Con Edison says it is testing drones to inspect the inside of towering boilers that produce steam for some of New York City’s most iconic buildings.
The company is testing the technology as a way to reduce the time and cost it takes to inspect the boilers, which, according to the utility, are an integral part of the largest district steam system in the world.
Con Edison provides steam, a green energy source, to more than 1,600 customers, including the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal, the World Trade Center and other landmark buildings in New York.
“Inspecting our boilers requires workers to build up to 10-story scaffolding and go through confined-space training,” explains Margarett Jolly, director of research and development for Con Edison. “Using innovations in technology, we can speed up the process while still upholding and perhaps improving quality and safety.”
Con Edison is conducting the testing at a steam plant on the East Side of Manhattan near the East River. The boilers are 10 stories high, and each produces 1.2 million pounds of steam in an hour. The steam system also produces electricity – helping to keep service reliable for 3.4 million electric customers, Con Edison says.
The drone uses video, camera and thermal technology to produce images in real time; Con Edison personnel can then quickly analyze the data and determine where the company needs to make repairs or perform maintenance.
The utility says it is using Flyability’s Gimball, a caged drone that won last year’s Drones for Good competition in the United Arab Emirates. Protected by a carbon-fiber spherical frame, the aircraft weighs 1.1 lbs. and is 15 inches in diameter. Offering a 10-minute flight time, the drone is designed for collisions and can reduce damage to the equipment being inspected.