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Drones, our allies in the field

Published 20.5.2021

Drones have replaced GPS in most of the tasks involved in carrying out project topographical surveys because of the level of detail and accuracy of the data they collect. At the Tratayén-Mega pipeline in Argentina, the team has been using drones from the outset of the project, taking the quality of the end product for the customer to a new level.

Drones have become key tools at EPC-type projects thanks to the wide range of benefits they offer. With pipelines, for example, drones have replaced the need to have employees working near the trenches or on steep slopes, eliminating the health and safety risks involved in these tasks. The precise detail of the data collected also allows deviations to be detected early on, providing complete and detailed analyses of working conditions in the field, thanks to the extensive visual range employed by drones. This makes it far easier to record the full scale of onsite impacts.

Likewise, carrying out surveys with drones has radically improved the quality of the project completion certificate delivered as the end product to the customer, thanks to the fact that they can collect a substantially greater amount of data than traditional surveys using GPS.

Before drones came on the scene, the surveys were carried out using portable GPS devices which were put in place by surveyors. In order to get readings of the welded pipe junctions, an extension pole and separator were used to raise the device over the pipe junction. The result of this task was a long list of coordinates and junction numbers.

Nowadays, using drones and special post-processing software, the team can build a 3D model of the entire area where the project is being developed. In this way, they not only record the positions of the pipeline course and its cover, as well as the differences in the terrain and course levels recorded but can also produce a complete picture of the surrounding environment.


How is the pipe as-built survey carried out with drones?

For the as-built data capture process, photogrammetry is made prior to covering the pipeline, which creates a 3D model from which all the information required can be obtained. In turn, in order to monitor earth movements and subsidence, as-built photogrammetry captures are made of the terrain before work starts and after the cover has been completed, showing the cubic meters moved and the conditions in which the final work is delivered.

Once the data has been collected, it’s processed using special software called DroneDeploy to produce both the 3D model and the orthophoto which are geo-referenced and can be dumped directly into AutoCAD for subsequent work. Although DroneDeploy is currently the go-to technology, this tool is likely to be changed once the new Digital Pipeline 2.0 software comes on stream. Currently, under development, the idea is to integrate the management and graphic visualization of pipe project information.

Drones are key allies for Techint E&C projects, but only one of the vast range of innovative tools with great potential for the company, which it is currently investigating. There is no doubt that many new and exciting changes await us on this path of applied innovation.


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