Melbourne Water is using drones to help monitor its waterways, water supply and sewerage networks.

On the back of highly successful trials, Melbourne Water has purchased its own fleet of drones, including an underwater submersible, and has trained its own pilots. The airborne drones are also utilising an innovative thermal imaging camera technology.

Manager Asset Knowledge and Systems, Michael Gomez, said drones were becoming increasingly important in day-to-day business operations.

“As drone technology has become more accessible Melbourne Water saw an opportunity to bring its drone operations in-house,” Mr Gomez said.

“This has included purchasing a fleet of nine drones, and training nine staff in line with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requirements for commercial drone piloting.

“Our drones enable Melbourne Water to improve its awareness and understanding of asset condition which improves safety outcomes for our staff and reduces costs.

“Drones allow inspection activities to be performed more safely and more quickly, as they provide direct access to assets without the need for isolation, scaffolding, elevated work platforms or other infrastructure.

“For example, when inspecting above ground water storage tanks, technicians would previously be required to climb ladders high in the air and manually inspect the tops of the tanks, now they can send the drone up in minutes, virtually eliminating the risk of injury to our people.”

Each aerial drone is fitted with high resolution cameras to capture pictures and videos of Melbourne Water’s assets from a bird’s eye view. Melbourne Water is also currently utilising a thermal imaging camera on some of the drones, in order to broaden their capability.

“With thermal imaging we can get an instant understanding of when assets are operating correctly. We have used thermal imaging to assess the heat signature of solar panels on our buildings, which provides visual clarity that they are operating correctly,” Mr Gomez said.

“Embedding thermal imaging into all of our drones will help to reduce our manual inspection regime even further as well as improving safety.

“We even have a submersible drone, which has been used in reservoirs and storage tanks to quickly monitor conditions without the need to take the asset offline or utilise underwater divers. Submersibles are relatively new, but make great sense for us as a water supply and waterway manager.

“Future applications for submersibles could see them utilised at our wastewater treatment plants where divers are currently required.”

Mr Gomez said the organisation was pleased to have trained internal staff to be drone pilots.

“We’re really proud of our nine operators who have completed their CASA endorsed training. We’re planning to increase our aerial drone capability which will involve further liaison with CASA.

“Having our own people undertaking drone monitoring work makes sense, because nobody knows our waterways, water and sewerage assets better that our own dedicated staff.”

Melbourne Water expects more drones may be added to its fleet in future.

“Our drone program is increasingly becoming a cost-effective means of supporting our core business, improving services to the public and empowering our people, so we will be looking for further opportunities to expand our drone fleet and our number of trained pilots.”

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