Asset management with UAVs

By on 12 August, 2014

Commercial UAV

By Jared Haube for Commercial UAVs 2014.

Using UAVs for commercial operations is a growing trend across many industries across Australia and the world. In the utilities sector, Melbourne Water in Victoria is paving the way for improved productivity and safety standards through its asset management strategy. Jared Haube caught up with Frank Courtney, technology improvement specialist at Melbourne Water, to get his insights on its integration of UAV systems and data management processes.


When Melbourne Water undertakes inspection-style work, it often requires particular skills. For example, if we’re inspecting large assets for vibration analysis or non-destructive testing, we wouldn’t have the necessary skills in-house.

Our use of UAVs to date has been in the trial stages, so although a panel hasn’t been established as yet, plans are in the works to get one set up.

Considering the significant licensing, capital investment and certification requirements for this work, having a third party provider is truly advantageous to Melbourne Water.

Over our more than $8 Billion of installed assets, there is a wide range of activities in which data is collected and reported to inform business processes, such as works management and planning for upgrades or remediation. These processes are vital to the way we determine where capital spend is invested into the asset fleet.

Melbourne Water is different from other utility companies in that it is a wholesale provider of potable water, sewage transfer and treatment and drainage services.

The organisation does not operate or manage assets at the retail level, but is focused upon the large distribution mains, pumping stations and dams. These are assets with very long (100+ years) service lives.

The key to this is ongoing inspection and remediation – we need to catch any issue in its early phases.

All of the data is used to inform business processes to effectively target our capital spend. There’s a comprehensive management system in place, where each of the assets exists within a complex database.

Our UAV contractor can not only perform the flights and capture visual data, but more importantly, analyse it post-flight to compile and provide a detailed report with the relevant information. We have a grading and classification system for anomalies, such as for cracking in concrete or surface degradation.

The internal processes at Melbourne Water use a categorisation matrix for those types of anomalies. Part of the work carried out with UAVs has focused on training our contractor in the use of this matrix.

We provide those classifications in terms that align with our asset planning procedures. This has meant that they are able to generate the customised reports which seamlessly integrate the data with our asset management practices.

There’s been an exciting improvement to safety for our staff. Melbourne Water has assets which are located in areas that are inherently hazardous.

High voltage infrastructure, explosive gases and assets at height are all factors that must be managed when planning works in hazardous areas.

Eliminating the need for having personnel working in such high-risk areas is a fantastic safety initiative. UAV are proving to be an effective safety mitigation for these areas.

The other dramatic improvement has been in productivity and efficiency. Some inspections can require multiple people and a duration of several days, but with UAVs, they’ve been conducted in under an hour. These are very significant savings for both cost and time to our bottom line.


At Commercial UAVs 2014, Frank Courtney will present an in-depth case study on working with drone operators for remote asset inspections. He will also conduct a workshop on innovating maintenance and monitoring with UAVs. You can download the brochure to see the full program. To register or make an enquiry, please call + 61 (2) 9229 1000 or email

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