Enhancing feed and grain facility safety with drones [Video]

Clear Creek & Associates' Austin Carpenter on the benefits of flying drones for facility inspections, keeping workers out of grain bins.

Elise Schafer headshot Headshot

In this edition of Feed & Grain Chat, Austin Carpenter, sales manager for Clear Creek & Associates, discusses the use of drones in structural evaluations at feed and grain facilities. Carpenter explains how drones offer a low-cost, safe method to inspect hard-to-reach areas such as the tops of silos and inside grain bins, reducing the need for lifts and extensive safety procedures. He also highlights key features to consider when comparing drones to purchase, such as high-quality cameras, good obstacle avoidance, and autonomous flying capabilities, emphasizing the importance of avoiding costly subscription-based technologies.    

Transcription of Feed & Grain Chat interview with Austin Carpenter, sales manager, Clear Creek & Associates

Elise Schafer, editor, Feed & Grain: Hi, everyone, and welcome to Feed & Grain Chat. I'm your host Elise Schafer, editor of Feed & Grain. This edition of Feed & Grain Chat is brought to you by WATT Global Media and FeedandGrain.com. FeedandGrain.com is your source for the latest news, product and equipment information for the grain handling and feed manufacturing industries.

Today, I'm joined on Zoom by Austin Carpenter, sales manager for Clear Creek & Associates, a facility engineering design and consulting firm in Goshen, Indiana. He's here to discuss how drones can assist with structural evaluation projects. Hi, Austin. Thanks for joining me today.

Austin Carpenter, sales manager, Clear Creek & Associates: Hi, Elise. Thanks for having me.

Schafer: Absolutely. Now, can you tell us how your company uses drones for inspections at feed and grain facilities, and is this becoming common practice or still an emerging trend?

Carpenter: Absolutely. We travel to facilities with a done for concrete silos or steel silos where you can't safely access. The first example that comes to mind — there was a grain failure that took out a series of tanks and we couldn’t get to the area safely to determine if people could walk in.

We were able to jump on top of the set of silos, fly a drone from there and take video footage of the area around the tanks to determine if there were any overhead structures that were at risk for falling and gave us access to an area that really would have been a challenge to enter. So, it’s a low-cost way to get in and access things that are that are unsafe.

Schafer: And are seeing this happening more and more in the industry today?

Carpenter: I’m seeing drone usage a lot with inspections inside of grain bins, inside of hard-to-reach areas where you really can’t get a lift. You could call it an emerging trend, but it’s starting to become a standard.

I know there’s a company in the grain industry that does a lot of repair work that has a caged drone. They’ll fly that in from the manhole up top, they’re able to look around the underside of silos and inspect beam pockets and determine the kind of condition through a visual inspection of the underside of the silo roofs, which before, it was very difficult to do without lowering somebody inside the tank.

Schafer: Yeah, from a labor and time standpoint, what are the main advantages of drones compared to collecting this data manually?

Carpenter: On the labor side, you’re still going to require a person on site for this type of work. But you don’t have to have a lift necessarily — there’s cost savings there. You can capture a lot of data in a shorter amount of time. You can enter the silo with the drone, you can fly it around, get the information you need and, and get out. It doesn't require a bosun’s chair, doesn't require a lot of the safety procedures, which are required to enter the bin for a person, so less people, faster and a better view of the of the underside.

Schafer: So, what features do you look for or recommend when selecting a drone for these purposes?

Carpenter: Really, you’ve got to talk about what your goals are. If it’s photography, you want to get photos of your facility, just a good camera. A lot of the consumer drones have cameras that are upwards of 40-plus megapixels, they take a great photo and you can buy a drone for $1,000 that will do all of that for you.

If it’s inspection related, good obstacle avoidance times flying. The technology that’s emerged — I’ll pick out one brand specifically, Skydio. Their drone can fly itself. You can fly it up, look at an image, you can highlight the areas you need photographed, it’ll fly on its own all the way around and document it with images and photographs.

You can do that with concrete silos. I’ve flown one inside of a tower around a bucket elevator and then back out. I’ve flown it inside and outside of the spout truss kits, inside of the wires in there. The autonomous flying for those is incredible, so if you’re doing it for inspection, you want to make sure you’ve got good obstacle avoidance and the autonomous flying option is nice, as well.

One of the major things to look for is what technology is coming on that drone that is subscription based. Some of the technology can cost more than the cost of the drone annually, so make sure that you don’t just buy it because it’s got all this technology that later you’ll have to pay multiple times the cost of the drone over a couple of years.

Schafer: Well, Ausin, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on this topic.

Carpenter: No problem!

Schafer: That's all for today's Feed & Grain Chat. If you'd like to see more videos like this, subscribe to our YouTube channel, sign up for the Industry Watch Daily eNewsletter or go to feedandgrain.com and search for videos. Thank you for watching and we hope to see you next time!