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The rise of visual inspections in Africa.

An interview with African-based DSP Step Above.

The following is an interview with Scopito client Step Above, one of front-runners in the African visual inspection game.

“Our experience over the past two years have been that there is steady growth in the right direction. The main focus has been HV transmission new builds and we are slowly shifting our attention to HV and MV line inspections. Step Above’s interactions with SOE’s like Eskom and the various departments and persons within the organization has been very positive.”

Jaco Mienie

Step Above

What has been your experience of the evolvement of drone inspections in Africa these last years?

Although South Africa is lagging behind the United States and Europe in deploying drones within various industries, Step Above sees it as a unique opportunity to test the different drone platforms, sensors and software available and assemble the best solutions to their customers:

“On one hand regulations are preventing innovation in specific sectors – on the other hand they ensure that only quality providers are left at the end. So we see it as a good opportunity to ensure the quality of our services.”

What do you think will happen in the years to come?

“We understand that with large enterprises there is a slow but steady trust-building process that needs cultivation with the introduction of new technologies and workflows. That said I believe that we are at a tipping point where the implementation of drones to perform visual inspections will become the industry standard, where we will hopefully see it grow year on year.”

Jaco tells us that Eskom alone manages an impressive amount of transmission lines, as seen in the graph below.

Visual inspection graph

“We are very excited about the future, and we believe there is a massive opportunity in South Africa and Africa to use these new technologies to deliver better services and create social-economic value within SOE’s.”

What are Step Above’s biggest challenges within drone inspections?

“Funding ourselves and paying the bills has been one of our major challenges while we are engaging and convincing companies to become our clients and using our services on a regular basis.“

Jaco adds that an issue in South Africa has been the application process at SACAA (South African Civil Aviation Authority) for the commercial operating license. An expensive and lengthy process that has caused many companies to run out of money before completing the process.

He adds: “it seems that things are now running better at SACAA and companies are getting their licenses much faster.”

Annotations in Scopito.

“Furthermore, people are asking: how safe is the data?
It’s part of our job to convince people that the data are safe the way we are handling it.

Our collaboration with Scopito has helped us a lot because we can now offer a turnkey solution: from data collection to data management, where data is easily tracked and the only weak points could potentially be human errors. 

Our clients seem to be comfortable with the system so far, and we believe that the more they’ll be using it, the better they will like it.”

How does it affect your company that you’re operating in Africa, compared to the US or Europe?

Jaco explains that even though Africa is not on the same progress level as the US and Europe, there is still a lot of opportunities:

We can collaborate with companies from all over the world, like we do with Scopito, and put together quality services – we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Furthermore, we are talking to different people in e.g. Kenya, where drones are currently completely illegal – which they expect to change soon. If you can position yourself well, there will be a massive opportunity in a market like that, when legislation changes.

Jaco

Do you think it has become easier to convince people that drones are the way to go?

“I think everybody is already convinced that visual inspections using drones is the way to go. One of the big challenges is that there are so many different divisions in a big company like Eskom, so naturally, it’s a long process for them to add drones into their workflow and make it the industry standard. It can take years.”

40 year old towers blown over by the wind.

One of the first projects Step Above tested Scopito on, was a 765kV line that got blown over by the wind. A total of 6 towers; 5 Strain towers and one self-supporting collapsed. It covered a distance of 6 km.

“One of our clients got the contract to manage the rehabilitation and asked us to inspect 4 towers placed before and 4 towers placed after the collapsed section to determine their integrity and asses if they were still safe and usable.

In the past they would have to either physically climb the towers or make use of a helicopter to do visual inspections; the first being very dangerous and the second being very expensive.

“The results we got with drones were accurate and excellent, so we knew that Scopito was working very well for us. The client, the contractor and Eskom were all happy.”

Jaco Mienie digresses.

Being blown over by the wind definitely does not seem to be the forecast for the African drone inspection industry.


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