Unmanned aerial vehicles, like any new technology, are a source of hope and concern in equal measure. Commercial drones have completely transformed industries as diverse as aerial photography, package delivery, and LIDAR mapping, with customers in those areas seeing enormous savings in time and cost.
However, job loss is always a concern when tasks previously done by hand are replaced by robotics. Fortunately, as drones establish themselves in multiple industries, we see that far from reducing the number of jobs available, drones create new opportunities and change existing ones by completing jobs faster, safer, and cheaper.
Drones for visual inspection have been around since the dawn of commercial drone work, around 2015. Far from replacing jobs, drones have created new jobs in visual inspection, and adjacent industries.
As of 2020, the aerial imaging industry is worth USD 2.26 Bn and is projected to grow to 8.52 Bn over the next 10 years. There are nearly 140,000 jobs in aerial photography in the US alone, which will only increase as the industry grows.
Additionally, there is a growing market for jobs servicing and supporting the growing drone industry. There are 14,700 people employed as drone technicians in the United States. This number will grow to 14,800 by 2024.
Drones also had a positive impact on the visual inspection market as a whole. The visual inspection market was worth $297.6 million in 2011. Commercial drones appeared on the market in 2015, and this led to a significant reduction in inspection costs for 3 reasons:
- Reduced inspection time - drones do not need assistive devices like a crane, rope, or scaffolding to ascend to height. They can get to the inspection point much faster than a person can.
- Reduced setup costs - a boom lift can cost $45,000 for a weeklong rental, and scaffolding easily runs into the hundreds of thousands. A drone lets you avoid these costs entirely.
- Reduced labor costs - This point favors both the customer and the inspection provider. Providers can complete more inspections in the same time slot, making more money overall. Customers pay a little less since the duration is shorter. Providers still maintain a profit per inspection, so only some of the savings are pushed to the customer, but customers do see significant cost reductions compared to the pre-drone era.
Thanks to these cost savings the visual inspection market is bigger than ever, now estimated at USD 2.5 Bn as of 2022.
Overall, the introduction of drones contributed to a boom in the visual inspection industry, reduced costs and increased profits for both customers and providers, and created more jobs in Aerial Imaging and adjacent industries.
LIDAR mapping is another industry where drone adoption benefits everyone. LIDAR can be used for topographic analysis, surveying, or even to detect emissions of dust or aerosols.
Prior to commercial drone solutions, a helicopter or airplane would have to overfly the target area, using laser pulses to map the surface. Depending on the level of detail needed, the day rate for a helicopter mapping project will cost between $9,000 to $30,000.
The day rate for a drone lidar inspection ranges from $6500 to $9000. The same factors that influenced aerial imaging, reduced inspection time, labor costs, and setup costs benefitted the LIDAR mapping industry as well.
Drones created additional jobs in the LIDAR mapping industry as well, with a need for drone pilots that created nearly 250,000 jobs in the US alone.
Industrial Ultrasonic Testing (UT) is the largest and fastest-growing form of non-destructive testing. UT involves using ultrasound to "see" inside the walls of metal and concrete structures, detecting cracks or voids before they become a problem. This type of NDT has use cases in a huge range of industries, from steel, to oil and gas, to the agriculture sector.
Drone technology is set to revolutionize the UT space, the same way that it revolutionized LIDAR mapping and the visual inspection sector.
For example, the Skygauge Inspection Drone, one of the first drones in North America capable of UT, saves customers between 30-50% on inspection costs for welded steel storage tanks. This number jumps to 90% for ship inspections.
Such enormous savings from drone inspection are not unprecedented. For instance, studies show that drone inspection saved industrial sites 50% or more for visual inspections in the oil and gas industry. Seeing similar, colossal cost and time reductions in the ultrasonics industry is not surprising.
Fortunately, adopting drone alternatives for established industries does not result in job loss. Moreover, drones create new jobs in and adjacent to these industries. Being able to deliver inspection services with the same high quality at a fraction of the cost benefits everyone, and helps the industry grow. This in turn creates more jobs and increases demand in that industry.
In addition to improving existing processes, drone adoption can create completely new opportunities within existing industries.
A very specific example of this is inspecting the roofs of industrial storage tanks. Tank roofs are thin and extremely fragile, and until now it was effectively impossible to conduct thickness inspections on them.
That is not to say asset owners don't want to inspect tank roofs - they would if they could but it is not possible to do so practically and safely.
Skygauge's vertical contact probe is sufficiently accurate to conduct tank roof inspections, while simultaneously being gentle enough not to damage the roof. This is one example of how drone technology creates new opportunities in the ultrasonics industry, that were not possible at all before drones were introduced.
Advances like this ultimately grow the industry, creating more jobs and benefiting customers and inspectors alike.
Drones create new opportunities and improve existing processes when they are adopted by a new industry. They create economic growth and improve efficiency, without taking away jobs. In fact, introducing drones to an industry creates new job opportunities, and adds additional jobs around the drones themselves.
Considering the positive impact of drones on the LIDAR mapping and Aerial Imaging markets, it is reasonable to expect similar results as drones see wider adoption in ultrasonic testing.
Get ahead of the Curve
Skygauge is among the first robust drone solutions for ultrasonic testing on the market. Contact us today to learn more about what Skygauge can do for your drone services or inspection company.