyzes them to draft a report on their findings. ATS Engineering recommends regularly scheduled inspections to ensure the structure’s continued health, but also offers initial, special, and damage inspection services for those clients who need them.


Our Commitment to Providing Quality Service

ATS abides by a policy of providing services of excellent quality. Our commitment to this policy guarantees that clients can expect a report that is clear, accurate, and detailed when laying out causes for concern and recommended maintenance or repair actions. ATS’ pursuit of excellence does not end at producing quality work; we carry that passion over into our customer service practices. We take steps to ensure that our reporting is returned quickly by knowledgeable technicians who are responsive, engaged, and available to answer questions as they may arise.

If your company needs UAV bridge inspections that you can rely on, contact ATS today — we take a closer look!

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