Drone technology has progressed and evolved spectacularly in recent years. Previously the stuff of sci fi and now increasingly accessible to anyone and everyone, drones have brought both excitement and controversy. Utilising drones for personal use is one matter, but what about their use in industries like rope access?

Drones used to be a little bit temperamental and limitations were a problem in terms of utilising them on an industrial scale. However, the combination of lighter frames than ever before and longer battery lives have meant they can carry greater weight and last longer in the air. Improved controls also equal greater precision and efficiency.

Uses in rope access

The primary opportunity of drone technology in the rope access industry is to deploy them for initial inspection surveys. Naturally this speeds up the process, therefore saving both the client and the rope access company time and money. Furthermore, it minimises the equipment required for an initial survey and can make transmission of data or information quicker than ever before.

This is particularly useful for offshore scenarios, where access is more difficult and communication tends to be trickier. Locations in which drone technology could come in particularly handy include:

  • Offshore structures
  • Oil and gas facilities
  • Building inspection
  • Bridges and viaducts
  • Confined spaces (yes, they can be used indoor too!)

A threat to the industry?

Will drones be a threat to the rope access industry in the long run? In short, no. Drones may have their uses in terms of carrying out quick surveys to save time and money but rope access is ultimately about the people. Drones are incapable of carrying out the manual work that rope access technicians are employed to do so there will always be a need for rope access. That’s not about to change.

Just like there is still a place for scaffolding despite the proliferation of rope access, there will always be a need for rope access despite the rise of drones. It just means that the way the industry operates may change slightly but not necessarily for the worse. Drones can make the processes more efficient and quick, which is advantageous for both clients and industry workers. In the end, visual inspections are only a tiny fraction of what rope access technicians do so there is certainly no need for concern.

Technical implications

Of course there are rules and regulations around the use of drones and careful research needs to be carried out before flying one. A certificate needs to be obtained prior to drone operation can commence; the particular certificate needed for rope access is called a PFAW qualification, or “Permission for Aerial Work”.

It is also important to remember that drones are often restricted or completely banned in big cities like London, so always check the rules before use.

Conclusion

The possibility of drones in the rope access industry is an exciting one and could potentially offer a more streamlined and effective service for customers. Due diligence needs to be carried out to ensure correct use that doesn’t break any laws but the benefits are clear. It will take time for drone technology to be fully embraced by the rope access industry but it’s only a matter of time.