Australia’s largest rail freight operator Aurizon has begun testing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for inspections of assets along its central Queensland coal network.
Aurizon recently started using the UAVs as part of an early-stage trial of the technology, to monitor the high voltage electrical assets which are critical to the operation of electric trains on the coal networks.
The company picked two Microdrones MD4-1000 UAV models due to their “reliability, stability and superior electromagnetic compatibility” - something that is essential when operating near live high voltage equipment, Aurizon UAV project lead Alex Hamby told iTnews.
“Safety is Aurizon’s core priority and this technology enables us to take our people out of high risk environments,” he said.
“UAVs also allow the company to obtain high definition inspection information of assets without having any impact on train operations.”
The use of infrared technology and high-resolution images means the company can more easily access difficult areas, minimise the presence of employees on the rail corridor, and provide data for pre-emptive maintenance activities.
The UAV models can also be used for surveys, inspecting telecommunications towers, and inspecting bridges and structures, among other things, Hamby said. Aurizon is testing the waters with the asset inspections and will consider deploying UAVs in other business areas at a later date.
Aurizon shifts around 700,000 tonnes of coal, iron ore and other minerals, alongside agricultural and general freight, across its 2670km network of rail infrastructure each day.
The company’s five year asset management objectives seek to transform the business into one that is “predictive, optimised and planned”.
The use of UAVs will assist the company in reaching its goals of reducing reactive maintenance, monitoring condition and performance thresholds, preventing and planning intervention, improving modelling and increasing asset monitoring.