The present article reports the work carried out during the European RFCS project DroMoSPlan, which has investigated different aspects on the use of drones for inspection and maintenance activities in the steelmaking industry.
The work was focused on three different aspects: design and development of hardware solutions; development of dedicated software; implementation of management strategies.
The first aspect analysed possible improvements concerning general robustness of flying drones in harsh environments by means of the integration of sensors and protections, and the development of autonomous charging stations for long-range missions.
The second aspect comprised the development of special algorithms for autonomous flight and cooperative strategies (fleet of drones), and the development of integrated systems for data acquisition and suitable human machine interface.
The third aspect was developed to study in-depth the problems related to human safety aspects and social impacts of drone applications, as well as the analysis of all legal and company constraints for autonomous flying drones and training system for drone control/management for operators.
Extensive infrastructures and industrial sites often contain areas and facilities that are difficult or hazardous to access by humans. The inspection and the maintenance activities in such areas, mainly based on visual investigation methods, can potentially expose workers to a variety of risks. The adoption of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has the potential to reduce human involvement in a variety of inspection tasks and to detect structural and environmental damage. Besides, compared to conventional methods, the use of drones might be much more time and cost efficient. Moreover, faster UAV-based inspections should also minimize possible interruptions of the plant operation that can cause high costs and plant performance reduction. UVs also allow to increase the frequency of inspections and to reduce the number of static sensors arranged on the infrastructures (the sensor is placed in the checkpoint only for the time necessary for the measurement). The European project RFCS-DroMoSPlan is the first attempt to approach such problems with a special focus in the Steel Industry.