New drone functions for engineering & construction
The use of drones marks a new stage in cargo logistics, and at Techint Engineering & Construction, plans are underway for first tests with a view to using this technology at the DUPLICAR project for Oldelval in Argentina.
Drone technology continues to add new features to the range of topographic and photographic applications already in use to help with tasks such as measuring physical progress and reporting at construction projects. Techint E&C is venturing into the area of cargo transfer using drones, which will help to cut down on land transport for less important and unproductive movements, reduce fuel consumption rates—thus optimizing our carbon footprint—and reduce people’s exposure to potential risks when driving vehicles.
“This initiative continues with one of the research projects spearheaded by a group of interns from the US who were on the PAE Puentes program and came to work with us in the Innovation department earlier this year, in June and July,” explains Alejandro Aguirre, Knowledge Management and Innovation Manager.
The pilot test for the innovative transport drone is being planned for deployment at the DUPLICAR project in Argentina, where the company has commissioned UALI, an Argentine startup (https://uali.co/es), to build and customize a drone and its subsequent operation. The flight tests will last one month at the project, where the drone will already be the property of Techint E&C. UALI has proven to be a valuable partner for these kinds of sophisticated developments, and has accumulated substantial experience in this area in Uruguay, as well as at other projects that could not be completed in Argentina.
There are commercial drones currently on the market with load capacities ranging from 40 kg for fumigation applications to 500 kg for military use. Specifically, in this case, the company will be trying out an electricity-powered drone capable of delivering 30 kg of cargo at a distance of 20 km in automatic flight, whose routes are preloaded as part of a flight control system provided by the supplier. The drone will fly from the project warehouse to a vertiport (takeoff and landing location) along the pipeline course, and the route can be adjusted according to specific project needs. In principle, the drone’s cargo compartment will be 40x40x70 cm.
This initiative is also being followed by the General Services and Materials Management teams who will be analyzing the benefits of this new methodology for their own use. The area is also looking at integrating it into the “Online Materials Reservation” application. In fact, Pablo Ceci, the Manager of Corporate Materials Management, emphasizes that, "we are thinking about adding some data to our materials catalog on the app to see if these can be drone-transported, so that a user knows if what they need can be delivered using the drone.” The end beneficiary of this initiative is the Operations department, as they receive the cargo directly in the field, enabling them to perform their task more safely and much faster.
The Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QHSE) area was also involved in the early stages to evaluate each of the tasks, including all the prevention measures as regards handling the craft, called an “Exacopter”. A Safe Work Analysis (SWA) and a Risk Matrix were implemented to monitor any potential impacts. Alejandro Vaieretti, QHSE Project Manager, highlights that, “We already had a number of lessons learned and background information collected from when we began working with drones to carry out the topographic surveys for Engineering.” Feeding the flight deck with information such as weather reports or employing engine starting restrictions if the cargo compartment or vertiport doors are not properly closed, are just some of the benefits that drones represent in terms of safety and environmental protection. Like everything to do with drones, there is also the issue of engine redundancy in the event of possible errors and breakdowns, and pre-established emergency landing points established along the flight path, among other measures.
Companies like Walmart are already using drones to make deliveries in the United States, partnering with autonomous flight companies such as Wing. Some European companies are testing heavy lift drones able to transfer up to 200 kg over distances of 40 km. As if that were not enough, companies like Zipline are being used to make home deliveries of food items in different countries, and in Sweden, there’s a drone which can send an automatic defibrillator to arrive on site before the ambulance. Still in its infancy, the road forward presents many challenges, but it’s the future, and it’s here to stay.